Mark Lovewell

A 90-foot NOAA Coast and Geodetic Survey ship will continue its search today for the mysterious rock or underwater obstacle that seriously damaged the Queen Elizabeth 2 in Vineyard Sound Friday night.

The 963-foot ship can aground south of Cuttyhunk at 10 p.m. on a clear night after having spent most of the day anchored off East Chop. The New-York-bound QE2 was ending a five-day voyage which included stops to Bar Harbor, Me., St. John, New Brunswick and Halifax, Nova Scotia.

Most of her 1,800 passengers had just finished spending the day visiting and touring the Vineyard.

The ship suffered a 74-foot gash on its starboard side. The cuts ruptured an empty fuel tank, water tanks and a bilge tank in the engine room. Early reports by the Coast Guard indicated that the vessel was taking on water though in no danger of sinking. Coast Guard officials ordered the ship to anchor upon learning of the accident. “I figured that they wanted us to think nothing had happened,” said Hollywood actor George Kennedy, describing the actions of the captain on Friday night. Mr. Kennedy, a passenger, spoke to the Gazette about his Friday night experience when he boarded the Schamonchi.

Even right now we don’t know what happened,” Mr. Kennedy said. Mr. Kennedy was one of 560 passengers who were shuttled by the Schamonchi from the liner Saturday afternoon to Newport. The passengers were then bused to Providence where they took a train back to New York city.

It took awhile for the ship to stop after it hit, according to several passengers. “It was a full 20 minutes before there was an announcement about what had happened,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We were told that we hit something and there is no reason to be alarmed.”

But not everyone took the matter lightly.

Dorothy R. Parker of Scarsdale said: “We felt this big bump. ‘My God,’ I said, This woman right next to me was beside herself. She was terrified. I tried to reassure her.”

The cause of the accident is being investigated by officials with the National Transportation Safety Board, the U.S. Coast Guard and the United Kingdom Department of Transport. Tomorrow morning a special board of inquiry will convene at the Coast Guard Support Center on Commercial street in Boston.

A key witness in the investigation will be John F. Hadley of Newport, a pilot, who was on the bridge and in charge when the grounding took place. Regulations require that pilot familiar with local waters be on board and in authority when a ship travels in these coastal waters.

The captain of the QE2 is Robin Allen Woodall. The 58-year-old master has been captain of the ship since 1990 and a replacement captain for longer than that.

According to the Coast Guard, the 27-year-old ship ran aground south of Sow and Pigs Reef, in waters listed as 39 feet in depth at mean low tide. (Latitude 41 22,1 North, Longitude 70 57.7 West). The tide was low at the hour of the accident.

The QE2 draws 32 feet, 7 inches when fully loaded. Sow and Pigs Reef to the north has historically been a grave for many wooden ships. On July 28, 1985 the 192-foot cruise ship Pilgrim Belle ran aground on Sow and Pigs Reef and might have sunk but for the help of 20 pumps.

I’ve been through a...few earthquakes but never before like this,” said Nina Bradbury of Fair Oaks, Calif., describing the accident. While many passengers complained, others made light of it. Will Melnick, personal manager for Mr, Kennedy, said: “We were trying to think up a drink we could call ‘QE2 on the Rocks.’ “

When the Coast Guard was first notified, they instructed the ship’s captain to anchor. The ship anchored 11.7 miles west of Gay Head or eight miles southwest of where she hit the each (anchored Latitude 41 18.8 North, 71 05.8 West).

This cruise of the QE2 began last Monday afternoon, when the ship left New York city and headed for Bar Harbor. Nobody was allowed to go ashore in Bar Harbor because of thick fog. On Wednesday the vessel arrived at St. John, New Brunswick. On Thursday the vessel visited Halifax, Nova Scotia. The ship arrived off East Chop Friday in the early afternoon. She was due to be in New York city on Saturday.

Folksinger Oscar Brand, who was booked to perform on the cruise, said the ship left East Chop late. “We were supposed to leave Oak Bluffs at 8 p.m. but the tenders ran behind schedule getting passengers back to the ship. So she left at 9 in the dark.”

Vineyarders who watched the ship depart said the vessel made a 360-degree turn before departing. Observers noted the vessel was first pointed west and through a slow process of maneuvering she pointed east. Many thought she would leave by way of Nantucket Sound. But then she turned completely around again before heading west around West Chop and down through Vineyard Sound.

Capt. Richard (Dick) Thompson said he saw the QE2 pass through Quick’s Hole while he was running through Buzzards Bay on the Schamonchi at 9:40 p.m. “She was heading south,” he said.

Upon learning of the accident, Coast Guard officials dispatched a 41-foot boat from the Menemsha Station to the scene. According to senior chief Donald Kressin, the boat left Menemsha at 11 p.m. under the command of petty officer John O’Harat They were directed to go out and determine the areas of pollution. They couldn’t find any.” After two hours the vessel returned to Menemsha.

The 41 -footer returned the following morning to assist in forming a 500-yard security zone around the ship, “The purpose was to keep the area clear while various operations were going on,” Chief Kressin said. The buoy tender Bittersweet from Woods Hole arrived on the scene at 4 a.m.

On Saturday a diving team hired by the ship’s owner surveyed the bottom of the ship. According to Coast Guard officials at the Marine Safety Office in Providence, the divers found as many as eight gashes in the hull, the longest being 74 feet. The main gash was from three to six inches wide and stretched aft on the starboard side. According to reports, three water tanks for ballast were punctured. A near empty fuel tank was punctured and a fifth tank loaded with 38,500 gallons of No. 6 fuel was punctured but did not leak since fuel floats above water.

Passengers did complain on Saturday morning of a lack of fresh cold water.

In the morning, the 150-foot passenger ferry Schamonchi was diverted from its regular runs between Vineyard Haven and New Bedford to the scene to help transport passengers from the crippled ship to Newport. The Schamonchi transported 560 first-class passengers. Later in the afternoon the Coast Guard gave the officers of the cruise ship permission to proceed slowly to Newport to unload the remaining passengers by small tenders. The ship spent Saturday night near Brenton Reef Tower; which is just outside of the entrance to the harbor.

Coast Guard First District spokesman Greg Robinson said the ship arrived at the Black Falcon Cruise Ship dock, South Boston, at 1 p.m. yesterday. Today she will be moved to General Ship Co. where she will be drydocked. Mr. Robinson said of the facility: “It hasn’t been used in along time.”

While the ship is prepared for repairs, an inquiry into the cause begins Wednesday. The investigation for the National Transportation Safety Board is being led by Leon Z. Katcharian and he is being assisted by Paul J. Esbensen. The Coast Guard investigator is Commander Dean W. Katz,

Because of the accident, the Cunard Line has canceled its August 8 and August 13 trans-Atlantic crossings. A spokesman said the next scheduled crossing will be August 18 from New York to Southampton. If there is any difficulty in the repairs, the schedule might have to be adjusted again.

Officials with the Cunard Line have since Friday blamed the damage on an “uncharted, underwater obstacle.” But other reports suggest that the company has put the blame on the pilot.

Yesterday, the 90-foot white NOAA ship Rude began surveying the area of Vineyard Sound where the accident occurred with the intent of finding the cause. According to John D. Wilder, a lieutenant commander with NOAA, the vessel had been working for much of this year in Buzzards Bay. It was little trouble to divert the Rude for the special project. “She just happened to be in the area working out of New Bedford. She was looking at wrecks and obstructions In Buzzards Bay.”

Lieut, Cmdr. Wilder said Rude is capable of a variety of underwater survey tasks. She is based in Rockville, Md., and is equipped for sonar work including side scan sonar. Members of her crew are able to dive in the event that something unusual is found below. “If they find a rock or wreck they will send down divers to examine it,” he said.

In the past when ships have run aground causing great damage, divers were used to find the cause. The best evidence is paint and fresh scars on submerged rocks. When the MV Islander ran up on a rock at low tide off the Steamship Authority wharf in Oak Bluffs on March 19, 1980, divers identified an undocumented rock 200 yards from the wharf. Divers were also sent down to find the cause of accidents like the Pilgrim Belle and the Bermuda Star. Looking at a chart where the QE2 ran aground, Mr. Wilder said: “To the best of our knowledge there is no wreck there.” He said preliminary survey of the area south of Sow and Pigs Reef should take a number of days.

NOAA is responsible for updating and printing the navigational charts used by commercial and recreational boaters. A determination of whether there is an uncharted obstacle will be a key ingredient in the pilot’s defense.

A co-captain of the Schamonchi, who assisted in rescue of the passengers, had an even bigger question. Capt. Kevin McNeil asked: “I wonder if they will come back.”

Before Friday the QE2 had been scheduled to return to the Vineyard twice next year. A spokesman for Cunard Line said yesterday: “We haven’t even thought about it. I think we will. Our passengers like to come to the Vineyard.”