Ship Missed New Year's Eve, But Straddled 2 Centuries

Well, here it is Jan. 2, 1990, and we're in a brand-new decade. Feel any different? Shake.

But we do have a story - involving minutes, hours, days, seasons, decades and centuries. Stop drumming your fingers; this is a good one.

For starters, I was browsing through ``The Pointer,'' a newsletter put out by U.S. Navy Armed Guard WW II Veterans. These were the officers and men who manned the guns on merchant ships during World War II.

With civilians running the ships, they were the only military people aboard. A brave branch of the service.

This fascinating story has nothing to do with World War II. It happened, according to a short feature in ``The Pointer,'' 90 years ago.

First, some atmosphere: ``The night was warm and inviting, and the stars shone in all their tropical brilliance. Captain John D.S. Phillips was in a dark corner of the bridge, quietly pulling on a cigar with all the contentment that comes to a sailor when he knows the voyage is half completed.

``His ship, the passenger steamer SS Warrimoo, was quietly knifing her way through the waters of the mid-Pacific on her way from Vancouver to Australia. The navigator had just finished working out a star fix and brought Captain Phillips the results.''

The ship, it seemed, was spotted at latitude zero degrees-30 minutes north and longitude 179-degrees-30 minutes west. The date was Dec. 30, 1899.

What this meant, of course, was that the Warrimoo was only a few miles from the intersection of the equator and the international date line.

Capt. Phillips double-checked the position of his ship with four additional navigators. They confirmed the ship's exact position.

Then Capt. Phillips, a prankish fellow, changed course slightly and made for the intersection of the date line and the equator. He adjusted the ship's speed to arrive at exactly the right time.

The story goes on: ``The calm weather, the clear night and the eager cooperation of his entire crew worked successfully in the captain's favor. At precisely midnight, local time, the Warrimoo lay exactly on the equator at exactly the point where it crosses the international date line!

``The consequences of this bizarre position were many. The forward part of the ship was in the Southern Hemisphere and in the middle of summer. The stern was in the Northern Hemisphere and in the middle of winter.

``The date in the after part of the ship was Dec. 30, 1899. Forward, it was Jan. 1, 1900.

``The ship was therefore not only in two different days, two different months, two different seasons and two different years, but in two different centuries - all at the same time!

``Moreover, the passengers were cheated out of a New Year's Eve celebration, and one entire day, Dec. 31, 1899, disappeared from their lives for all time.''

``There were compensations, however, for the people aboard the Warrimoo were undoubtedly the first to greet the new century.

``And Captain Phillips, speaking of the event many years later, said, `I never heard of it happening before, and I guess it won't happen again until the year 2000!' ''

Only a decade to wait. Stick around, and if we're both still here, let's try to find another skipper with Capt. Phillips' puckish flair.

Change of subject: The Goodwill Games already are doing what the corporate boys call ``impacting,'' which is to say that virtually all hotel rooms are booked during the games; ticket orders are flowing in ($9 million to date), and security headaches are already throbbing.

Meanwhile, the city budget in South Bend has increased. As The Willapa Harbor Herald explains it:

``South Bend is expecting an influx of visitors hurrying through town during the 1990 Goodwill Games to contribute to a projected $52,000 increase in court fines - the main factor in the city's enlarged budget for next year.''

In dubious battle: Peggy Noonan, a former speech writer for Ronald Reagan, has become a celebrity in her own right. No doubt she'll have a tell-all book out soon. Meanwhile, in the December issue of Mirabella magazine, Noonan says she watched administration officials struggling for the mind of Reagan on various issues.

Her conclusion: ``It was like the trench warfare of World War I. Never have so many fought so hard for such barren terrain.''

Emmett Watson's column appears Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday in the Northwest section of The Times.