BOSTON -- The Queen Elizabeth 2 was about two-thirds of a mile north of her intended course and moving to distance herself from shoals off Cuttyhunk Island when she was jarred by an uncharted obstacle that left long gashes in her hull, the vessel's captain testified yesterday.
But the captain, Robin A. Woodall, gave no indication why the luxury liner had abandoned the more southerly course that would have taken it through deeper waters.
Captain Woodall testified that John Hadley, the local pilot who was advising him, had called for the ship to veer slightly northward. The captain did not say why the course was changed.
When the navigator told the captain the new course would take them close to Sow and Pigs Reef, a rock formation near the southwestern edge of Cuttyhunk Island, the captain ordered a second course change to put the QE2 back on a route farther south, Captain Woodall said.
It was after this second course change that the ship struck the unknown obstacle while traveling at 24 knots, or 28 miles an hour, about 85 percent of her maximum speed.
Captain Hadley is the next scheduled witness at the federal investigative hearing, which resumes today.
Several times, after repeated questions by investigators representing the Coast Guard and the National Transportation Safety Board, Captain Woodall denied that there was anything inappropriate about allowing the ship to pass across an area where charts indicated the distance between the keel and the rocky bottom could be as little as 6 or 7 feet.
Because the charts indicated sufficient depth for the 67,000-ton ship to pass safely, the captain said, the long "rumbling" shocks of the impact at about 10 p.m. last Friday left him first confused, then "astounded."
Captain Woodall said he first thought the ship "had struck a surface object or there had been some catastrophic failure in the machinery space."
"Grounding was the last thing that crossed my mind, because I knew there was sufficient water in the area for the ship," he said.