The Ortega Odyssey: Spoons, Splashes, and Bravery at Sea

In the realm of collectibles, few items stir the heart and imagination quite like maritime memorabilia. And within this ocean of treasures, items linked to historic voyages are particularly coveted, valued not just for their rarity but for the stories they carry across time and tides.

Today, we have the privilege of peering into such a time capsule, thanks to letters penned by a certain Fred Cobb of Doncaster, England. These aren’t just any letters; they were written aboard the RMS Ortega during its maiden voyage in April to March—a pivotal moment before the world was engulfed in the turmoil of the First World War.

Fred’s letters to his parents capture the innocence and adventure of sea travel at the time. He recounts an amusing deck game, a quirky tradition where passengers hurled the ship’s spoons into the swimming pool, diving in after them. With a triumphant tally of 44 spoons, Fred emerged as the victor of this whimsical competition. Such lighthearted moments stand in stark contrast to the grave destiny that awaited the RMS Ortega.

The dealer who discovered these letters reminds us of the RMS Ortega’s dramatic history. As war erupted, the ship’s captain, Captain Kinnier, refused to yield to the threat of capture. Instead, he made a daring escape through shallow, uncharted waters—a move that would earn him the Distinguished Service Cross from King George V and other commendations from the French Government and the Admiralty. This tale of bravery on the high seas is the stuff of legends, the kind that adds immeasurable worth to these seemingly mundane letters.

These papers do not just recount a young man’s maritime adventures; they are silent witnesses to a captain’s valor, to a world on the brink of change, and to the spirit of an era that valued honor above safety. Captain Kinnier’s legacy, his awards, and the thrilling escape of the RMS Ortega through the Nelson Strait, only to be met by the Chilean warship Admiral Lynch, are narratives woven into the fabric of these letters.

As we unfold these yellowed pages, we’re not just reading words; we’re summoning spirits of the past. We’re reliving the gaiety of a bygone era of steamships and the valorous acts that defined it. These letters are more than paper; they’re portals to the past, and they are priceless.

While technical details from The Ships List provide a dry account of the RMS Ortega’s specifications and journey, it’s the personal anecdotes and the connection to historical events that truly captivate us. After all, it’s the human experiences, the stories of individuals like Fred and Captain Kinnier, that transform objects into treasures. In the vast ocean of collectibles, items like these are the rare pearls that remind us of the depths of human courage and the timeless allure of the sea.