Great Storm - By
"S. A. Lyons"
The first person accounts which follow
first appeared in the March 1914 issue of THE MARINE REVIEW. Most of the
article, excerpted by the MARINE HISTORIAN in 1988, was written by the
Captain of the J.H. SHEADLE, S. A. Lyons.
The storm which enveloped the Great Lakes
region November 8 to 11 was the most destructive since the lakes have been
commercially navigated and will doubtless mark a period in the history of
the lakes. There have been great storms in the past, notably that of 1905,
but none so extended in area, so terrific in force and so long continued
without any cessation of wind velocity. The storm really began on Friday
night, November 7, striking Lake Superior from the Northwest. It was
accompanied by a blinding snow storm, which made navigation practically
impossible without great risk. The maximum velocity of the wind at the west
end of Lake Superior on Saturday, November 9, was at the rate of 68 miles an
hour, with a heavy sea running. The sea ran pretty high all day Saturday and
vessels remained in port. Those that were out sought shelter.
The First Casualty
The first casualty reported was that of the
old wooden steamer LOUISIANA, belonging to the Thompson Steamship Co., of
Cleveland, which ran ashore on Washington Island, Lake Michigan, at 2
o'clock Saturday morning, and almost immediately thereafter caught fire,
becoming a total loss. The crew managed to reach the island in safety.
On Sunday the storm struck Lake Huron and
tore across the Canadian peninsula to Lake Erie with incredible velocity,
doing much havoc. Telephone and telegraph wires and all avenues of
communication for a hundred miles around Cleveland were entirely destroyed.
For the better part of two days vessel owners did not really know what had
happened to their ships, as it was utterly impossible to get a wire through
The first intimation received of the
unusual character of the storm was a wireless report that a vessel was
floating upside down about 11 miles northeast of Fort Gratiot light, Lake
Huron. This was a mysterious circumstance, not generally credited, but
subsequently developments proved it to be true. For several days the black
overturned hull apparently floated transfixed in one spot until it sank
altogether out of sight. Then as quiet weather succeeded and the days went
by an several staunch modern ships did not reach port, it became certain
that the storm had taken a toll, the like of which had never been
experienced before. Ten vessels had totally disappeared, six had been thrown
upon the beach, becoming total losses, fifteen had been driven ashore,
entailing heavy damage, and many others had to go to their ship yards to
have their rivets tightened, so badly were they sprung by being pounded in
the heavy seas.
It will never be known what happened on
board eight of the ships that were out in the storm on Lake Huron, because
all of them foundered and not a life was saved. The experience of the
steamer H.M. HANNA JR. Which was thrown upon a reef near Port Austin light,
must have been typical of the experience of all. The HANNA passed Port Huron
about 5 o'clock, Sunday morning, the weather being fair and clear, with a
15-mile breeze off the land and a low barometer. She passed Harbor Beach
about 11:30 a.m., the wind increasing meanwhile. The vessel passed Pointe
Aux Barques about 2 p.m., and as the wind increased, she was hauled more to
the northward to hold her head to the wind. As the day advanced the snow got
thicker and thicker, and the wind and sea so increased that the vessel began
dropping off her course. Tremendous seas began to break over her,
demolishing her after cabin, carrying away the starboard life boat and
tearing off the top of the pilot house. About 8 o'clock at night the
steward's wife was swept into the engine room by a particularly heavy seas,
which struck the after quarters. Though the steamer was in good trim and her
engine kept wide open, it was impossible to keep her headed into the sea and
she gradually went off into the trough. From that time on she wallowed
heavily, with the seas breaking continuously over her, demolishing the
crew's quarters aft and pouring tons of water into the engine room. Pumps
and siphons were kept going to free her, and when the captain saw the Port
Austin light close aboard, he threw out the port anchor to bring her head to
the wind, but she continued to drift until she slammed upon the reef, where
she pounded so badly that she broke in two. All her hatches were torn from
her and her rivets sheared off the top sides as if they had been cut with
chisel and hammer. The crew remained aboard the ship all day Monday, but as
the seas were moderating on Tuesday morning, they were able to lower the
port life boat and reach the shore. The balance of the crew were taken off
by the life savers. Everybody aboard spoke in the highest praise of Mrs.
Black, the cook, who foundered about in the galley in water waist-deep,
trying to prepare meals for members of the crew. The HANNA was abandoned as
a total constructive loss.
It was at first thought that the ship
floating upside down near the foot of Lake Huron was the Canadian steamer
WEXFORD, owned by the Western Steamship Co., Toronto, Ontario. This steamer
was built by Wm. Doxford & Sons, Sunderland, England, in 1883, and was of
Canadian canal size. Doubts were expressed as to the correctness of her
identity and certain evidence tended to prove that she was the steamer
CHARLES S. PRICE, of the Hanna fleet. Divers later corroborated this
evidence. The PRICE, which was built in 1910, was loaded with coal and was
in seaworthy condition. She and the ISAAC M. SCOTT, also loaded with coal,
passed Port Huron at approximately the same time that the H.M. HANNA, JR.
did. While the barometer was low, and high northwest winds were scheduled,
there was nothing to indicate either in the sea or the wind at that time
that the passage could not be made with reasonable safety.
The first intimations of further disaster
usually came in the form of life boats or life rafts washing ashore. Vessel
owners would hug the delusion they had merely been swept overboard in the
seas until the bodies of the crew also came ashore and then hope was
definitely abandoned. From these dire tidings it finally became certain that
the steamers JAMES CARRUTHERS, JOHN A. McGEAN, ARGUS, HYDRUS, WEXFORD,
REGINA, CHARLESS.PRICE and ISAAC M. SCOTT had totally disappeared on Lake
Huron and that the H.B. SMITH had foundered on Lake Superior somewhere
between Marquette and the Sault. In addition, the LEAFIELD had struck the
rocks on Angus Island, Lake Superior, and had foundered in deep water. The
L.C. WALDO had run ashore on Manitou Island, Lake Superior, becoming a total
constructive loss. The TURRET CHIEF had been driven ashore on Copper Harbor,
Lake Superior, and the MATOA had gone ashore on Pointe Aux Barques, Lake
Huron, both becoming total losses. LIGHTSHIP 82 had been torn from her
moorings near Point Abino, Lake Erie, and had foundered with her crew of
six. The barge PLYMOUTH had gone down near Gull Island, Lake Superior, with
her crew of seven. No such widespread disaster ever struck the lakes before.
The most appalling thing, however was the
fearful loss of life. Twelve vessels had foundered, taking down every member
of the crew, amounting to 232 souls. Adding to that three who lost their
lives in endeavoring to reach shore from the standard steamer NOTTINGHAM,
the total death toll is 235.
The storm sprang up in that lake with great
suddenness and violence and while its direction was generally from the
northeast on other lakes, it appears to have struck Lake Huron from a north
or northeasterly direction, apparently changing direction suddenly as the
wind was frequently blowing one way while the sea was running another way.
Masters of vessels that lived through it all testified that it was the worst
storm in their experience and that their ships were never pounded so before.
Heavy seas were constantly breaking over the vessels. Vessels coming down
the lakes were continually boarded by following seas which tore away the
after quarters or kept them constantly flooded to a depth of several feet,
sweeping everything portable overboard. Considerable water also found its
way by this means into the engine room. Vessels heading into the sea stood
in danger of carrying away their pilot houses, and it was absolutely
impossible to go either forward or aft on any of them owing to the heavy
seas continually breaking over the vessels.
One of the great mysteries is the
disappearance of the bulk freighter JAMES CARRUTHERS. This steamer was built
at the Collingwood yard during the present year and was one of the best
constructed vessels on the Great Lakes. She had several hundred tons more
steel worked into her hull than is usual and for that reason her carrying
capacity was greatly diminished, the owners sacrificing earning power for
staunchness and seaworthiness. The CARRUTHERS left the Sault downbound at
approximately the same time that the J.H. SHEADLE did and both entered Lake
Huron within an hour of each other; yet the SHEADLE came through after a
trying experience, but the CARRUTHERS has not been heard of since. What
happened to her is the merest conjecture. The most plausible theory is that
she got into the trough and that her cargo of wheat shifted, causing her to
sink. She represents the greatest single loss, as she was insured for
$279,000 and her cargo of grain was insured for $350,000.
The history of such a storm, of course, can
only be related by a recital of individual experiences. Probably no one who
was out in it on Sunday, November 9, will ever forget it. One such
recollection, by Captain S.A. Lyons, follows:
We loaded grain at Fort William and left
there at 8 p.m., the night of November 6. The captain of the JAMES
CARRUTHERS and I were in the shipping office together and intended to come
down together as we were going to get away at about the same time, but
evidently he did not get out until some time after I did.
When I left, the barometer was below
normal, but stationary, and the wind had been blowing for some time. After
getting outside of Thunder Cape, there was a heavy sea running from the
southwest and a strong breeze. I went back under Pie Island, letting go
anchor at 10 o'clock and laying there until 3:30 the morning of the 7th,
when the wind went north and we proceeded on our voyage.
On arriving at Whitefish, it shut in very
thick and foggy, which held us there the balance of the night and until
about 8 o'clock the following morning, November 8.
There were a number of steamers laying at
anchor further down the Bay and they, of course, locked down ahead of the
SHEADLE. The JAMES CARRUTHERS locked down just ahead of us, then we
followed at 8:30 p.m., with the HYDRUS immediately after us, both of which
vessels were lost. It had been snowing, having commenced along in the
afternoon. It was snowing some while we were in the lock, but had cleared
up when we left the lock.
I had wired the office I would not leave,
but as it cleared up, we continued on down the river, passing out into
Lake Huron at 1:53 a.m. the morning of November 9, with the wind light
north northeast. The only variations in our course from that time until
practically within two miles of Thunder Bay was one-eight of a point. As
we approached the fuel dock of Messrs. Pickands, Mather & Co., we sighted
the CARRUTHERS taking on fuel; she left the dock, rounded to, and entered
Lake Huron shortly before we did.
Before we arrived at Presque Isle, Lake
Huron, it commenced to snow some; sometimes it would clear up so that we
could pick up the land; we saw Presque Isle, Middle Island and Thunder
Bay. From our soundings when we got to Thunder Bay at 8:35 a.m., we were
about two miles outside of our regular course down Lake Huron, having
steered southeast by south one-eighth south. The barometer at this time
was below normal, but stationary.
In an hour and a half after passing
Thunder Bay Island the wind had increased and there was a strong wind from
the north northeast with snow. The sea kept on increasing, and the wind
changed to due north, blowing a gale. At 11:30 a.m., the course was
changed to south by east one-half east in order to bring the ship more
before the sea, and we continued to shift as the sea increased from a half
to a point as to keep the ship running practically dead before it; also to
keep the ship from rolling and the seas from breaking over the decks.
We got regular soundings at Pointe Aux
Barques that we had been getting on previous trips, and by the soundings
and the time we could tell when we were abreast of the Pointe. It was
snowing a blinding blizzard and we could not see anything. According to
the soundings we got by the deep seas sounding lead we were abreast of
Harbor Beach at 4:50 p.m., and three miles outside the regular course we
take during the summer. At this time the wind was due north and at Harbor
Beach we changed our course to due south running dead before the sea and
The bell rang for supper at 5:45 p.m.,
which was prepared and the tables set, when a gigantic sea mounted our
stern, flooding the fantail, sending torrents of water through the
passageways on each side of the cabin, concaving the cabin, breaking the
windows in the after cabin, washing our provisions out of the refrigerator
and practically destroying them all, leaving us with one ham and a few
potatoes. We had no tea or coffee. Our flour was turned into dough. The
supper was swept off the tables and all the dishes smashed.
Volumes of water came down on the engine
through the upper skylights, and at all times there were from 4 to 6 feet
of water in the cabin. Considerable damage was done to the interior of the
cabin and fixtures. The after steel bulkhead of the cabin was buckled. All
the skylights and windows were broken in. A small working boat on the top
of the after cabin and mate's chadburn were washed away.
It was blowing about 70 miles an hour at
this time, with high seas, one wave following another very closely. Owing
to the sudden force of the wind the seas had not lengthened out as they
usually do when the wind increases in the ordinary way. In about four
hours the wind had come up from 25 to 70 miles an hour, but I do not think
exceeded 70 miles an hour.
Immediately after the first sea swept
over our stern, I ordered the boatswain to take sufficient men and
shutters to close all windows in the after cabin. The forced their way
aft, braving the wind, sleet and seas, one hand grasping the life rail and
the other the shutters. Reaching the after cabin in safety, they began
securing the shutters, when another tremendous sea swept over the vessel,
carrying away the shutters. The men were forced to cling to whatever was
nearest them to keep from being washed overboard; immediately a third sea,
equally as severe, boarded the vessel, flooding the fantail and hurricane
deck. The men attempted to reach the crews dining room, but could not make
it, and only saved themselves by gripping the nearest object they could
reach, indeed one of the wheelsmen was only saved from going over by
accidentally falling as he endeavored to grope his way to the rail, his
foot catching in one of the bulkwark braces, preventing him from being
swept off. Another monster sea boarded the boat, tearing the man loose
from the brace and landing him in the tow line, which had been washed from
its after rack and was fouled on the deck.
The men finally made the shelter of the
dining room and galley. One of the oilers stood watch at the dining room
door, closing it when the boat shipped a sea and opening it when the decks
were clear to let the water out of the cabins.
The steward and his wife were standing
knee-deep in the icy water. The steward's wife was assisted into the
engine room, the steward remaining in the dining room, securing furniture
and the silverware. The firemen and seamen were comfortable in their rooms
as they were not touched.
Some of the outfit of the private dining
room was washed into the mess room; the steward's trunk was washed out of
his room and stood on end in the galley. Steward's wife had to remain all
night in the engine room wrapped in a blanket. Water through the engine
room skylight drenched the two engineers who were throttling the engines.
I do not think it ever happened before when these two men had to stand by
these two positions constantly. From 2:30 p.m., until 5:00 p.m., the
engines raced, requiring the greatest care and judgment. At times the ship
was so heavily burdened with seas coming over her decks that her
revolutions were decreased from 75 to 35 turns per minute. The engineers
made their positions more comfortable by rigging up a piece of canvas over
We continued on our course, following our
deep sea soundings, and at 9 o'clock had soundings of 18 fathoms. This
carried us well off the west shore. I called the engineer up at this time
and told him that at 10 o'clock (the night of November 9) I was going to
turn around head to the sea unless I could located the land or Fort
Gratiot light, and wanted to increase the speed of the ship up to that
time so as to enable me to bring the boat around head to on account of the
sea running behind us. At 10 o'clock we turned heading north haft east;
the vessel rolled very heavily, but came around all right head to. I
should judge that we were 10 minutes in turning. At that time we were
about 10 miles north of Fort Gratiot by the soundings we got 10 fathoms. I
had everything lashed before we turned. No one thought of a life
preserver. The way the ship was behaving we had every confidence in her.
The heavy rolling tore adrift the binnacle on top of the pilot house.
After that it was extremely dangerous to be in the house, as this heavy
object was hurled back and forth across the deck as the ship labored and
rolled in the heavy sea.
Just after turning I sent the first mate
aft to inspect the wheel chains and quadrant. He telephoned me that they
were all right, but that he could not get forward again at that time, the
seas covering the decks with a solid mass of blue water. The men of the
second watch had remained on deck with us, and while we could not let one
man go aft alone we did not hesitate to let two go together.
I started back on a vice versa course,
which would be north half east for 6 ¹ hours, following my soundings back
from 10 to 22 fathoms. During this time one of the wheelsmen got aft,
securing a few pieces of bread, and came forward again with the mate and
boatswain. One watchman remained on watch in the galley.
At 4:15 a.m., November 10, I turned
again, heading south one-quarter west. This time we experienced much
difficulty in turning, the ship remaining longer in the trough of the sea
on account of not getting so much way and running head into it, but she
behaved well, handled well in every way and steered well. The rolling was
very bad - I was lifted right off my feet. Only by the greatest effort
were the second mate and myself able to hold onto the stanchions on the
top house, our legs being parallel with the deck most of the time.
Again and again she plunged forward, only
to be baffled in her attempts to run before it, sometime fetching up
standing and trembling from stem to stern. She was buffeted about by the
tremendous seas, almost helpless, dipping her hatches in the water on
either side, barrels of oil and paint getting adrift and smashing out the
sides of the paint locker. The men were tossed around the wheel house at
will. I feared her steering gear had given way, but fortunately on
examination they proved to be all right. She would gain a half a point,
only to lose it, but finally after a mighty effort she swung around. I
never have seen seas form as they did at this time; they were large and
seemed to run in series, one mounting the other like a mighty barrier.
Running back, we decreased our speed from
"full" to 55 turns, as we got down closer to the river, following back on
somewhat different soundings than we got going up. We came back in two
hours, where it took us 6 ¹ to face the sea.
At 6:30 a.m., November 10, I called the
engineer and told him I was not satisfied with the soundings were getting,
and to be prepared at any moment to give me full power to turn the ship
again. We could see nothing on account of the heavy fall of snow.
At 6:45 a.m., we turned for the third
time, "members.html" heading north by west. This time the sea had
decreased, and the wind had gone to the northwest in the meantime so there
was practically no sea to bother us any.
The 75-mile gale lasted from about 10
o'clock Sunday morning until about 2 o'clock Monday morning, 16 hours of
it, with continuous snow all the time.