THE BIG STORM OF 1913
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 anywhere.
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
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 rivots 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
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
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
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 the engines.
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
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.
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