Monday, July 21, 2014

More than luck?

The Great Lakes storm of 1913 was an extratropical cyclone with winds in  excess of 80 mph, waves were as high as 35 feet on Lake Huron and whiteout conditions occurred.  On November 9 1913, eight ships were sunk and 187 lives were lost.  One of those ships was the Henry B Smith.

In May 2013, the ship was found resting 535 feet deep in Lake Superior, off the shore of Marquette MI.  The ship was a steel hulled lake freighter that was built in 1906 in Lorain OH.  The 525 foot long ship was owned by the Acme Transit of Lorain OH and was in Marquette to take on a load of iron ore.  The storm had already begun when the ore was being loaded but there was a lull in the winds by the time it had been finished.  It was rumored that Captain James Owen had been repeatedly late for destinations all year and was under pressure to make this last load on time, no matter what the conditions were.

Owen chose to pull the Henry B Smith from it's berth and headed out but not to starboard which would norminally lead him to the Soo Locks.  Witnesses on shore saw him turn to port, possibly to seek shelter from the returning gale force winds, behind Keweenaw Point.  They could see his crew trying to lock down and secure the 32 hatches, a job that normally took a couple of hours in good weather.

Late in the night of November 9 or early in the morning of the November 10, the Henry B Smith sunk, taking with her all 25 aboard.  Wreckage and debris from the ship was found far ashore Shot Point, Laughing Fish Point and Chocolay Bay and the body of second cook H R Haskin was found floating about 50 miles west of Whitefish Point.  The only other body to be recovered was the skeletal remains of third engineer John Gallagher, which was found on Parisian Island in the spring of 1914.

Storms such as this are not uncommon on the Great Lakes but this storm was probably the largest.  It raged for over 16 hours, sank 12 ships, stranded more than 25, buried surrounding towns in as much as 6 feet of snow and caused $5 million in losses from the ships alone.  That translates to approximately $116,150,000 today.  No one was capable of forecasting the convergence of the two storms on the lakes in 1913 and rapidly updating that information to ships.  Ships like the Henry B Smith left port during the lulls in the storm, not knowing that it was still raging.  While storms rage across the ocean and create higher waves, those on the Great Lakes have less distance between them.  This shortened distance leaves less room for a captain to prepare for the next wave.

The final resting spot for the Henry B Smith was unknown until a group of wreck hunters from Rice Lake WI discovered it and it's spilled load of ore deep in the lake.  Jerry Eliason states tat it wasn't luck that found the wreck.  Instead, it was years of data collection, hunches and research that led them to a location about 30 miles from Marquette.  Within 20 minutes of dropping the sonar equipment into the water, they had found the wreck.

The pictures they have brought back show that the wreck is in excellent condition and the visibility there is great.  The ship looks to be broken in the middle and the forward section is very intact but listing a bit.  The stern has more damage to it, perhaps from a boiler exploding or pressure may have built up there while it was sinking.  It confirms that the ship broke apart on the surface, spilled the ore load and then sank to rest on the ore.  They plan to make more trips out with camera and video equipment to film the wreck since at 525 feet down, it is a dive that only specialized divers could make with the right equipment.

It is always exciting to find another wreck........ to answer the questions that history has hidden for 100 years.......

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