All along the lock walls and piers of the canals of the Great Lakes are the names of ships that have transited the system over the years, reminders left behind by light-hearted deckhands with wayward paint brushes. So numerous are these scrawled messages that the development of the Seaway into a modern canal system can be seen through the accompanying changes in the vessels using it. (Even your Editor must plead guilty to the instigation of one such painting session aboard a certain passenger steamer). In any event, standing out in bold white paint and more legible than the rest, is a message lettered on the facing of the east pier of the outer harbour at Port Colborne almost a decade ago! "The Deep One, MAKAWELI, July '62."
It was early in 1917 that the United States entered World War I . There was an acute shortage of bulk cargo vessels and so the U.S. Shipping Board placed orders with lake shipyards for over three hundred standard canal-sized carriers, built to various designs but, for the most part, three-island types with machinery amidships. These vessels became known as the "Lakers" and for many decades they served well in virtually every part of the world. One contract, however, that for Design 1060, was placed with the Great Lakes Engineering Works and called for twenty-four bulk carriers of the stemwinder type, that is, with engines and deckhouses aft, intended for the East Coast coal trade. These ships had a raised forecastle and a very lengthy poop deck that extended well forward of the pilothouse. As built, they carried, in addition to the usual fore and main masts, two pairs of kingposts, one set aft of the forecastle and one atop the fore part of the poop, each post being equipped with two cargo booms. The vessels were given the graceful, elliptical counter stern that characterised all the "Lakers."
MAKAWELI began life in the Great Lakes Engineering Works yard at Ashtabula as Hull 503. The builders gave her a length of 253.5 feet, a beam of 43.6 and a depth of 25.1 feet. These dimensions gave her a tonnage of 2507 Gross and 1495 Net. The vessel was completed in April 1919 and, following the pattern of giving this series . of ships names beginning with the letter "C", she was christened COWEE (U. S. 217844). She was fitted with triple expansion engines, made by the builder, with cylinders of 21", 34 1/2" and 57" and a 42" stroke and, with steam supplied by two single-ended coal-fired Scotch boilers, she could manage a speed of nine knots.
COWEE, along with her sisters, entered service and joined the Shipping Board's emergency fleet even though hostilities were ended long before her completion. By 1922, however, her usefulness in this role was at an end; with two of her sisters, COWBOY and COVERUN, she was sold to the Matson Navigation Company of San Francisco, a firm well known for its services in the Pacific and particularly to the Hawaiian Islands. She was converted to burn oil fuel and minor changes to adapt her to her new trade altered her tonnage to 2552 Gross and 1534 Net. Matson traditionally gave its vessels Hawaiian names and so COWEE was rechristened MAKAWELI, an Island word meaning, apparently, "fierce eye of evil," and hence the eye of a hurricane. COWBOY and COVERUN were likewise renamed MAKENA and MAHUKONA respectively.
MAKAWELI's main trade was carrying lumber from Puget Sound to the Hawaiian ports of Honolulu, Hilo and Kahului, from whence she returned to San Francisco with sugar. Presumably, she then sailed light ship for Puget Sound. This type of service continued until 1937 when she was taken to the San Francisco yard of the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corporation for conversion to a tanker. Apart from the natural change in location of her masts and the addition of necessary deck gear, her general appearance was not greatly altered by the conversion. Her tonnage, however, was now 2665 Gross and 1551 Net. After completion of the rebuilding, MAKAWELI continued to serve the Pacific area, but now she carried molasses, petroleum products, and even water; in short, anything that could be carried in a tanker.
And so, on a quiet Sunday morning late in 1941, MAKAWELI's duties as a tanker brought her to a port on the Southern coast of Oahu Island, where she lay peacefully at anchor. Unfortunately for her, the port was Pearl Harbor and the date was December 7, 1941, the day of the Japanese air attack on the American naval installation located there. MAKAWELI was extremely lucky; although damaged by the bombing, she escaped the utter destruction which was the fate of so many vessels lying at Pearl Harbor that day. The tanker was towed all the way to San Pedro, California, where she was repaired.
Shortly after recovering from her narrow escape, MAKAWELI was requisitioned by the U.S. War Shipping Administration and served in the Pacific during the hostilities there. By 1946, however, the government did not require her services further and her twenty-seven years on salt water were showing to the extent that Matson could no longer operate her economically. Her two sisters had already left the fleet; MAHUKONA went missing at sea during February 1941 and MAKENA had been sold to Panamanian buyers the same year. The latter ship lasted until 1960 when she was dismantled.
Thus in 1946 MAKAWELI was offered for sale. She was purchased by Lakeland Tankers Limited of Toronto, a subsidiary of Cleveland Tankers Inc., and the Ashland Oil & Refining Co. Inc., and she was brought back to her native Great Lakes. Under Canadian registry, she bore official number 177814. After bringing a cargo of oil to Toronto, she was immediately taken to Port Weller where she was drydocked and completely refurbished, having arrived from the Pacific in somewhat less than sparkling condition.
MAKAWELI served her new owners well. In addition to frequenting Lake Ontario and the Upper St. Lawrence, she operated as far East as Newfoundland and North into Hudson's Bay. She was a real workhorse for her owners and this was, in part, due to her great draft. She came by her nickname "The Deep One" very well: with a depth of 25.1 feet, she seemed extremely high when light, this impression no doubt being reinforced by the fact that, like most stemwinders, she tended to "sit down on her stern" and lift her bows high in the air.
On many occasions, MAKAWELI operated under charter to Imperial Oil Ltd. and it was on one such occasion in 1951 that she beat out the then-new IMPERIAL LEDUC in bringing the first load of Alberta crude to Sarnia. The newly completed pipeline terminated at that time at Superior, Wisconsin, and the oil had to be taken by ship the rest of the way.
The old tanker continued in lake trade until the end of 1966, at which time she and her running mate LUBROLAKE were laid up and Lakeland Tankers Ltd. ceased operations. The following year, she was sold to Steel Factors Ltd., Montreal, and was towed from her Montreal berth by the ocean tug JUNAK, having been resold to European breakers. Taken in tandem tow with MOHAWK DEER, destined to be lost en route, she was either more or less fortunate, as the case may be and arrived on November 5, 1967) at La Spezia, Italy, where she was scrapped.
And so ended the career of a vessel which, over the years, wandered more than half way around the world. Despite the number of such standard vessels built, she was the last of the World War I "Lakers" to operate on the lakes, quite an accomplishment for "The Deep One" that had worked so hard for so many years.
Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society.