Lake Huron, Bound North,
November 12th, 1913.
I passed up by Fort Gratiot light on November 9th, 3:15 A.M. At that time the wind was light west. Weather cloudy but clear. At 10:20 A.M. I passed Pointe Aux Barques. The wind then was N.W. blowing hard. At 11:00 A.M. wind north and increasing in force. At 2:00 P.M. blowing a gale and increasing in force all the while and by 4:00 P.M. the sea was running so high and wind so strong that we were not going ahead and were having trouble to keep head to wind. At 4:30 P.M. she blew around in trough of sea and I could not get her head to wind again, so I put her before the wind and checked to slow speed, but had to keep ringing up half and full speed every few minutes to keep her out of the trough of the sea. Could not see anything. Snowing very hard. I steered S. by E. for three hours, then south and took sounding every half hour with sounding machine. I ran back steering south fifty miles by log and then tried to turn around and get head to wind, but she would not come any farther around than E. by N. one half N. or west by north one half N. and then go back to east or west and roll, and every time I would use the chadburn to signal the engineer, I could tell she was laboring for some time the wires would be so tight I could not move the lever. I got her before the wind again at 1:00 A.M., the 10th of November, and at that time we had ten fathom of water and I realized that fact that we much be below Sanilac and we either had to get turned around and stop going south or go ashore so I had the mate use the hand lead and I backed her full speed until the mate said her headway was stopped. I then ordered the mate to drop anchor. Port one dropped, and only give her the chain gradually, so as to favor chain as much as possible and when she came around in trough of sea we gave her the other anchor and all the chain, but they were only on the bottom about five minutes when they let go. The port chain let go first about fifty feet from anchor, and starboard chain parted about sixty or seventy feet from the inboard and , losing practically all of starboard chain. That happened at 1:10 A.M. on Monday morning, November 10th, both anchors gone, a blinding snow storm and blowing seventy-five or eighty miles an hour from the north and getting down into a pocket at the end of the lake, and unable to turn around and head away from danger. I decided I would keep trying to turn around until she went on the beach and then I would feel as if I had done my part and done all any other man could have done to save his ship, but at 2:00 A.M. the wind shifted from north to north west and a lull came with it and I got her head to wind and heading north and started back up the lake and at noon on Monday it had stopped snowing and I was back up abreast of Point Aux Barques. I tried to make an examination of her top sides and deck, but on account of so much snow and ice on deck and sides I could only see a little here and there which looked as if the rivets were loosened up a little so the next morning going up Soo River I had the hot water hose put on and cleaned off the ice and then we could see lots of loose rivets and open joints amidships. Went to the Soo, got two anchors but they are too small for the Crawford. When we were running before the sea it was so large that once in a while she would fill up aft and go over top of cabin and down through skylight into engine room. Broke windows in after end of cabin and filled the dining room and kitchen with water and cook's room also. They could not stay in their room. Had to move out into engineer's room. The sea washed our box for soiled linen away. It was a box lashed to after end of cabin and broke second mate's chadburn aft.
During the worst of the storm our electric whistle gave out, wires worn off in cargo hold where they go through bulkhead, and I could not use the hand lever for it would be so tight at times and slack at times that I had to put the deckwatch in boiler house to blow the whistle for fourteen hours. It snowed for twenty-six hours during which time we had not been able to see a thing but were guided entirely by the sounding machine which gave us excellent service.
W.C. IlerDetroit, November 21st, 1913
Mr. E. C. Collins, Traffic Manager,
Pittsburg Steamship Co.,Dear Sir:--
In answer to your recent inquiry in regards to my experience in the gale, I would say she was drawing 14 feet forward and 18 feet aft. and she had all the water she could carry in her tanks with the exception of No. 1 tank which only had 14 feet in. I also had 6 feet of water aft in cargo hold and 3 feet forward. We had no hatch cloths on and there was no sign of hatch fastenings giving away and in my opinion they are of a design to give the most security. The engines were not working when I lost the anchor as it was impossible to get her head to wind and sea. I got her before it and backed her engines full speed until her headway was stopped, which we discovered by the use of the lead line. I then dropped the port anchor and kept giving her the chain until she had the full length. By that time she was around in the trough of the sea heading east. I then gave her the starboard anchor the same as the first until full length of chain was out and it parted at once.
W. C. Iler
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This set of letters is from copies in the collection of the Saginaw River Marine Historical Society, Bay City, Michigan and was made available by Dave Swayze.