PITTSBURGH STEAMSHIP COMPANY
Vessel Alex. McDougall,
Lake Huron, Bound Down, Nov. 12, 1913
Mr. A. F. Harvey,
Asst. Gen., Mgr.,
Pittsburgh Steamship Co.,
I beg to advise you of the damage done to our vessel in the last blow on Lake Superior. It washed away all railing around forecastle deck, hand rail around No. 1 hatch bent and broken, hand rail around forward side of pilot house carried away, weatherboard front of captain’s door bent and broken and stanchions in life fence on deck forward on both sides, but I beg to draw your attention to the hatch fasteners on this boat which are wooden wedges and are unsafe for this class of boat, as the wedges wash out and leave our hatches adrift. When we were loaded at Superior the mate and myself went all over the hatches before we left the dock and they were as secure as we could make them, and when we got down to Otter Head on the North Shore, I pulled up under the land out of the sea so we could look them over and we found a lot of them washed out and gone. The mate and I went all over them again and drew them all up as taut as we could and came along down. At 11:30 Sunday night we noticed No. 4 hatch cloth loose and at 1:00 o’clock I turned around and head up into the sea. It was blowing a gale from the north and blinding snow, and a big sea running over us from stem to stern. It was impossible for a man to get on deck anywhere. We held up until 9:00 A.M. when I saw we could not stay there much longer and have our hatches hold on, so I turned around and went before it again. It was snowing hard and I could not see over a quarter of a mile. I had the mate on the end of the bridge with deep sea lead going, as our sounding machine was frozen up in two feet of ice and could not use it. I sent the second mate and one wheelsman down in the forepeak to listen for the submarine bell at Whitefish. I had the boatswain and other wheelsman on the lookout and at 10:05 the second mate reported he could hear the bell off Whitefish and at 10:25 we had it abreast. We came around Whitefish on the sound of that bell from the forepeak. We could not see Whitefish [ ] whistle two or three times and arrived at the Soo at 2:00 P.M. on the 10th and when we got there we looked over our hatches and found that nearly half of the wedges had been washed out and it was a wonder our hatches were not washed away. I believe if we had stayed there much longer we would have lost her on account of these hatch fasteners, so I wish to recommend to you that you install a hatch fastener like the one on the Ericsson, as we never had a loose hatch in her for two years, while I was in her, and we were out in some bad weather during those two years. These wedges are unsafe for this class of vessel, as you can not got out on deck to look after them in bad weather.Respectfully yours, F. D. Seelee
OPINIONS FORMED BY CAPTAIN SELEE FROM HIS EXPERIENCE IN THIS STORM.
He states that the space between the batten and the hatch clamp is only about one inch wide and that a wedge can not be much more than one inch thick and be driven in there and after driving it, a bearing is secured on one side of the clamp only. He states that he never had any trouble with the fastenings in the Ericsson and that at one time when in this boat, he was out on Lake Superior in a North East gale for 22 hours, and on examining the hatch fastenings found that they were all tight and in good condition. He also states that in his judgment a boat like the McDougall should have a strongback from one end of the hatch to the other underneath the covers. That there are times when the weight of water on the hatches is so great that unless each section is in perfect condition there is danger of its being broken or forced through into the hold. There is no top on the McDougall’s pilot house. The life boat davits on this boat are not strong enough. They are all bent down about 2 feet so that the boats can hardly be lifted clear of the saddles.
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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.