On the afternoon of November 7th the "CENTURION" was loading ore at Presque Isle Dock. My barometer had been very high for a week; on the 7th at noon it started down so fast that it worried me; from noon to 4:00 P.M. it fell from 30.35 down to 29.05.
I went up to the office then and called up the weatherman at Marquette. The wind was then southeast blowing about thirty miles per hour, and hazy – a pretty sure sign that the wind would whip around to the northwest very suddenly.
I got Mr. Patrick, the forecaster, on the telephone and we talked the situation over, and he told me that from telegraphic reports he had the wind would not shift until midnight. I figured that that would give me seven hours start down the lake and take me well past Point Sable. We, therefore, left the dock at 5:26 P.M. for the Soo.
The weatherman was right in a way, as the wind did not shift northwest until 3:00 A.M., November 8th. It had been hazy all night, but when the wind shifted northwest it cleared right up and we picked up Whitefish Point. Whitefish Point had northwest storm signals up as Marquette had the day before. At Whitefish Point it was not blowing over ten miles an hour. When at Parisian Island the wind had shifted northwest, about fifteen miles per hour, with heavy rain and haze. We checked down slow and passed Point Iroquois at 7:50 A.M. on the 8th, when it cleared up and we proceeded on our way to the Soo, the wind being northeast and the barometer registering 28.85 and falling.
The Soo was flying northwest signals when I got into the Poe Lock, so I called up Mr. Burns, the weatherman there, and he told me it was then blowing fifty-six miles per hour at Marquette and sixty-eight miles at Houghton, from the northwest, with snow; he also said that the wind on Lake Huron would be from west and west northwest strong.
Left the piers of the Soo Lock at 12:15 P.M., November 8th, and passed Detour light at 5:09 P.M. The wind was then north about twenty-five miles per hour, the barometer registering 28.60 and falling. My intention at that time was to go as far as Thunder Bay and go in there if the wind stayed north and increased in velocity. I came down the inside course in case the wind whipped northwest, which it did at 8:30 p.m – a northwest gale with blinding snow squalls.
It cleared once in a while so that we saw Presque Isle light and Middle Island light and Thunder Bay. We passed Thunder Bay on November 8th at 11:51 P.M. I then hauled up into Saginaw Bay close to shore. We could see nothing on account of the snow until we were abreast of Sturgeon Point on November 9th at 2:10 A.M.
I kept on under the west shore until 4:00 A.M., then I hauled down southeast right before the gale for Pointe Aux Barques, and when I hauled at 4:00 A.M. the wind shifted to north northwest about forty-five miles per hour, with snow. At 5:00 A.M. the wind shifted north, still snowing hard. We did not see Pointe Aux Barques, but we saw Harbor Beach for a few minutes and got our bearings. The barometer was then registering 28.45 at 11:00 A.M.
The snow changed to a heavy sleet of rain and snow mixed but we could see from one to three miles in that. When we got within ten miles of the Lake Huron light vessel the sea was terribly high, keeping our deck full nearly all the time, and we could see less than half a mile now. But when we got down close to the lightship we sighted what I later found to be the steamer "AUGUSTUS B. WOLVIN"; he in turn had sighted a big black steamboat coming out, and that gave us a good lead to find the lightship.
But when getting closer I discovered that the lightship had dragged the anchors and was away out of place, but I picked up the stake and shaped my course in from that south 5/8 west, and a few minutes later when I picked up the Pt. Edward ranges we were right on them. Going down the rapids was an experience I never had before; everything close to the river was washed away; the wooden breakwall around the Grand Trunk repair yard was going to pieces when I passed; seas washed right up on the dock and tore off sections fifty feet long, and all of course went down with the current.
It was 2:01 P.M. on November 9th when we passed Fort Gratiot, and twenty minutes later I could not see the length of my own boat, the wind was blowing about sixty miles per hour from the north. We slowed down and picked our way down as far as Recor's Point where I came around on the port wheel and let go the port anchor with sixty fathoms of chain.
We could hear by the sound of the chain that we were dragging, so we let go the starboard anchor with thirty fathoms of chain; byt that time the wind and current were so strong that a twenty pound lead was carried right out of a man's hand, and we could not tell whether we were dragging or not; when it cleared up at 5:30 in the morning of November 10th we found we had dragged two miles down the river.
We hove up and at 5:30 started down the river and all went along fine until we got to the St. Clair Ship Canal; the current across the lower end of it was terrible; we were going at full speed all the time and could hardly keep in the channel; the wind was northwest then and blowing a gale, but clear. My barometer that morning registered 28.35.
At the lower end of St. Clair Ship Canal on the east side the steamer "W.G. POLLOCK" was hard aground. About a dozen boats were anchored in Lake St. Clair bound up; of course when we got into Lake St. Clair we kept right on going, and we saw the Steamer "HARLOW" sunk just outside the channel at the lower end of Grosse Pt. cut.
We passed Detroit on the 10th at 10:10 A.M. Things began to look a little better and the barometer started up slowly. When passing the fuel docks the depth of water on Limekiln Crossing was 18.6 and going up, so I kept on going until we got to Marajuda Island, when it set in snowing very hard and I came around on the port wheel and let go anchor between Marajuda and Gross Isle Front Range.
When we got out in Lake Erie the wind had shifted west, the barometer registering 28.65 and snowing, at 11:30. We picked up the lights of Cleveland, with a very heavy sea running from the west, so we had to come into the harbor at almost full speed. We got in at 12:38 A.M., November 11th.
Now I want to say something about the general conditions. – Not only this night, but almost every night during the season, boats bound up the river let go anchor just to the westward of the pier line, which gives a fellow coming in no show at all when coming at a good rate of speed. When I came in that night no tugs were in commission, and there were only two boats under the west breakwater but they were laying in such a position that they shut it off altogether. I had to come to anchor right in line with the piers and stood by all the rest of the night in case some other boat should try to come in, but nothing came in that night. After daylight I wormed my way in between the two boats and let go anchor close to the sunken barge under west breakwater at 12:55 A.M., November 11th.
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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.