We arrived at Ashland early Friday morning, the 7th; we had a good run from Superior, which was rather more than we expected, as the barometer had been very low for the two days previous, the glass on the "MATHER" registering 28.80.
We commenced loading ore at 7:00 A.M., November 7th; the wind freshened up about 10:00 A.M. and it began to rain, but they continued loading until noon. After dinner it was raining and blowing so heavy from the north the men on the deck would not work, but they came on again later and finished loading us at 6:00 P.M.
I was in the ore dock office during the forenoon and the Weather Office called up by telephone and stated that northwest storm warnings had been ordered up at 10:00 A.M. Southwest to northwest winds was the forecast – brisk to high.
At 7:00 P.M. we had our hatches battened and ready for sea. It was raining hard and blowing heavy from the north. We backed out into the bay and before we had got turned around the rain had turned to snow and it began to blow a gale. We let go our anchors and stayed there in the harbor until 1:00 A.M., the 8th of November.
The Mate on the morning of November 8th came in and said it had stopped snowing. I went out on deck and found it clear, the stars were coming out, and it looked quite good and was not blowing so hard. The barometer had gone up to 29.20. We hove up our anchor and got under way. We passed Michigan Island at 4:19 A.M. and ran into a heavy sea from about northwest, with the wind from the north.
When we were clear of the Island we changed our course to north by east and continued on that course until we began to smooth the water in the afternoon on the north shore. From 6:00 A.M. to 10:00 A.M., November 8th, our log showed that we had made only seventeen miles. This was on account of the heavy sea, as I estimated the wind was not blowing over forty miles an hour at this time.
We were shipping heavy seas from about our No. 4 Hatch back to the Boiler House. We were not taking any heavy water over forward – we were not going ahead fast enough. Several times I was afraid she would lose her steerage way and brouch too [sic], and if she had she would probably have shifted her cargo of ore.
At noon we had begun to lose some of the heavy sea but it was still running high and made it dangerous to go aft over the icy deck. The boys forward preferred to go without their dinner than to make the trip, and as they had gone without their breakfast for the same reason they had an appetite for supper, for we were in smooth water by that time.
We passed Rock of Ages light at 5:15 P.M., and the weather again looked good, almost tempting me to go to the southward of Isle Royal, but the barometer was not acting right – it was still hanging at 29.20, the same as when we left Ashland, with the wind from the north and still blowing hard. So I decided to continue down the north shore where we had comparatively smooth water.
We made good weather, with occasional snow squalls, down to Battle Island; we were abreast of the light at 4:40 A.M., the 9th, by the log; it was snowing quite hard at the time but the wind did not seem to be blowing so hard.
We changed our course to southeast 3/8 west intending to go to the westward of Michipicoten Island. We continued on this course until after breakfast when we began to get into a heavy sea again with the wind heavy from about north northeast, so we changed our course to east southeast to bring us in between Otter Head and the Island. It was again snowing hard, and together with the steam on the water you could not see anything. We were rolling quite hard but were making fairly good time.
At 10:00 A.M. it stopped snowing and cleared up and we could see Otter Head and the Island; we soon smoothed the water. We passed the lighthouse on the east end of Michipicoten Island at 2:00 P.M. The weather again looked fine and the wind had lulled; the sun came out and it looked as if we would have a good run to White Fish Point, but the barometer was still stuck at 29.20.
At 3:30 P.M. the wind began to freshen again from the north and at 4:00 P.M. it was blowing heavier than any time since we left Ashland. The barometer now began to fall as the wind increased; at supper time the sea was again running high so that it was impossible to get aft without taking a chance of being washed overboard.
At 7:00 P.M. the sea was not boarding us so much; we had now got far enough down on our course that we were not getting the sweep of the lake that we were getting before dark. But it was also beginning to snow and looked very much as if we were not going to find White Fish Point.
We picked up the light between snow squalls and passed the Point at 9:12 P.M. It was now blowing so hard that steering a southeast course we were carrying our wheel almost hard-a-port to keep from coming up into the trough of the sea. We saw Parisian Island light when we passed there at 10:35 P.M. We had held up to the eastward one point and a quarter to allow for drift and by the looks of the light we had about made our course.
The snow by this time was a blizzard – you could not look into it, and the wind was a continuous roar. We could not hear our own whistle forward. The after part of our weather cloth was blown to pieces; the forward part had about four inches of ice on it or that would have gone too.
At 11:20 we put our wheel hard-a-starboard and came up head to the wind and let go of our port anchor and gave her all the chain in twenty fathoms of water but she walked away with it. We then gave her the starboard anchor, and at 11:50 P.M. they got a hold but we had dragged quite a distance.
The barometer was now down to 28.70 which was very low for the glass on the "MATHER". It continued to snow and blow without any apparent letupup [sic] until 9:00 A.M. Monday morning, the 10th. It cleared up a little at that time and we found we had dragged down into a fleet of steamers at anchor. The "M.A. HANNA" was about a quarter of a mile to the northward of us, the "WIDENER" was about three lengths under our stern, and the "PRINCETON" was on our port quarter. All together we counted fifteen steamers.
It began to get quite clear by noon. The "SUPERIOR" passed down by at 11:00 A.M. and the "McDOUGALL" at noon. We hove up our anchor at 1:00 P.M., November 10th. It was still snowing some but the sky was clearing, and the wind had now gotten down to an ordinary gale.
We could see a steamer over on Iroquois Island but on account of the snow could not make her our [sic]; the seas were breaking over her. We also saw a large Tomlinson steamer sunk just below Iroquois light; she looked to have about six feet of side out and was lying athwartships in the seas, which were breaking over her from stem to stern. She blew a number of whistles at us as we passed down by north of the Middle Ground; we could not hear them but saw the steam; I reported this to Captain Root on our arrival at the Soo.
We arrived at the Canal at 3:00 P.M. after passing through the largest fleet of wind bound steamers I think I ever saw at one time. They were anchored above Big Point with both anchors down and they almost completely blocked the channel. There was also a fleet in the Canal, mostly head down – steamers that had lost both anchors and had to make the Canal.
We found that we were drawing 19' 6" of water, which meant that we would have to get three or four hundred tons of ice off before we could lock down. We lay there twenty six hours and got her up to 19' 1" and with the aid of two tugs they locked us down November 11th at 5:40 P.M.
I do not know that there is anything more that I can add to this letter for by being on the north shore we made good weather. We would probably have forgotten the storm by this time had it not been for the apalling [sic] loss of life and property taken on those dates by those who were not so fortunate as to be on a weather shore.
Return to the Maritime History of the Great Lakes Home Port
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.