The Mild Winter of 1897-98. - Capt. Tony Everett, who is the oldest master sailing out of Chicago in point of years of service, said the Marine Review in February, 1898, shipped for the first time from that port in 1848, has been a master since 1856, and he is still at the business. Captain Everett says this winter beats anything in his 50- years' experience on the chain of lakes. "I have been all over 'em, up and down and back again," said Captain Everett, "but I never before saw a winter as open as this one at this time of the year. I never knew the St. Clair river to be open in the latter end of January. Of course there is ice in the lake, lots of it; but the winds keep it off shore and we don't see much of it. But the lake could be sailed all winter if we had the insurance. I remember one very bad winter, that of 1862, when a fleet of schooners was frozen in for months in Lake Erie. The Badger State was one of them, and the crew had to live on oats and corn all winter. They were loaded with grain, and when the provisions ran out they had to tackle the cargo. That was a bad winter. The ice was so thick they couldn't move, and it was not solid all the way in, so they couldn't go ashore if they wanted to; so they had to stay aboard and eat oats until the ice broke up.
From the Lakes to the Atlantic. - One of the most notable events of the season was the chartering of about forty of the old-time vessels for service on the seaboard. The Atlantic Transportation Company, of New York, was the principal charterer of the craft. The vessels, it was stated, were intended largely for the coast wise trade; especially from Newport News. The Atlantic Transportation Company had said that when it wanted tonnage, additional to that which it controlled, the carrying rate was forced sharply upward, and it was to prevent this increased cost of transportation that the large chartering of lake vessels was made. The chartering began early in September, and before the close of the season most of the vessels had reached the seaboard, though a few were detained by insufficient water in the St. Lawrence canals. The Marine Review, in its issue of September 22, presented this list of lake vessels chartered to the Atlantic Transportation Company:
Largest Vessels on the Lakes. - There was launched at the Wheeler shipyard at West Bay City this season the largest freighter on the Great Lakes, the steel propeller Samuel F.B. Morse, owned by the Bessemer Steamship Company. She started for Duluth for her first cargo in August. The Morse is 476 feet over all, 456 feet keel, 50 feet beam and 29 feet depth. Engines are of the quadruple expansion type, with cylinders of 26-½, 37, 54-½ and 89 inches diameter, and a common stroke of 42 inches. There are four Scotch boilers, each of 13 feet 4 inches diameter and 11 feet 6 inches length, and allowed 200 pounds working pressure. The vessel has fourteen hatches, two smoke stacks and two steel masts. Probably the most distinctive characteristic of the vessel is the exceptionally heavy construction throughout. Her displacement on a draught of 17 feet will be 10,500 tons. She was built to move 6,000 gross tons on the present Lake Superior draught, and she had done that. She was not built with a view to putting into her every ton of cargo that could possibly be moved in a hull of her dimensions. She was intended to tow a steel barge, the largest on the lakes, and probably two such barges, and the indications are that she will eventually tow two big barges at a rapid rate. On her second trip to Lake Superior with a towing wheel she made 14-½ miles for a time, going up light, and when returning with ore she made 13-½ miles all the way down. The chief engineer of the line was of the opinion, he said, that with another wheel suited to fast running the Morse would attain a speed of 17 miles.
Heavy Marine Losses. - An unusually large number of losses occurred on the lakes during the season of 1898. The loss to the underwriters is estimated at $2,600,000, and the season is said to have been the most disastrous in the history of the lakes. The number of boats which passed out of existence was 58, with an aggregate tonnage of 29,194 tons. Total and partial losses amounted to 569, and the causes assigned were as follows: Ashore, 123; aground in protected channels, 126; fire, 40; collisions, 90; ice, 16; storm-beaten, 96; foundered, 8; miscellaneous causes, 116.
Loss of the Doty. - The most disastrous event of the season, in loss of life, was the foundering of the steamer L.R. Doty, on Lake Michigan, with her entire crew of 17. The Doty left Chicago, Monday, October 24, with the Olive Jeanette in tow, both loaded with corn, for Midland, Georgian Bay. They encountered a furious gale the following day. The towline parted, and the manner of her loss remains unknown. Indications were that she drifted a considerable distance before she went down in midlake. Her wreckage was picked up 25 miles off Kenosha. The Jeanette was sighted on the 27th and towed to Chicago, in a crippled condition. The Doty was a stanch wooden propeller, built at West Bay City, in 1893. She was in command of Capt. Christopher Smith. The crew of the Jeanette could throw no light on the fate of the Doty. The vessels were struck by the northeast gale on Monday, when below Milwaukee. Tuesday afternoon the steamer parted from her consort.
Forecaster Cox, of the Chicago weather bureau, says the storm was not at all remarkable for the violence or the continuance of the wind, and yet it was remarkable for the damage it did on sea and land. He accounts for this by the fact that the storm center moved so rapidly across the lake, so that there was not only the gyratory force of the cyclone but a rectilinear motion to the northeast. It was this combination of forces, he says, which lashed Lake Michigan into fury and produced such devastating effects on the lake and on the shore. Chicago, he says, had a wind, August 16, that blew seventy-two miles an hour. Tuesday, October 25, the greatest velocity was forty-eight miles, and that only from 7:50 to 8:15 P. M.
Loss of the Thol and Other Vessels. -- during a fierce gale November 10, the schooner S. Thol, laden with Christmas trees for Chicago went down off Glencoe with all on board, a crew of five men. During the same storm the schooner Iron Cliff sank off Chicago harbor. Her crew of seven men were with great difficulty rescued by the Chicago life-saving crew. The schooner Sophia J. Luff was waterlogged off Gross Point, and the schooner Lena M. Neilson went ashore at Lakeside, Mich. The schooner Fossett was stranded at Sand Beach, Lake Huron, and the schooner Minnehaha was broken up at Sheboygan.
Wreck of the St. Peter. -- The Canadian schooner St. Peter, bound from Oswego to Toledo with coal, sank about five miles northwest of Sodus, on Lake Ontario, October 27. She had shown signs of distress and the tug Proctor started to her assistance. When a mile away the crew of the tug saw the distressed vessel sink. The crew of nine all perished except Captain John Griffin, who was picked up in an unconscious condition.
Foundering of the Churchill. -- The schooner Churchill, laden with ore, foundered off Waukegan October 13 during a fierce gale. She was in tow of the propeller Majestic. The lines parted, and the crew of the schooner had just taken to the yawl when the vessel went down. Captain Cain sank with the ship and another seaman was lost. The Majestic picked up the remaining members of the crew, five in number.
Good Year for Lake Craft. -- A striking feature of the year was the enormous volume of traffic and the moderate margin of profits, considering the heavy business. It is estimated that average earnings of 4 to 5 per cent. were paid. A few vessels faced an actual loss. On the largest and best managed there was a net profit of about 10 per cent. During the earlier part of the season carrying charges reached the lowest point in the history of the lake marine. For a long stretch corn has been carried from Chicago to Buffalo at three-quarters of a cent, and even touched five-eighths. Ships went begging for cargoes, and yet nearly all were kept in service. Finally, along in August, a boom began, which continued until the middle of October, when the high- water mark in all important lines of commerce was reached. Corn went to 3-½ cents, iron ore to $1, and coal to 50 cents. Vessels were then making big money every trip, but November was not old before the boom collapsed, and vessel men went hunting for cargoes again. At the close of the season vessel men were more hopeful of profitable business for the next year than they have been at any close of navigation for three years past. They base their hopes upon the enormous sales of rails and other steel products for 1899 delivery. The consumption of ore for 1899, it is almost assured, will reach the greatest proportions ever known.
Large Cargoes. -- In 1898 the propeller Superior City, loaded at South Chicago a cargo of 266,500 bushels of corn, weighing 7,463 net tons, on a draft of 18 feet 2 inches. The same vessel carried from Escanaba to South Chicago 6,823 gross tons, or 7,642 net tons, of iron ore. On 16 feet of water the schooner Polynesia carried from Cleveland to Duluth 5,654 net tons of bituminous coal. The propeller Siemens, with two barges in tow, carried 17,000 tons of ore to Lake Erie. The Maruba and her tow, the barges Martha and Constitution, carried 15,000 tons. The lake carriers expect that soon a propeller and her tow will be able to transport in one trip 20,000 tons of ore.
Caught in the Ice. -- The close of the season of 1898 was made memorable by the imprisonment of many vessels in the ice at the head of Lake Erie about December 10. A fleet of 35 boats was ice-bound, but by the aid of ferries and tugs from Detroit, a shifting of the wind and warmer weather the vessels gradually got away.
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Some of the transcription work was also done by Brendon Baillod, who maintains an excellent guide to Great Lakes Shipwreck Research.