Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Picking Up $10,000 IN Lake Ontario: Schooner Days CCLCXXVII (278)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 6 Feb 1937
Full Text
Picking Up $10,000 IN Lake Ontario
Schooner Days CCLCXXVII (278)


$10,000 TO-

Owners, Bruce Lindsay Bros., Ltd$6,166.80
Master, Capt. R. Leonard1,250.00
First Mate, Chas. Levens772.75
Second Mate, Neil Mermaid135.00
Wheelsman, R. McLennan685.45
Watchman, H. Quesnelle75.00
Wheelsman, J. McDonald90.00
Watchman, L. Ditchburn75.00
Deckhand, W, Franzman40.00
Deckhand, A. Anglin40.00
Deckhand, J. Connolly40.00
Chief Engineer, A. G. Sweeting235.00
2nd Engineer, F. Kelly75.00
Oiler, G. Scott75.00
Oiler, L. Wood75.00
Fireman, C. H. Cooper40.00
Fireman, T. Smith 40.00
Fireman, G. Pelham 40.00
Cook, F. Leonard 30.00
2nd Cook, E. Turner20.00

Where did all this money come from—so handy for Christmas, too, for it came on Dec. 15th, 1936?

From the staid Exchequer Court of Canada, if you please, and the story wrapped around it is so much of piece with the brave days of old on the lakes that we are forced to interrupt the continuity of tales of Oshawa’s treasure trove to serve it while it is hot - even if it only belongs to Schooner Days by adoption.

On Nov. 16th, 1935, the Canadian steel steamer Brulin, of 2,241 tons gross was scudding up Lake Ontario before a strong northeaster, loaded to the hatches with $72,000 worth of newsprint pulp. She had left Quebec on Nov. 11th bound for Chicago and was taking Lake Ontario in her stride. Capt. Roderick Leonard was her master.

Thirty-seven nautical miles past Point Peter, in Prince County, on the course for Niagara Light, the Brulin sighted something low and black like a submerged wharf, wallowing in the seas ahead.

Coming nearer there was little difficulty in identifying it as one of those welded steel barges oil companies use. Plainly, this one had parted from her convoying tug. She was rolling heavily in the trough. The great seas washed completely over her deck, a steel platform only a foot or so above the lake level even when the water was smooth. No other vessel was in sight, there was no sign of life of any kind aboard. Two hours before the Brulin’s crew had caught a glimpse of a steamer eight miles to the northward, but she was no longer visible, even as a smoke smudge in the clear November gale. The barge lay directly in the steamer lane of Lake Ontario, unlighted, uncontrolled, slowly driving up the lake before the push of the big seas.

The Brulin circled her several times, rolling very badly herself as she got into the trough. The name could be made out, the Bruce Hudson, well known in lake traffic. She was owned by the Lloyd Refineries, Limited, of Port Credit, usually towed by their tugs. Reference to the chart-room shipping register, gave the detail that she was new this year and was 165 feet long, 30 feet beam, and 11 feet deep, though one might not think it from the raft-like amount of freeboard she showed.

Capt. Leonard resolved to board her. What his motives were the court did not inquire, but it was not to his discredit if he had a healthy interest in the possibilities of earning salvage, as well as a humanitarian desire to save a company’s property and the lives of any of her crew who might have been left below decks, and to remove this floating menace from the path of navigation. The seas running made the approach of the two vessels difficult and dangerous. The one was 248 feet long, the other 165, their combined burden of three or four thousand tons made impact possibly fatal to both. There was, to Capt. Leonard’s mind, the added hazard of explosion. He believed the tanker to be loaded with gasoline. As a matter of fact she was filled with 6,700 barrels of crude oil, but he had no reason to know that she would not burst with a roar of flame on the first bump, through the sparks of steel crashing on steel.

First he held the Brulin up to windward of the wallowing barge, thus making a lee, into which he lowered the sturdy punt the newsprint freighter carried on deck as a workboat. The punt was held by a line from the steamer. First Mate Charlie Levens and Rod. McLennan, wheelsman, the twin heroes of this saga, lashed themselves with life-lines to the punt and essayed the voyage.

The punt was filled with water, but the two plucky chaps hung on veering out line and letting the punt to drift down on to the barge until it was almost there. Then they could see that the seas were breaking over the Hudson with such force that the punt might be tossed right across the barge or capsized or smashed by touching it, and they themselves drowned. So they reluctantly signaled to be hauled back aboard the Brulin in the waterlogged craft.

Next they tried the landing boom. All big steamers ride so high above the wharf levels that to get a man ashore to run the “wires” when a mooring is being made, with all the lower ports closed, the line-tender has to be dropped from the upper deck, as by parachute. To do this a boom is rigged with a whip rove through a block at the end of it. The outer end of the whip has a crossbar on it. On this the lineman sits or straddles, the boom is swung out over the side, and his shipmates, tailing on to the fall of the whip, lower him down, like a spider on the end of his thread, till he touches the wharf. It is a tricky descent at the best of times, sometimes forty feet through the air, even if the ship is still, and the wharf solid and free from ice. For one thing, you are apt to hang on to the rope a second too long, and a find yourself sitting down very hard as they keep on paying out slack. But if you are dangling at the end of a thread from a 2,000-ton ship rolling her insides out in the trough, and are trying to light on another heaving platform rolling just as hard, and washed neck-deep by breakers—well, you are apt to get more than wet in the process.

This was just Charlie Levens’ problem. Capt. Leonard worked the Brulin past the barge, on the lee side of her this time, so as not to crush her by rolling down on her. The Brulin passed within twenty- five feet, which was a very narrow margin for rolling safety, and the landing boom swung out, with First Mate Levens on the end of it. The boom end missed the barge rail by three feet. When the Brulin rolled to starboard he was plunged into the icy waters of Lake Ontario almost head under. When the Brulin rolled to port he was swung fifty feet high in the air in a dizzying arc.

The Brulin rolled past, came around and tried again. This time Mate Levens was almost crushed as his “boatswain’s chair,” the cross- bar, struck the hoisting gear on the barge’s forward deck. He could not drop off and catch the barge so the second try failed.

So they decided to try a lifeboat landing. The Brulin’s lifeboat, a much heavier craft than the little punt that had failed, was cleared away, and the ship steamed to windward of the barge so as to make a lee again. The boat was manned and the crew stood by to lower. Then the Brulin took a tremendous roll, and one of the davits jammed and the hoisting gear at the stern of the lifeboat fouled. She could not be got down safely, or on an even keel, so she was hoisted back on board.

But Capt. Leonard was not to be beaten. If men and boats could not do it, the mudhook might. Six times he patiently nosed the Brulin up astern of the wallowing Hudson, both vessels rolling like things demented. His hope was to drop an anchor, like a great fish hook, so that it would grip the wriggling whale. Sounds simple. But he was playing with a fishhook weighing a ton or two, and a line weighing a couple of tons more—chain cable, each link many pounds—and his catch was a heaving mass of steel to touch which might mean the sinking of two ships. Steel plates are strong, but they cut like tin, when thousands of tons are behind the stroke.

Six times the Brulin approached the barge. Five times the engines were reversed, and five times she backed away, missing the barge’s stern by fathoms, feet or inches.

The Brulin began her work at 11 o’clock that November morning. At five that November evening she was still at it. Through the early dusk the smoke plume of another steamer blurred the horizon. On she came, leaping and rolling in the heavy seas. She began to circle the Brulin and the barge. She was the Simcolite. Her captain hailed from her bridge, at a distance of 400 feet. The wind whirled his words up the lake.

“We don’t need any help!” roared Capt. Leonard. “We’re getting her.”

The Simcolite sheered off and steamed away on her course. As she departed the Brulin’s bow grazed the barge’s stern, on the sixth try. It was only a “light touch,” but the sparks flew and the forepeak plates-and port side of the Brulin were dinted in — $2,500 worth — and the stern plates of the barge were battered just as badly.


The port anchor, dropped at the right second, gripped the stout steel bulwarks of the stem of the barge—

And held!

Then it began to snow.

From five o’clock that evening till 11 o’clock that night the Brulin hung on in the snow, gradually increasing her precarious but tenacious grip. Six shots of anchor chain, 15 fathoms in each, in all 540 feet of steel links, were veered out, the sag of the chain forming a sort of spring which kept the two vessels connected with a minimum of strain. Gently the Brulin eased away and got straightened out on a course up the lake, trailing the Bruce Hudson after her, sometimes stern first, sometimes sidewise, through the snow.

At two o’clock next morning the wind veered from northeast to east and it cleared. It blew as hard as ever and the sea ran high. By 11 o’clock in the forenoon, 24 hours after the Brulin had sighted the barge in mid-lake, abreast of Cobourg, the pair had won to within four miles of Port Weller, the Welland Canal, and safety.

But how to get in? It is one thing to tow a couple of thousand tons wrong-end-to with all the lake to roll around in, and another thing indeed to get such a prize, going both ways at once, into port.

And it started to snow again.

Again the landing boom was rigged. Again First Mate Levens, still on deck after twenty-four hours’ ceaseless activity, swung like a spider twenty feet overboard from the Brulin’s side. A swell rose between the two vessels and subsided. Next moment he was fair over the Hudson’s icy deck, plumb amidships. He let go and landed, bam! on the steel plates. Back swung the boom and next second Wheelsman McLennan was riding the boatswain’s chair. He, too, had been standing watch and watch for twenty-four hours. By the time he got his chance the boom was almost over the barge’s stern. He leapt to what seemed a twenty-foot plunge, and fell amid a raffle of the barge’s gear, skinning his shoulder and back and hurting himself so badly that it was two weeks before he could put his coat on without help.

But for the moment there was no question of putting on or taking off coats. Both men waded along the wave-washed deck to pass the big steel towline coiled on the drum in the Hudson’s bow, and to get her steering gear into commission so that she would follow the Brulin instead of rolling sidewise out to starboard and to port.

It was only by miracles of management on the part of their skipper and by the greatest good luck and good judgment that they reached the Hudson without either them being killed, crushed or drowned. They found she had be left in apparently pentecostal haste. There was beefsteak half eaten on the plates in the cookhouse and cake and other food untouched on the table. Her logbooks and papers had been left behind. Her crew had taken their little belongings. Not a light was burning.

Towlines were passed from the bow of the barge to the Brulin, and steamer’s own anchor and anchor chain released their iron clutch the barge’s tailfeathers. Then she squared away for Port Weller.

As they swung around the first steel wire towline parted. This, and its successor, were the Hudson’s own towing outfit, which was in more fitting position to work for harbor entrance. The Brulin circled back and caught a heaving-line and haul aboard the Hudson’s second towline. This parted too. Then the Brulin hove aboard her own wrecking cable, a stout piece of wire, but it, too, let go.

Back circled the Brulin, stopped her engines each time she had to pass over the trailing ends of the wire serpents, for to get her propeller foul of them now would have been fatal. While the lines we being cleared the steamer was more or less out of control. But collisiion was averted, and by great skill the heaving-line and messenger we passed, and the gallant mate and wheelsman released the barge’s anchor chain and got the end of aboard the Brulin.

Then at last, with waves roaring in and snowflakes flying, steamer and barge came rolling into Port Weller. The Brulin, having her own cargo to deliver before the canal froze up hurried on for Chicago, leaving the Bruce Hudson safely “libelled,” in the law’s hands, for salvage.

THERE are two sides to every story and sometimes more, and the defense pleadings filed made interesting reading too.

The owners of the Bruce Hudson contended that she “was in no danger of stranding, as she had an abundance of sea-room, and the wind was steady in a direction which could not have carried her into any position of peril before she would have been rejoined by her tug; that she had been in fact not abandoned, relying on the undisputed facts regarding the discovery of her papers and personal effects of the crew as set forth in the plaintiff’s claim.” However, “opportunity having been granted counsel by the court to confer on the subject of settlement this was finally accomplished with the concurrence of the trial judge” and judgment was given for $10,000 — with costs — for the owners and crew of the Brulin as aforesaid.

The barge owners’ statement was that the Bruce Hudson, which had cost $45,000, was laden at Montreal; with a cargo of crude oil valued at $10,662, on which the collect freight would be $1,286. She was being towed up to the refineries at Port Credit by the oil-burning tug Ethel. On the evening of the 15th they were close in with the north shore and a few miles west of Grafton. In the following sea the barge was making heavy weather of it, and the tug hauled her head to wind and held her so, with engines checked. They saw the glare of Cobourg lights at 8 p.m., but would not risk trying that harbor in the dark, and so kept head to wind, making good weather of it, and edging forward until Grafton, which had been astern, was again abeam. At daylight it was decided to run for Cobourg, but in working around the towline parted on the stem of the barge.

“Owing to the barge carrying cargo, having a low freeboard, the decks were awash in the trough of the sea, so that it did not appear feasible for her crew, under existing conditions, to make fast the towline again, and therefore after taking in the towline the tug stood by.”

The Ethel had refueled at Brockville and had plenty of fuel, and there was more on the barge, but no possibility of refueling in the seaway. Her captain apparently intended to stand by until the weather moderated and then tow the barge to Port Credit, but he thought it might run out of fuel before then, so decided to put into Cobourg for additional fuel. He did this.

But first he took the barge crew off the barge. Then he steamed southwards to the steamer Elmbay which was coming down the lake and asked her to stand by the barge while he ran in. “The master of the Elmbay later reported that he did not stand by the barge, as it was apparent that her crew had been taken on board the tug Ethel, and also because he had only a small cargo of grain in the holds of the Elmbay, and at the same time at heavy deckload of steel plate, barreled oil and motor cars, which rendered the Elmbay top-heavy and not in trim to roll in a seaway without risk of losing part of the deck cargo.”

The tug master’s theory was that the barge showed so little surface to the wind that she would have drifted very slowly if left to herself and would have been carried up the lake toward Hamilton. He got into Cobourg by half-past two (while the Brulin was in the midst of her attempts to get a line on the supposed derelict) and had to wait there until fuel oil was trucked down from Port Credit. So it was early in the morning of the 17th before he started out for his barge and then, of course, could not find her. That afternoon he put into Oshawa to ask about her, and at 6 p.m. learned that she had been taken into Port Weller—where he found her next day.

Anyway, it was a nice Christmas carol for the Brulin crew, with the music set in $$$$$ marks. The owners got the most of the salvage, fairly enough, for it was their steamer that did the job, at their risk and their considerable expense. The captain got the next biggest whack, fair enough, too, for it was his sturdy courage, judgment, and persistence that put the thing through. The first mate and the wheelsman, who performed a difficult feat of seamanship with great skill and bravery, got the next best awards, very properly. Then, it will be noticed, the chief engineer comes in for a good share. That is due to his rank and responsibility. The success of such long-drawn-out maneuvres depends, after the captain, upon the head of the engine room. Everybody deserved credit, and everybody got, and cash, too, down to the cook’s helper.



Editor, Telegram:

Sir,—The Evening Telegram is greatly appreciated by the Canadian Navigators’ Federation for the manner in which you write up the shipping news on the Great Lakes.

At our recent convention held at the Walker House on the 27th and 28th ultimo, I was directed to convey our thanks and appreciation to The Evening Telegram’s services, namely:

Your page of Schooner Days which appears in the Saturday edition.

Mr. Radford, who covers the water front and featured our convention.

“Mac,” who most graciously drew the cartoons of the officers which appeared in The Telegram the next day.

Jim Hunter, your news commentator, for his broadcasting of weather conditions at 8 a.m. and 6.30 p.m. This service is of particular interest to ships not equipped with wireless and carry radio receiving sets only.

Again thanking you, I am,

Yours very truly,



Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
6 Feb 1937
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.95977 Longitude: -78.16515
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 44.00012 Longitude: -78.01621
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.838888 Longitude: -77.155277
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.21681 Longitude: -79.23288
Richard Palmer
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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Picking Up $10,000 IN Lake Ontario: Schooner Days CCLCXXVII (278)