Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Tug Man Tells "Other Half" of Salvage: Schooner Days CCLXXIX (279)
Toronto Telegram (Toronto, ON), 13 Feb 1937
Full Text
Tug Man Tells "Other Half" of Salvage
Schooner Days CCLXXIX (279)


"REALLY," writes Capt. Wm. J. Stitt, master of the tug Ethel at the time of the Brulin's salvage of the Bruce Hudson, described last week, "this tale should have been run before the salvage story, as Chapter I, but perhaps it is not too late yet.

"On Oct. 10th, 1935, the Lloyd Refineries chartered the tug Ethel to tow the Bruce Hudson between Port Credit and Montreal carrying crude oil. I was put in command of her, and was on our second trip up when we ran into the gale between Scotch Bonnet Light and Cobourg. The Ethel was an old steel tug, built in 1895, and about 70 feet long, and having small fuel capacity in her tanks we were forced each trip up and down to refuel at Cobourg, and carried our surplus oil fuel in the Bruce Hudson.

"Captain Rae, of the Bruce Hudson, knowing the risk of being washed overboard with his crew in heavy weather, owing to the raftlike condition of the tanker when loaded, had arranged signals with me previous to the time we commenced these lake voyages. A red flag by day and a flashing red light at night would warn us on the tug that they were in danger, and this would mean something had to be done by the tug at once.

"On our way up from Montreal on this particular voyage in November we put in at Brockville and filled our fuel tanks and got away about 2 p.m. It was an extremely dark and cold night when we were in the Thousand Islands and we had to navigate with every caution as the Bruce Hudson was a rambler and ran from one side to the other as far as the tow line would allow, but we finally got by Cape Vincent at midnight and gave out our full tow line. There was a light northerly wind blowing and the lake was comparatively calm and there were no storm signals showing at the Cape.

"We had a nice run to Long Point (Point Peter), where we passed about 7:45 a.m. The wind had gone to northeast, and was freshening and the sea making up, but we were running up along the north shore and well protected. We passed Scotch Bonnet Light just about 1.30 p.m. and hauled for Cobourg. At 3.30 the wind had hauled to E.N.E. and increased and the sea was making up and visibility was poor as the steam rising from the lake, owing to the cold weather, shut off the view of our tow most of the time, although only 800 feet distant.

"At 5 began to snow and the wind had increased to a gale and the tug was standing on her end most of the time, and the engineer reported her leaking quite badly and taking plenty of water through the sides under the guards and running in around the doors and down the skylight when the big seas came tearing over her.

"With the big following sea smashing her on the stern the Bruce Hudson became unmanageable and was running all over the lake, back and forward as far as the 800 feet of tow line would permit. It was pitch dark then and we could occasionally see the red and green lights of the Hudson, mostly one at a time as she sheered to port and starboard.

"My mate, Harry Carson, had been on the stern of the tug watching and parcelling on the towing hawser where it passed over the stern, see that this wrapping did not get loose and the hawser cut off by constant jumping of the tug and see-sawing of the Hudson. At 5:30 p.m. he came forward to the pilot house and informed me that the Hudson was flashing danger signals; he had plainly seen them through the haze and snow.

"I told him that it was too bad, I figured we were only 2 1/2 hours' run from Cobourg. I was right, at that moment it cleared up and we saw Grafton lights directly abeam. We talked the situation over and decided that the Hudson had become a little jittery, not knowing we were so close to harbor safety, and we continued on course for Cobourg.

"The mate went aft again and to the megaphone with him in the hopes of hailing the Hudson crew and finding out the situation on board. Although he had a voice like a fog horn it was useless to throw this voice any distance against that gale, so he returned to the pilot house and reported the danger signal still going and that he could not make them hear his hail.

"Right then I decided to check down our engines and come round, head to the sea and ride it out till daylight or until the gale went down or the wind shifted. We took an awful lacing in making the turn, stove in the engine room door and knocked some windows out, knocked everything down in the galley and broke things up in general. We finally got head to, and the danger signals on the Hudson stopped, which proved that they were riding easier head into the sea and wind.

"It was 6.15 p.m. then, and although bouncing around and standing on end with every big wave, and it kept all hands busy holding on, we were standing the racket pretty well. It gave the engineer a chance to pump the water out and clean tip bilges, and the mate to nail plank over the broken doors and windows. We also were able to pick up a bite to eat from the wreck in the galley.

"Outside everything was a coat of ice and inside was soaking wet. My mate and I took one-hour tricks at the wheel and, believe me, it was long enough, with the tug standing up and shimmying like a bucking broncho. The engineers and firemen were equally as bad off, as they were thrown around like dice in a box every time the tug took those terrible rears, and dives. The rest of the crew had nothing to do but just hold on and keep from being washed overboard.

"Now a few words as to what was going on in the Hudson. At 5.30 the big seas were coming right over the stern and smashed into the cabin and they were wading around in three feet of water, the barge was beyond control and running all over the lake and the fire in the cabin stoves washed out by the water, and all hands wet as rats and freezing. They decided to put on the danger signals so that the tug could and something to ease the situation. After coming head to they were able to free the cabin from water and light the stoves up again and dry their clothing.

"Outside the barge was a mass of foam from the heavy seas coming over the bow and tearing down the deck and smashing against the cabin. She had 6,700 barrels of oil in her and by measurement we had found that 7,000 left her deck only 12 inches above the water level in smooth water.

"But the crew; huddled in their little cubby hole of a cabin, were O.K. for the time at least.

"From 6.15 p.m. till 7 a.m. next day we stood there heading into the wind and sea, worn to a frazzle by the bouncing around we got and wet the skin by the spray beating into the pilot house through the broken windows. It was the longest 12 hours I think I ever experienced in all my years' sailing. I was sore for a month from being thrown against the wheel and sides of the pilot house by the constant jumping and leaping into the big seas.

"Once or twice during the night we sighted the white blinker on the Cobourg outer breakwater; that was after it stopped snowing, about 10 p.m.

"At 7 next morning it was clear and cold and a heavy mist hung low over the lake, but we could see the Hudson quite clearly. The wind blew even harder then and the sea was much worse with big white combers, and looked mighty dangerous, but something must be done, so we decided to run for Cobourg and shelter.

"We watched our chance when a lull came and hauled around, and when the Hudson was lying beam to the sea, two or three monstrous seas hit her and completely smothered her. It was a pretty sight, but an unlucky one for all concerned, for the Hudson with a mighty heave and a tremendous snap parted the hawser close to her hawse pipe, and lay rolling in the trough of the seas and completely smothered, only the derrick forward and the top of the cabin aft showing.

"The crew scrambled out of the cabin and took to the top of the cabin, the only place clear of the fury of the big seas that came tearing at them.

"It's a miracle that some of them weren't washed overboard and drowned. There we were, left with about 800 feet of the 7 1/2-inch hawser, which was about the size of an ordinary stove pipe and frozen stiff as a poker, trailing behind, and it had to be pulled in on the tug. We had no steam towing machine or capstan, so all hands and the cook were summoned on deck to get this hawser aboard before we could pay attention to the Hudson and crew.

"This was no joke, with the tug jumping and backing and the risk of having it wound into our propeller, which would have spelled all our doom. After considerable difficulty we got the tug head into the sea and hauled in those 800 feet of hawser, inch by inch, fleeting it in long fore and aft layers on the protected side of the cabin.

"It was a ticklish job and a risky one, too. When we finally had it aboard we turned to the Hudson. When we got within hailing distance we asked Captain Roe if he could make our hawser fast again, and he I said no, and I believed him, too, for it meant death to any man who ventured on that storm-washed deck.

"He demanded that we take he and his crew off, which we proceeded to do at once. It was a very ticklish job, with the Hudson lying beam to in the sea and rolling like a log and completely submerged except where the crew were clinging on the cabin top.

"I can imagine the thoughts of those men, for only four months and five days before this date this same Bruce Hudson, at almost the same spot on this same lake had taken a nose dive and turned bottom side up. and in a much less storm. Can you wonder at their anxiety to get off? I took them off on that occasion, too. and just in time, with the tug Ajax, and they lost all their belongings and were lucky to save their lives. Now I had the same job to do over again, only in ten times greater a sea.

"I ran down past the Hudson and turned and came up slowly, as I had to be careful and not bump the stern of the Hudson, which might mean our undoing and possibly sink one or both of us, I had the mate pass a heaving line to the barge and attached a heavier line, which the Hudson crew hauled aboard and made fast. Reversing our engines constantly we gradually hauled the barge stern to the sea, and we were then able to get the tug within twenty-five feet of the barge. Constantly backing up our engines we kept the two boats from jumping against each other, although we were mounting up and down fifteen or twenty feet. Then the rescue work began by bringing one man at a time over the connecting line, with a heaving line attached around his waist in case he slipped in the lake on the perilous journey across.

"When all seven were safe on the tug we slipped the line and back away, and the Hudson fell into the trough of the sea again. Not one thing of their belongings were carried off again this time.

"We drifted along behind the Hudson, intending to pick her up again when the wind and sea went down, but our hopes were blasted when word came from the engineer that our fuel oil was very low and something would have to be done at once.

"At that instant I saw smoke, to the west and about three miles south, of a steamer bucking her way down the lake. We decided to run over and speak to her and have her stand by the Hudson until we went to Cobourg for fuel oil, as all our surplus supply was on the Hudson and we dare not go near her to refuel.

"On approaching the down-bound steamer we found it to be the Elmbay, of the Tree Line Navigation Co., en route from Fort William to Montreal, deeply loaded with grain and a big deckload of pipes and automobiles. When spoken to, Captain Dixon did not relish the idea of standing by with this heavy deck load, but on learning of our predicament agreed to do so if he found he could stand the weather without risk to his own vessel and cargo.

"He then hauled in his log line and prepared to drift along behind the Hudson. We then shaped our course for Cobourg, but found the seas too heavy for us to make a direct course, so had to run up the lake past Cobourg and zig-zag our courses up and down the lake until we finally arrived there around 2.30 p.m.

"Captain Charlie Redfern, the old sea dog of the Ontario car ferry, came over to see what it was all about and on hearing the story said:

'Well, you have the crew of the Hudson with you, why worry about the barge?'

"I phoned our owners at Port Credit about the breakaway of the Hudson, and had them send me two tanks of fuel oil, which only arrived early the next morning. While waiting for the fuel oil to arrive we got our galley straightened up and a new stock of dishes and supplies, as everything was broken to smithereens in our encounter with the lake.

"And while we were laying in Cobourg thinking that the Elmbay was standing by our tow until we returned, it was all a mistake, for within two hours after we left her there she had got in difficulty had deserted the Hudson to save her own cargo. Next morning, after getting all our fuel oil aboard and something to eat, we boarded up all the doors and windows again and putting out into the lake to look for the Hudson. We expected to find the Elmbay guarding her, as we had no knowledge of her trouble and departure the day before.

"It was a cold raw morning and the wind blowing fresh from the east and a heavy sea still running. Visibility was very poor, as a heavy steam hung over the lake. We ran out for one hour south by east, then hauled up the lake before the wind, always keeping a sharp lookout for the Elmbay and Hudson, also using our whistle, but saw and heard nothing. We ran into Oshawa at 5 p.m., and phoned Toronto and Port Weller to see if any steamer had reported seeing the Hudson and Elmbay. From Port Weller we learned that a steamer (presumably the Simcoelite) had reported seeing the Brulin towing the Bruce Hudson towards Port Weller. We left Oshawa at 6.15 p.m. and arrived at Port Weller at 11.30 p.m., just after the Bruce Hudson had been landed and libelled by the captain of the Brulin."





Snider, C. H. J.
Media Type
Item Type
Date of Publication
13 Feb 1937
Language of Item
Geographic Coverage
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.95977 Longitude: -78.16515
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.21681 Longitude: -79.23288
  • Ontario, Canada
    Latitude: 43.899444 Longitude: -77.541666
Richard Palmer
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
WWW address
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Tug Man Tells "Other Half" of Salvage: Schooner Days CCLXXIX (279)