The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
A Boy's Quick Eye And Peril On Board The Lake Schooner Ariadne
Cortland Democrat (Cortland, NY), Dec. 14, 1894

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A Boy's Quick Eye And Peril On Board The Lake Schooner Ariadne

A striking instance of the play of chance in connection with Uncle Sam's well devised resources was afforded in the case of the Canadian schooner Ariadne ; which stranded during a blinding snowstorm in Mexico Bay, on the northern coast of New York Dec. 2, 1886. The vessel was engaged in the grain trade, and at the time of the disaster had on board a cargo for Oswego, N.Y.

The season for lake navigation was over, but the masters of the Ariadne needed the profits of one more trip to tide over the long winter of idleness, and although buffeted back by high winds on several attempts to get to sea they persisted and finally got under way on Dec. 1 and reached the middle of Lake Ontario with a moderate breeze and fair weather prevailing.

Suddenly a snow storm set in, and the wind increased to a gale, stirring up a powerful sea. But the schooner out-rode the gale and at 6 o'clock sighted the Oswego lights about two miles distant. The lake, however, was too rough for harbor tugs to venture out and bring in the tow, which, of course, could not work up unaided to the harbor entrance. Her masters made the attempt on bare chance and got near enough to sight the breakwater and see danger signals sent out from the Oswego Lifesaving Station.

Unfortunately the strain of the wind and seas sprung some of the seams of the schooner and tore open her sails so that she became unmanageable, and with dangerous land all about the Oswego coast there was no alternative but to make for Henderson's bay, over 30 miles distant, where there was prospect of a good lee and shelter from the gale, but the vessel was unequal to the voyage. She wallowed badly, and her creaking timbers and rising water in the hold showed that she must speedily go to pieces and sink, and her captain decided to turn her head to land and beach her in Mexico Bay. In changing her course the main boom snapped and split the mainsail so as to render it useless. The pieces of the broken boom also fell across the pumps, rendering them useless, and to make bad worse the schooner shortly struck upon a reef over half a mile from shore and over five miles from a Lifesaving Station.

It was 2 o'clock in the morning, Dec. 2, when the Ariadne struck. It was still snowing and the thermometer stood at 18 above zero. The sea broke over the decks with such power as to drive all hands below, where they remained until the water arose over the cabin floor. Then the crew rushed for the main rigging but the captain, in spite of the remonstrances of his men, climbed to the top of the cabin, from which he was almost instantly swept away by a wave which carried the cabin top overboard. The unfortunate man clung to a plank for some moments and then disappeared forever.

In the course of another hour the schooner worked over the reef and drifted shoreward until she reached another bar, 200 rods from land. About that time the mainmast broke loose at the deck and fell against the foremast. Warned of danger, the crew had abandoned the main rigging for the forerigging, and seeing that the foremast was about to go clambered to the deck and took refuge forward, the only portion of the vessel lying above the water.

In this situation day dawned, and the eyes of the crew turned anxiously to shore in hopes of descrying some signs to give hope. But the driving snow shut out the land. The cold increased, and the waters dashing over the men soaked their clothing and soon turned to ice. The ropes and rails and everything which offered a hold were coated with ice. The decks were ankle deep with freezing slush, and none but the hardiest frames could stand the ordeal. One sailor fell to the deck a corpse - frozen to death.

Three seamen and the mate, father of the drowned captain, now remained. It was 9 o'clock in the forenoon, time for landsmen to be stirring, and with strained eyes, the hopeless fellows looked shoreward. All at once two persons appeared on the beach gesturing in the direction of the wreck. On receiving answers from the sailors the pair, two schoolboys, ran of at full speed in different directions. One of the boys while on the way to school had sighted the wreck through a rift in the snowclouds and hailing his fellow had run down to the beach.

On separating one notified his father, who, in turn, spread the alarm until it reached Lakeview Hotel, a summer resort on Wood's Pond. A telephone carried the news to a post office on the way toward Big Sandy Lifesaving Station, where a messenger was dispatched to Captain William A. Jenkins, a lake navigator, who got the news at 11 o'clock. Hoisting a flag at the masthead of his schooner, which was ice locked near his house, he set out across the marshes to alarm the station, some miles away.

The outlook at the station saw the messenger coming and aroused Keeper Fish, who started in an iceboat and met Jenkins just as the latter struck rotten ice upon the marshes and could proceed no farther. Jenkins told his story briefly, and the two hastened to get out the lifeboat, which was tracked along shore in order to save a pull of two miles windward in the stormy lake and the danger of swamping her in meeting the beds in the coast. It was rough, laborious work, and the boat, with its weight of three men, who guided it, was often cast ashore.

Finally the party was met by a farmer with a team in readiness to haul the boat to the scene of the wreck. Even then difficulties of travel were not overcome. The boat again and again filled with water and needed to be constantly pushed against the surf to keep her afloat. Fortunately she was of the self bailing type, and no time was lost in freeing her of water, but the spray, which the wind dashed over the struggling party froze as it fell and even showered the horses and men following on shore to keep the boat in her course.

The thermometer dropped to 16 degrees, and soon the clothing of the surfmen, the harness and tow ropes as well as the oars and poles became stiff with an icy coating. The wagon to which the rope was attached also became weighted and clogged with ice, so that the driver, having his hands busy in managing the team, couldn't keep his place on board without help.

It was 3 o'clock when the team pulled up opposite the wreck. Before attempting rescue it was necessary for the surfmen to beat their clothing and the oars, thwarts and rowlocks of the ice with heavy sticks in order to crack and loosen their thick scales of ice. Meanwhile signals had been given to cheer the survivors on the wreck, three of whom could be seen clinging to the hillock of ice out in the surf, for such the frost covered bow of the schooner appeared to be.

The trip of the boat to the wreck was the fortunate event of the rescue, for although the sunken schooner was surrounded with wreckage held to her by lines and pounding up and down in the heaving surf, the gallant life craft bore through it and brought alongside the forerigging without a serious collision.

Three men at the point of perishing and too far gone to display any interest in what was taking place crouched in the lee of the bulwark, with a dead shipmate half buried in ice at their feet. The deck was covered with ice, and at a motion from Keeper Fish the poor fellows loosed their holds and slid across to the rail above the lifeboat, where strong arms received them.

One of them appeared to be crazed, and on finding himself safe asked after his captain. Taking a hint, the surfmen examined the wreck further and discovered, in a coffin of ice, the body of the mate, who had perished of cold early in the day, or soon after the schoolboys sighted the forlorn vessel and started on their seemingly hopeless quest for aid.

George L. Kilmer

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Date of Original:
Dec. 14, 1894
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Richard Palmer
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
Maritime History of the Great Lakes
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A Boy's Quick Eye And Peril On Board The Lake Schooner Ariadne