The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 16 Nov, 1883, page 8

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Reasons Why So Many Vessels are Lost on The Great Lakes

"I would rather cross the ocean twenty times, at this season of the year, than make one trip from the St. Lawrence river to Chicago on the lakes," said Ira Brown, an old Lake Erie skipper. "The annual loss of lives and property on the lakes is proportionately very much greater than it is on the Atlantic Ocean, and you may always expect to hear of disasters on the great lakes following the reports of every severe storm. Lake skippers take risks that would appall the bravest ocean sailor. They will start from port with vessels that are hardly seaworthy in the calmest weather, and more of them are afloat during this most dangerous time of the year than during any other time. This is because the months of October and November are the most profitable to vessel owners, cargoes then being plenty and rates higher.

" Grain shipments are livelier as the season draws to a close, and every vessel that will float can command a cargo. The sailing season is very short on the lakes, as it is late in the spring before the ice embargo is removed, and early in the winter when it again closes navigation. The skipper's desire to take advantage of every hour of this time, and, notwithstanding the fact that he is liable to be overtaken at any moment by storms of great violence, he takes no precaution that will subject him to the least delay in port.

"This reckless disregard for life and property enlisted no interference on the part, even, of skippers, who are the parties most interested, until a few years ago, when a movement was made to have inspectors appointed by the government to examine the vessel in the grain trade on the lakes. But from all accounts, there are still many worthless hulks plying between Oswego and Chicago.

"The dangers of lake navigation are so great that even the stanchest vessels are frequently unable to escape them. Storms sweep over the lakes without any warning. The November storms on Lake Erie are frightful, and the sailors depend to a great extent on landmarks as guides to navigation. The blinding sleet that nearly always accompanies the storms obliterates these marks sometimes for days, and, as the sea room is limited, vessels are in constant danger of going to pieces on the rocky shores or on some of the islands that stud these inland seas.

"Lake Ontario's shores are especially menacing to lake craft during storms, but, fortunately, this lake is not so likely to be swept by gales as some of the other in the chain. If a vessel heaves to in a storm, it is almost certain to be drifted ashore; or if it runs down the St. Lawrence River it is endangered by the many islands that abound there.

"Many skippers have wrecked their vessels in the risky effort to make Oswego Harbor in a storm. The entrance to this harbor is very narrow, and the vessel that is steered for it and does not make it is almost certain to go to pieces under Fort Ontario." - [New York Sun.

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Column 1 Note that this article, which offers a scathing indictment of Great Lakes skippers, first appeared in the New York Sun . I leave it to you to decide whether Capt. Brown's comments are deserved.      
Date of Original:
16 Nov, 1883
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Dave Swayze
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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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Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), 16 Nov, 1883, page 8