The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Mont Blanc (Schooner), U16344, sunk, 14 Oct 1893

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      The Schooner MONT BLANC Beat In With The Captain's Wife Tied Up.
      By all odds the worst storm that has struck old Lake Erie in 25 years was that yesterday. The wind blew a hurricane from early in the morning until late last night, and at times the instruments in the Weather Office registered the unusual velocity of 62 miles an hour.
From the reports made by the lake captains that were out in the big gale there must have been a score of disasters, and it is quite probable there will be a big loss of life, although up to midnight no boats were reported as going down with their crews.
The old mariners who had comfortable berths shook their heads wisely when they awoke Friday night and heard the wind moaning and screeching in the trees, the old signs creaking and groaning as they swung to and fro in the breeze, their blinds being tossed to the ground and observed all the other signs that are the forerunners of a big gale. And they were right, for towards morning the rain was coming down in torrents and the wind increased in force and soon it was whistling in the trees at the rate of 60 miles an hour.
What an awful night it was to the sturdy sailors on the lake vessels is hard to describe. The modern boats with their steam steering apparatus, and their air-tight compartments and splendid workmanship were all right, but it was altogether different with the old craft that has plowed the Great Lakes for the last 20 and 30 years and which are weather-beaten and rotten. They were tossed about in the cranky old lake like champagne corks, there sails were ripped and torn until they looked like shoe-laces, their masts were split like kindling wood and their hatches were washed away.
All the big lake steamers that left for the upper lake ports Friday night, were forced to turn back to places of safety, and quite a number suffered considerable damage.
The schooner MONT BLANC of Detroit had a marvelous escape from foundering in the lake just outside the breakwater in full vies of thousands of people yesterday afternoon.
How the little vessel was saved when the waves were dashing over the top of her masts, when the captain's wife was lashed to a post to prevent her from being washed overboard and how the schooner sank as she was being towed in by three tugs is an usually thrilling story.
The MONT BLANC is a small schooner that carries grain from Detroit and Toledo to Buffalo. She is commanded by Capt. Patrick Kane of Detroit, one of the bravest sailors on the Great Lakes. The MONT BLANC left Detroit for Buffalo early Thursday morning. All went well until the storm struck the lake early yesterday morning. The schooner is what is called a canal schooner, that is, she was built so she could pass through the Welland canal. When Capt. Kane looked through his glasses and saw the black funnel-shaped clouds scurrying in the heavens he told his mate he thought the little schooner was going to have a hard time of it weathering the storm. Little did Capt. Kane thing he would have the terrible experience that was in store for him.
When the hurricane first struck the lake the schooner was near Long Point. The rain was falling in torrents and it was impossible for the lookout to see 100 feet ahead. The sails were taken in, the schooner's bow was turned towards Buffalo and she was allowed to drift with very little canvas. The little boat was tossed around like an egg shell all night long.
The waves poured over her decks and each one threatened to send the craft to the bottom. As it was, everything of a movable nature was washed overboard, but still her hatches withstood the seas and Capt. Kane and his sailors tied themselves to the masts and prepared to meet their fate. Mrs. Kane, the wife of the captain, remained in the cabin and did what she could to help her husband and brave sailors to save the boat.
When the night ended and day broke the sailors breathed a little easier, for then they knew they would have a fighting chance of living. It was still raining heavily and the wind was increasing in violence.
Scanning the sea with the glass Capt. Kane saw he was only a short distance from Long Point. Thinking he might reach shelter there or at Port Colborne, he tried to turn the boat, but his rudder wouldn't work and he then abandoned all hope of ever reaching a safe port and was forced to allow the vessel to drift helplessly in the open sea. The captain still hoped the vessel might float until he could reach Port Colborne, and when he saw the church spires of the latter port pass him like a shot, he gave up all hope of being saved.
To add to the danger, the little vessel began leaking, and the sailors were set to work at the pumps. Fortunately for them the leak was small and they kept the water down with great difficulty. The hatches still remained fastened to the decks and Mrs. Kane was safe in the cabin. One awful wave that shook the boat from stem to stern filled the cabin with water and Mrs. Kane was swept out of it and onto the deck. She was almost swept overboard.
Capt. Kane and a sailor saw her. They hurried to her assistance and reached her side with difficulty. They secured a rope and tied her to the mast. The seas by this time were terrific and poured over the deck like a waterspout.
Capt. Kane, his poor wife and the sailors were almost exhausted. Capt. Kane still urged his men to keep up their courage.
Looking through the driving rain and hail, Capt. Kane saw he was only a shore distance from Buffalo. He buoyed up the courage of his crew by telling them and shortly after 3 o'clock he saw the breakwater a quarter of a mile ahead of him. The waves were rushing over it pell mell and Capt. Kane dropped both anchors just outside and waited for a tug to go to his assistance. The waves were altogether too high for any of the puffing tugs to venture out in the open lake They would be swamped on short notice, their captains thought, and they waited patiently for the MONT BLANC to come a little nearer.
All the tugmen could see were two spars belonging to a strange schooner that bobbed up and down in the breakers, and looked as if it would go to pieces ever minute.
Getting tired of not seeing any of the tugs start to his assistance he lifted the anchors and allowed the schooner to drift further in.
Big crowds of people gathered along the water front to watch the unequal contest between the vessel and the angry waters. Knots of people stood on top of the Deleware & Lackawanna trestle at the foot of Erie street. The rain beat down on them savagely, the wind whipped their clothing, still they stood on that trestle with spy galsses in hand, every moment expecting to see the little MONT BLANC sink under the waves. Every time she was struck by a wave she would go down into the trough of the sea and many times the whole boat was under water, but every time she came up and the people who had the strongest galsses saw the crew lashed to the masts.
A lot of tugs poked their noses up to the breakwater and waited for the boat to come near enough so they could go to its rescue. The MONT BLANC labored painfully a quarter of a mile outside the breakwater for fully an hour before she showed a tendency to drift inside. Then she slowly floated inwards, and just as the tugs BABCOCK and MAYTHAM reached her side, the boat was struck by a hugh wave amidships and the little vessel plunged under the water.
The watchers thought she was gone for good, but the decks of the vessel appeared a moment later. The schooner was badly listed and the seas washed over her continually.
Mrs. Kane and several of the sailors were still lashed to the masts and were pitiable sights. They were drenched to their skins and seemed more dead than alive. What astonished the watchers who caught occasional glances of the boat through the mist and rain was that the tugs did not seem to be rendering assistance to her. There was a tug on each side of her, but neither one seemed to be doing anything to relieve the boat's distress. It was later explained, that the MONT BLANC lost her line in the storm and neither tug had one long enough to reach her. The vessel was helpless as ever, the seas still washed he decks and the two tugs whistled for assistance.
To Capt. Patrick Lynn and the crew of the tug CASCADE belonged the credit for rescuing the boat from destruction and the crew from certain death. He had a long line and he steamed up to her, fastened a big towline to her bow, and gave the word to his engineer to go ahead. The engine began to move slowly and steadily, the towline straightened out, and Lynn began to pull the MONT BLANC out of harm's way.
After half an hour's hard work the schooner was landed in the Blackwell Canal, next to the Mann Elevator. Tugmen climbed aboard the vessel then and untied Mrs. Kane. The woman was soaked to the skin. She was exhausted from the awful experience and almost dead with fright. Capt. Kane and his six sailors were wet and tired out from their awful fight with the sea, and they were given stimulants, furnished with dry clothing and soon felt better.
The MONT BLANC was in bad shape. Her cargo listed in the storm and was ruined. The vessel had five feet of water in her hold and sank to the dock 15 minutes after being tied up. One side of the cabin remains out of the water.
Relating his story to a News man last night, Capt. Kane said: "I never want another such experience as I went through Friday night and yesterday. I have been sailing on the lakes for many years, but in all my life I never went through anything like that of yesterday. When the gale first struck us we were away up above Long Point. It was impossible to make that harbor to get out of the fury of the storm, and I headed the boat to Buffalo, and took in as much canvas as I thought advisable and let her go. When the wind began blowing 40 miles an hour I thought we struck a hurricane and believed all was over with us. But when it jumped up to 60 miles an hour I was in even worst shape, and then believed we were going down any minute. The sea washed over the boat and drenched us to the skin. I thought my wife would be all right in the cabin and fixed the doors so she would be comfortable. But one wave, that I thought was going to submerge the boat, filled the cabin with water and drove my wife out of it. That was early this morning. I then tied her to a post and devoted myself to saving the vessel if I could. I knew if I kept the vessel headed for Buffalo there would be a ghost of a chance of us being picked up by tug in the harbor. We were almost played out when we caught sight of Buffalo. The waves were dashing over the breakwater and we were almost upon it before I realized where we were. It was raining so heavily, object could not be seen 10 feet ahead. We lost our tow line in the storm, and when two tugs reached us, we could not throw them a line. If it was not for Capt. Lynn and his tug the CASCADE, I guess we would all be at the bottom of the lake now."
      Buffalo [Sunday Morning] News
      Sunday, October 15, 1893 p.2, c.4 & 5

      . . . . .
Schooner MONT BLANC. U. S. No. 16344. Of 288.66 tons gross; 274.23 tons net. Built Clayton, N.Y., 1867. Home port, Port Huron, Mich. 137.5 x 26.1 x 11.3
      Merchant Vessel List, U. S., 1897

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Reason: sunk
Lives: nil
Freight: grain
Remarks: Raised
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  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 42.88645 Longitude: -78.87837
William R. McNeil
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Mont Blanc (Schooner), U16344, sunk, 14 Oct 1893