The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), May 12, 1907

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What is the most perilous port in all Michigan? What point enjoys the unenviable distinction of furnishing the most accidents to shipping than any other on the water line? The answer to the question is to be found in the record of the activities of the life-savers of Michigan for the last reported fiscal year - and the answer is Harbor Beach.

The annual report of the superintendent of the lifesaving service shows that in the period told about there were no fewer than thirteen opportunities given to Harbor Beach for the aid of the service workers. The number of times when the help of the lifesavers was made necessary during the year show up in this fashion:

Harbor Beach13
South Haven9
White River7
Grand Haven7
Middle Island7
Grand Marais7
Sturgeon Point6
Lake View Beach5
St. Joseph5
Bois Blanc5

Other ports called for aid fewer than five times each, but in the aggregate the number of occasions in the year when assistance was given by lifesavers was 163, a very large showing for the force.

Wreck of the Argo

It was at Holland that the accident making necessary the greatest saving of life occurred, when the steamer Argo, belonging to the Graham & Morton line, with nineteen passengers and a crew of twenty-two all told, on board, bound from Chicago to Holland, encountered a gale which reached a velocity of fifty miles an hour. On arriving off Holland and attempting to enter the harbor, tremendous seas swept her to leeward, and she was dashed against the pierheads, then drifted upon a sandbar about 500 feet from shore, where she was momentarily threatened with destruction in the heavy breakers.

The lifesaving crew tried to reach the vessel in a surfboat, but were unable to launch it. They hastily rigged the beach apparatus, fired a shot which went directly over the vessel, after which the breeches buoy was sent out and the passengers landed without mishap. The surfmen then did all in their power in assisting the master to save his ship, but all efforts proving futile, she was abandoned until spring.

Seven Calls in One Day

October 20, 1905, is a date to be remembered by all those whose callings bring them in contact with Michigan waters. The seas were running high, and the wind blowing a gale. At 7:30 in the morning the lookout at the Tawas station reported a vessel flying signals of distress. The crew launched a surfboat and set out for her, finding her to be the schooner William McGregor. Her pumps were disabled and at the time the lifesavers arrived there was four feet of water in her hold. The surfmen repaired her pumps, pumped her dry, and she proceeded on her way.

On the same day, the steamer William R. Linn sent out signals of distress, and when the men from Thunder Bay Island went out to her, it was found that she had lost her consort in a gale. The crew of the station returned to shore with dispatches for her owners, which were at once forwarded.

Schooners Come to Grief

The schooner Emma L. Nielson came to grief around Middle Island on this same date. The vessel had dragged her anchors during a fresh northeast gale, and stranded on the point sixteen miles northwest of the station. The surfmen were taken to the scene of the disaster in tow of a tug, which endeavored to float her, but was unsuccessful. The lifesavers threw overboard a portion of her cargo in an effort to lighten her, when she was released and taken to drydock for repairs.

Also on this date the schooner Galatea broke away from her towing steamer during a northerly gale and stranded in the harbor of Grand Marais, one-eighth of a mile from the station. The crew of the vessel, together with their effects, were landed safely and taken into the station where they were made comfortable. The efforts of the master, assisted by the surfmen, to float his vessel proved unsuccessful and a wrecking company was notified.

Rescued Two Crews

The schooner Nirvana, same date, while attempting to enter the harbor of Grand Marais for shelter from a gale, collided with the pier, staving a hole in her bow below the water line, and causing her to fill and sink in eighteen feet of water. The lifesaving crew, learning of the casualty, transported the surfboat over a point of land abreast of the wreck and went to the assistance of the imperiled men, who could be seen cling to the stern of the vessel. The surfboat was held up to the wreck until all were taken off and brought to the shore in safety. They were succored at the station until able to depart for their homes.

At two in the morning of this very fateful October 20, the schooner Lydia dragged her anchors during a strong gale and high seas, striking the beach a half mile south of the Manistee station. The lifesavers attempted to launch the surf boat, but were driven back by the tremendous surf which finally disabled the boat. The beach apparatus was then run out, and at 5 a.m. it was placed in position abreast of the wreck and ready for operation. The first line was driven to leeward of the vessel by the wind, but the next one fell on board and was made fast by the sailors. At this point the Lydia's cables parted and she was swept inshore by the sea. The whip line was again hauled taut, and the shipwrecked men slid down on it, then let go their hold and dropped into the water, where they were rescued by the surfmen, who plunged in to their assistance. They were borne ashore in safety and then conveyed to the station where they were cared for until able to leave for their homes.

Rescued with Great Difficulty

The schooner Vega, while endeavoring to make Ludington during the October 20 storm, missed the harbor entrance and stranded a short distance below the lifesaving station and about 1,500 feet from shore. It being too rough to launch the boat, the station crew set out with the beach apparatus, and with the assistance of a team of horses transported it to a wharf and thence to Pere Marquette lake on a tug, arriving abreast of the wreck. The Lyle gun was placed in position and a shot fired, only to fall short of the vessel. A No. 7 line, with six ounces of powder was then sent off, falling across the jibstay, but unfortunately slid down into the water beyond reach of the crew. The next shot fell on board and the line was hauled off and secured to the main rigging. The breeches buoy was sent out until all were landed in safety, and then they were conveyed to the station and given food and stimulants. The vessel was a total loss.

The elements combined to injure much more shipping on the date mentioned, but these incidents were the most notable in the list of the day's mishaps.

Media Type:
Item Type:
The October 19-20, 1905 storm was one of the most devastating in the history of lakes shipping, with the following additional vessels removed from lake rolls forever: propellers SARAH E. SHELDON, SIBERIA, ALVIN A TURNER, JOSEPH S FAY, KALIYUGA and PROGRESS; tugs CYGNET and JAY OCHS; schooner-barges ALTA, FOSTER, IVER LAWSON, MAUTENEE, TASMANIA and YUKON; and schooners GLEN CUYLER, JOHN V. JONES, KATAHDIN, KATE LYONS, MINNEDOSA (4-master) and D. P. RHODES. 38 lives were lost as well.
Date of Original:
May 12, 1907
Local identifier:
Language of Item:
Dave Swayze
Copyright Statement:
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), May 12, 1907