THE FIRST DIVE ON THE WAOME
(by Tim Legate)
On October 6, 1934 at about 10:15 am., the passenger steamer WAOME sank in Lake Muskoka, taking three people to their deaths. While doing some unrelated research at the National Archives of Canada. the WAOME's file came to hand, and in it was the following account of the very first dives to the wreck - made by H. E. Poland while searching for bodies and mail.
October 20th, 1934
Diver's Report on searching passenger Steamer "WAOME" wrecked off Friday Island, Lake Muskoka, October 6th around 10:15 a. m. Three lives lost. Captain Henshaw's body taken from water.
I received instructions on the afternoon of Thanksgiving Day "Leave with diving apparatus night train for Gravenhurst." Telegram read: "Muskoka Lakes, Gravenhurst, as result of hurricane here Saturday, Steamer WAOME foundered in 150 ft. of water no diver or equipment here capable of making attempt to recover bodies what assistance are you able to render us Stop recommend every possible assistance quickly as possible."
Left Prescott with diving apparatus , 11:35 p.m.; arrived Gravenhurst around 1:30 p.m., October 9th; drove straight to wharf where regular passenger steamer was waiting to cast off; a hurried line of instruction from Mr. Wasley, manager, Muskoka Lakes Navigation Co. and I left for Beaumaris Island, about 14 miles up the Lake. Unloaded diving apparatus here and met brother-in-law of deceased Captain Thompson, who took me in a launch at once to the scene of the accident some three miles further up the lake. Here some half dozen or so boats were grappling and sounding. The boats reported their findings to me at once, and they had undoubtedly found the wreck. These people received me very well on all sides and
appointed me to full command as it were, right away. So we got to work trying to sound out the length and breadth of the wreck for locating whilst Mr. Borntraeger, a gentleman resident, who had been assisting, started right away with his larger power cruiser to get a scow which we decided would be best for locating, handling cables and diving from, which would have to be brought some distance to have ready for morning. Next, there
was the matter of heavy anchors, cables, ropes, etc., for locating accurately over the wreck.
The co-operation was splendid, to ask for something was to have some volunteers dash off in their boat to get it. Mr. Wasley, the manager of the Muskoka Navigation Co., came down and rendered every assistance and we started locating operations before daylight, Wednesday, October 10th. Next, we did some finer locating from close around the scow, finally deciding what we thought was the funnel. Here we dropped our weighted line and
trimmed our scow over to plumb it to our ladder. Volunteers were many and we picked up a crew to dress me and pump air. They were inexperienced but splendid in the way they noted my every requirement. There was never a cross word, never a hitch throughout the whole Job. We made it 68 to 72 feet, the highest parts of what proved to be the hurricane deck or boat deck. We had no measuring tape; but a sailor can measure off a fathom and we checked over two or three lines.
I dropped down our weighted line and landed right on top of the smoke stack passing the big dark shadow of what was the lifeboat hanging straight up by one set of tackles. Next, finding the whistle and stay from the smoke stack, I went down the stay which brought me to the deck portside of the wheelhouse, found circular front of wheelhouse and mast. Here I took my bearings at the ship's bell which was to be my station throughout the job.
The steamer I found to be on her keel with a list of 18" to 2' to starboard and would judge about 6 feet to 8 feet lower at the stern than the bow.
The visibility was poor, I could make out detail with my face glass close-up but a few feet away was all a dark blur and yet this first morning was to be the best I was to get. The water riled up and the clouds were heavy throughout the job, so from this point on, bad vision and dark inside under decks.
Next, I lowered myself down over the top deck port side by the wheelhouse, searched the promenade deck forward and went into the wheelhouse, started into the port side alleyway into the saloon as far as I could drag my lines and clear. Came back, crossed over upper deck and lowered myself down on starboard side (no ladders), searched starboard side, started into the alleyway into the saloon this side and did not go very far before finding what I knew to be one of the men I was looking for. I felt for the brass buttons of the officer's vest and felt the partially bald head, cloth clothes which I knew to be Rev. Mr. Coxon, passenger. I carried him out on to the second deck and struggled up and over the wheelhouse to the upper deck taking him with me to the foot of the mast, then up to the top. Reported to
Mr. Wasley, called for the Coroner, ordered what was necessary, picked out a man to attend the rope and went back, secured Rev. Coxon and came up with him.
Now I quite expected to find the passenger in one of these alleyways or in the after saloon but the possibilities of the officer's whereabouts were confusing. He was undoubtedly on the lower deck at the time of the disaster.
One story was that he 'had been jammed by a large gate of which there were two down on the lower or cargo deck. However, we must search the saloon and 1 could not clear any further into the port or starboard alleyways and could not get aft along the upper deck so had to start in to clear away boat covers, tackles and wreckage that fouled the deck, this took us to approaching darkness.
It must be noted that this deck went right to the sterm which would mean climbing down on to the second deck crossing to amidships and going in the door in the middle of the saloon aft. Two sharp turns for my hose and line. I did not expect to be able to drag them without an extra diver.
After this somewhat trying day's work, we decided they should drive me some 23 miles to look over the WAOME's sister ship which was under repairs. I spent a couple of hours studying this with the intention of cutting a hole which would let me drop into the saloon, getting tools for same, etc. This proved a great help later although very trying.
Thursday, October 11th, before taking down tools to cut deck which at best could be figured a morning's work, I decided to make another effort to get in by second deck, went down, took a wide angle and got down under the hurricane deck to the second deck, dragged my lines across, got to the door which was open and dragged into the saloon and I had not gone a yard when I found a boot and foot which I could not move. Further in I found
a heavy setee pinning the officer's chest; this I lifted off. Thompson's head and hands were right over to the alleyway I have spoken of on the starboard side and I feel convinced this officer died trying to save his passenger. I carried Thompson out across the second deck, climbed to the upper deck and drew him up after me and carried him along to my shot rope, went up and reported to Mr. Wasley, sent for the Coroner, went back with a rope and came up to the top with Thompson. I think I got Thompson in about 72 to 78 feet of water and Rev. Coxon in about 2 feet less.
We picked up anchors and let go everything as this was all that was requested, and came ashore with complete outfit where I received wire just arriving to make attempt to recover mail.
(signed) H. E. Poland
Divers Report on searching lower or cargo deck of Steamer WAOME wreck. Lake Muskoka, October 6th and attempt to recover mad bags.
I would advise you that the telegram in connection with making above mentioned attempt reached me when coming ashore at Beaumaris Island with scow and equipment, having left the wreck completely having fulfilled requests as per instructions.
It now became necessary to pick up outfit and crew and go right back and locate again.
Returned to wreck and located. On morning of October 12th, got down over Saloon deck to portside cargo doors, the lower half of which I found carried away, crawled in and pulled bolt and let go top half and hoisted it up to its place where it fastened to the ceiling or upper deck. I found mail bags on hooks but could not drag enough slack to reach them. Thought I
must be to my full 100 feet of hose, went back up to have my pump moved nearer to the edge of scow to give me another few feet, but they told me they were not holding tight at all up on top, there was still about ten feet of hose on deck out of my 100 feet. Went back again and took a coil of slack in with me and got to the end of the forward deck where I found the two farm gates in question. Three, I think of the larger rolls of farm fencing, several sacks of corn which had swollen in the sacks and this all piled across the alleyways in a big jam. It occurred to me at once that the officer might have been seen climbing this jam to get up the stairs to the saloon to the passenger, which might have led the witness to state he had seen him struggling with a gate.
I recovered the three mail bags and searched the deck, going down on my knees and feeling through the gates on to the floor at any place I could get a hand. I found the metal Post Office box. I next went up and sent that up and warned them that there was not much hope to recover many mail bags as both the lower halves of the cargo door were carried away and these were opposite each other port and starboard. I felt that the sea rushing
across decks would pick up the perhaps half-empty mail bags and whirl them like dried leaves. However, I went back and opened up the top half of the cargo door on the starboard side, found one mail bag in a corner where it would be likely to have gone. Here I decided that it would take fifteen or twenty hours actual diving to clear that jam with no assurance that we would find another mail bag and it did not seem promising enough to incur further expense.
I should think I recovered such mail as I did from about 80 to 85 feet of water.
Gentlemen from Post Office Department were there on the spot and I explained all my findings to them each descent; they took charge of such bags as I found.
(signed) H. E. Poland
from S. O. S. Newsletter
NOTE: -- the WAOME, formerly S. S. MINK II, is a popular dive site on Lake Muskoka.
Steam Screw WAOME.* Official Canadian No. 131085. Built at Gravenhurst, Ont., in 1912. Of 89 gross tons; 60 tons reg. Home port, Toronto, Ont. 78.0 x 14.5 x 4.9 and 10 horse power. Owned by Muskoka lakes Navigation & Hotel Co., of Gravenhurst, Ont.
* Formerly MINK.
List of Vessels on Registry Books of the Dominion
of Canada on the 31st. Day of December, 1933