The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Duck Islands Claim Three More Lives
Syracuse Herald (Syracuse, NY), 18 Jan 1931

Full Text
Duck Islands Claim Three More Lives
Solvay Man and Buddies Latest Victims
Score Perished There
Mariners Recall Wrecks in Vicinity of Isles Periling Boats

Exclusive Dispatch to The Herald.

Kingston, Ont., Jan. 17. - The Ducks - "Charbydis and Scylia" of Lake Ontario have claimed three more victims - Anthony Kane of Solvay, whose body was found in Wilson's Bay, three miles southwest of Cape Vincent last Tuesday; Cecil Philips of Bath, Ont., and William Sheridan of Rochester, whose bodies have no yet been recovered.*

The Ducks are two small islands in the vast expanse of Lake Ontario, halfway between Bath, Ont., and Oswego. They have been the scene of many wrecks and have caused the loss of more than a score of lives. The recent tragedy there brings once more to the public mind the sinister name of these islands.

Mariners of past years now living in the cities and towns of both the United States and Canada are always ready to tell of incidents which took place in the neighborhood, and each new disaster recalls memories of the past. Alfeus Turcotte of Kingston, Ont., veteran mariner of sailing days and later an expert ship carpenter, recalls a sinking at the False Ducks of which he was an eye witness. (Sept. 30, 1880). The old sailor describes the incident as follows:

"We had been lying in shelter behind Timber Island during a terrific gale, and when we put out the weather was still bad. Just as we rounded the north end of Timber Island I caught a glimpse of another sailing vessel too close to Duckling Reef on the False Duck Shoal, for safety. I was at the wheel of our craft, the 'Malone,' and could see the whole thing.

"The wind was shrieking through the rigging, and the mighty waves pounding on Duckling threw their spray as high as the masts. I watched the 'Olive Branch,' as I later discovered her name o be, fascinated and horror stricken at the fate she could not escape. Driving before the wind, on bare spars, she cleaved the water, burrowing deep in the mighty combers. As I watched she rose on the crest of a giant wave, and seeming to hesitate for a moment as if for a last look at all things earthly, plunged to destruction on the reef. I could not tear my eyes away and absolutely was powerless to go to their rescue.

"I called our captain, who gave the order to stand by and pick up survivors if any were able to wind through to us. I saw the life boats lowered and dashed to pieces against the hull before the men in them could pull out of harm's way. Many of the crew leaped overboard in their frenzy and were hopelessly smashed against the ship. She wasn't long breaking up and we were unable to do anything. We stood by helpless and were forced to witness at least one tragedy when a proud ship and brave men gave their lived in a hopeless battle against wind and sea."

Old newspaper files at Kingston disclose accounts of many such occurrences. In 1910 the "John Sharples" stranded on Galloo Island in a storm but did not break up and the crew was saved.

In 1918 some new freighters were built on the Upper Lakes for the United States Shipping Board. Too large to take down through the canal locks in one section they were made in two pieces, bulkheads keeping out of the water at the division. The "Minola," one of these freighters, was in tow during December of that year when a storm broke. The bow section came loose from its tug near the Main Ducks in a terrific gale and was lost with 11 men aboard. The tug made port safely as did the stern section which was being brought the lake at the same time.

A wreck that caused a great deal of excitement in 1920 was that of the steam barge "John Randall," which sank 300 feet east of the Main Ducks. After staying aboard their sinking ship until the last moment, the crew took to the water and were all able to make the island. They remained there five days before being found by search parties. Captain John Randall and his crew had been given up for lost when their vessel did not reach port and great joy greeted the news of their safety.

Just the next year, on Nov. 25, 1921, the steam barge, "City of New York," commanded by Captain Harry Randall, son of Captain John, foundered off Stony Point. The same kindly fate which saved the father and his crew did not come to the lot of the son, or he and all on board his ship were lost.'

The steam barge was loaded with phosphate and while thus heavily laden was caught in one of the terrible storms of the fall shipping season. Five of the crew were found dead in a lifeboat in which they had made a desperate fight for safety after their ship foundered. They were Mrs. Harry Randall, wife of the captain; Wesley Warren, mate of Seeley's Bay near Kingston; Robert H. Dorey, Gilbert J. Dorey and Francis Gallagher of Kingston.

The other members of the crew, Captain Randall, his small child, Joseph Gallagher and a boy named Stanley Pappa, never gain were seen. The discovery of the lifeboat, too late to save the lives of its occupants who had died from exposure, was made by the crew of the steamer "Isabella."

As recent as 1929 a modern freighter, the "Sarniadoc" on her maiden voyage in Canadian waters, and only one year after out of the yards at Scotland, went ashore on the reefs of the Main Ducks. All the crew were saved by the 'Valley Camp" which stood by and took them off in boats. Later, the "Sarniadoc" was freed from the reef and part of her grain cargo saved. A few years earlier, the tug "Concretia" went aground at the Ducks and later was salvaged an put in service again.

Another wreck, of which very little detail is available, was a lake steamer which went ashore near Oswego. Several lives were lost before the rescuers could find means of getting the crew to lane. This boat was blown ashore in a gale and broke up on a shoal just off the mainland shore.

The islands which make up the intricate barrier at the eastern end of Lake Ontario are commonly referred to as The Ducks. In reality there are several islands of different names. The Main Duck group rank first in tragedy, another group called the False Ducks and northeast of these islands, lonesome and buffeted by wind and wave is Pigeon Island, lying in wait for the unwary mariner. These islands are in Canadian waters while just south of them across the international boundary like the two American islands of Galloo and Stony. They have also figured in their share of marine disasters.

All of the shipping of the St. Lawrence River and Lake Ontario passes through the channels formed by the islands, and the cross lake traffic from Oswego, to the towns and cities along the Canadian shore runs close to them.

In describing the dangerous territory in terms for the landsman a convenient start can be made at Stony Point, a rocky headland on the United States shore about 28 miles northeast of Oswego. Following the islands on the map the next point of interest is Stony Island about two and a half miles northwest of the headland. The channel between is broad and deep. Rocky shoals extend out from Stony Island and they have crushed and splintered sailing vessels in the old days even the steel ships of today on their cruel ledges. Northwest another two miles or so is Galloo Island, notable because there is no harbor on the entire shore line.

Eight miles westward, across the unseen boundary line, is Main Duck Island. It is fairly large and its small brother, Yorkshire Island is just off the eastern extremity. It is on the shoals near these islands that many vessels have foundered and in the icy waters which cover them a score of brave sailors have perished.

The history of the Main Ducks is not at all bad, however, for ships buffeted by wind and sea, on occasion have been able to seek the precarious shelter of the north shore and there ride out the storm. In a few cases, too, the islands have proved a haven for sailors, who, driven from their foundering vessels have been able to swim through the surf to its shores.vWest of the Main Ducks are two islands called the False Ducks, actually Swetman Island and Timber Island. They are about two miles off Prince Edward Point on the Canadian shore line. Timber Island, one of the group comprising the so-called False Ducks, instead of being regarded with dread and suspicion by sailors, long has enjoyed an excellent reputation. Behind Timber Island is the safest shelter point in the region in which to ride out a storm. In the days of sail it was used constantly and even today in the age of steam, provides a harbor on occasion.

Main Duck Island is the property of Claude W. Cole of Cape Vincent and has many interesting features besides its gruesome history of wreck and disaster. Mr. Cole has used it as a fox farm and a buffalo ranch. The buffalo experiment was not a success - one drowned and the others escaped across the ice to the mainland, via Galloo Island, and had to be destroyed.

The regular passenger route from Kingston to Charlotte, the port of Rochester, runs past the Main Ducks and the steamers "Kingston" and "Toronto" alternate on this route each day during the summer season. After losing sight of land, as the shore line of Wolf Island fades into the distance, the boat sails west. A feeling of the mightiness of the inland seas is experienced with tumbling waters on every side and not a glimpse of land.

Rising on the horizon a pleasant, tree covered island appears and as it gradually grows larger looks serene and friendly to the warm glow of the sunset. Hot it looks as it looms up in front of a crew driving before a howling gale of late fall, only the mariner who has seen it and come through to tell the story fully can realize.

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18 Jan 1931
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Public domain: Copyright has expired according to the applicable Canadian or American laws. No restrictions on use.
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Duck Islands Claim Three More Lives