The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
C.W. Cole's Fish Tug Nearing Completion
Syracuse Post-Standard (Syracuse, NY), 14 Oct 1922

Full Text
C.W. Cole's Fish Tug Nearing Completion
Staunch Lake Craft Will Soon Be Launched
From the Phelps Shipyard, Chaumont

Another wooden steamer, fresh from the Chaumont yard, once so active but of late years so dull, will shortly join the rapidly depleting fleet of ships of its kind to ply the Great Lake. The boat, which has been under construction for several months, will be added to the fishing squadron of Claude W. Cole, well known Cape Vincent business man and owner of the Main Duck Islands. On being put in commission very shortly the steamer will at once be put on the run between Cape Vincent, the Ducks and other fishing colonies, to hasten the collection of food from a supply that seems in no danger of diminishing.

Mr. Cole's new craft will be 75 feet in length and will have a cargo capacity of approximately 75 tons, making her one of the largest fishing boats at this end of the lake. Her actual tonnage will considerably exceed that figure. She will be seam driven, with a propeller, and is stoutly built to withstand the severe storms which pile the waters into high and choppy seas at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. Her route, between Cape Vincent and the Main Ducks, is over one of the most dangerous parts of the lower lake, passing the reefs of Charity shoals and shouldering her way to the rocky shores of the Main Ducks, noted among mariners of the inland seas as the graveyard of Ontario.

The death last summer of Frank Phelps, who conducted the Chaumont shipyard for many years, delayed the completion of the boat, of which the keel was laid many months ago. His need of the craft caused Mr. Cole personally to supervise her building after Mr. Phelps' death, and veteran shipbuilders from Oswego were brought to the little yard to carry on the work. Although small, the yard is well provided with equipment for constructing a wooden boat of considerable tonnage and appurtenances are on hand for all phases of the work, including a boiler and steaming chest for softening the timbers that they may be bent to the lines of the vessel.

It is a curious feature in the life of a wooden vessel that its appearance at first conception and final decay are so similar. The ribbed frame work, projecting from the keel, quite like the ribs of an animal, radiate from the backbone, for one of the most noticeable features of the weather-beaten wreck, be it buried beneath the sands of the Ellisburg coat or washed on to the rocky beach of the Stony Point shore. Once the general framework of ribs and keel are down, the shipbuilders undertake to lay the symmetrical sides, prow and stern, closely fitting the heavy planking. Once the hull is completed every crevice and crack is closed by oakum and covered with a coat of tar until the vessel is rendered seaworthy.

Caulking the ship requires experience, for it is one of the most vital features. Where sufficient crevice does not exist between the planking, it is opened up by driving in heavy steel wedges. The long strips of oakum are then forced into the crack by mallet and chisel, the wedge is removed and the oakum covered with tar and eventually the entire hull receives a top coat of paint.

In the earlier days of lake navigation Chaumont and its adjacent communities formed the busiest shipbuilding center at this end of Lake Ontario. The harbor offered excellent shelter, combining safety from the gales that swept the 180 miles of water, with sufficient depth for any craft then riding these inland seas, while the low shores, dipping quickly to a depth sufficient to float the craft, made the location of a shipyard a matter of no difficulty. The adjacent lands were forested with virgin timber, including an abundance of oak, so necessary for the stout hills, and having the straightest pines for masts and spars. With these advantages, it is not surprising that ship builders plied a busy trade from Sackets Harbor to Three Mile Bay. Even Point Peninsula boasted its product in the fleet, and it is recorded that over in the town of Ellisburg boats were built and launched in shallow Sandy Creek.

Excepting the period from 1812 to 1814, when the government naval bases of the United States at Sackets Harbor and of Great Britain at Kingston engaged in a shipbuilding race, Chaumont was the busiest construction port along the Jefferson county shore. Until after the first steamers had demonstrated beyond question their dependability and adaptability to the necessities of lake navigation, the Chaumont yard turned out sailing craft, largely of the schooner rig. Few ships, as designating a class of vessel, were built upon the Great Lakes, brigs, sloops and schooners making up the fleet in the main.

Later, the local builders turned their hands to the demand of the day, and the forms upon the way lost the graceful lines of the sailing craft, sprouting the dirty funnels, the ungainly high walking beams, and the low-lying stern of paddle-wheel or propeller. Simultaneously the tonnage increased and larger boats braved the open lake. Many steamers were turned out at Chaumont and Three Mile Bay, especially at the former port, which became a well known shipbuilding center at this end of Lake Ontario. Then progress took another stride forward, and its iron shod foot crushed the lucrative trade of the Chaumont ship builder.

In 1845 there had been launched at Erie, Pa., amidst many misgivings and wise shakings of heads among the old mariners here assembled, an iron steam paddle vessel, christened the Michigan. No less a corporation than the United States of America had undertaken the building of this experiment, and the forebodings of misfortune were many, for freshwater sailors agreed that iron could not float. Despite their arguments, the Michigan, now the gunboat Wolverine, is still paddling about the upper lakes.

The following year, 1844, the United States launched the iron propeller Jefferson at Oswego, the material, like that of the Wolverine, having been rolled in the iron mills at Pittsburgh. From then on, the iron, and later the steel fleet, multiplied. First came the Canadian merchantman Richelieu of 167 tons in 1845; next year the Caspian, 177 feet long, launched on Lake Ontario, and a couple of years later the paddle boat Hamilton, built by the Richelieu company for service on the St. Lawrence river.

They ushered in the age of steel in the lake marine. Gradually the yards at Sackets Harbor, Chaumont, Three Mile Bay and other points along the fresh water seas gave way to the large ship building plants where resounded the racket of steel construction. The experience of the local yards was the experience of every other wooden shipbuilding yard along the Great Lakes chain.

Lake Ontario, which claims the first boat to glide over the waters of the Great Lakes with sail power, also saw the premier propeller. Like the second iron steamboat, the propeller, known as the Vandalia, was built at Oswego. She was of 138 tons, and was launched in the spring of 1841. There was no high walking beam, no flanking paddle boxes, and the staunch and speedy little craft aroused much interest and was widely sought by passengers. It is recorded that 10 cords of seasoned wood was sufficient for a day's run. She was later reconstructed, enlarged and rechristened the Milwaukee.

Media Type:
Item Type:
Date of Publication:
14 Oct 1922
Language of Item:
Geographic Coverage:
  • New York, United States
    Latitude: 44.067 Longitude: -76.13021
Richard Palmer
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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C.W. Cole's Fish Tug Nearing Completion