The Maritime History of the Great Lakes
Detroit Free Press (Detroit, MI), Tues., Apr 29, 1851

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Trial of Speed - Ocean and Empire State

Messrs. Editors: - The most thoroughly contested, exciting and spirited contest in a trial of speed between two steamboats which I ever witnessed on Lake Erie, terminated at Buffalo on Saturday morning last. The Messrs. Wards temporarily withdrew their unrivalled steamer Ocean, Capt. Willoughby, from the Michigan Central Railroad Line, and on Wednesday morning last, proceeded with her to Cleveland, for the avowed purpose of settling a mooted point, and testing her qualities for speed in a trial with the Empire State, Capt. Hazzard, which runs between Cleveland and Buffalo, and which hitherto claimed a superiority over every boat on the lakes. The Ocean made the run to Cleveland (120 miles) in six hours and thirty-five minutes, without whip or spur. The Empire State, though evidently eager for the contest, was coy, and blushing, and modest, and tremulous as a Miss of fifteen who has just stepped out of pantalettes and received the first kiss of an ardent admirer. None but very naughty steamboats would think of racing- the Herald and True Democrat thought so - and, it was feared, 'Mrs. Grundy'* entertained the same notions. However, these fears and scruples were finally overcome, and at about 7 p.m. the Empire State hurled a shrill note of defiance and dashed from the harbor into the lake. In four minutes the Ocean was in full chase, one mile astern. The Ocean gained upon her slowly for about thirty minutes, when she made an extra effort, and in four minutes was double her length ahead. A rocket illumined the heavens, the bell was tolled, she sped onward and arrived in Buffalo 29 minutes, or nearly nine miles, in advance of the Empire State. Ocean's time (200 miles) 11 hours, 15 minutes; Empire States 11 hours 44 minutes.

It was now contended by the officers and owners of the Empire State that this was not a fair test - that their boat was too much by the head - the Capt. Hazzard was not on board - that they didn't try to run anyhow - and that they could and would beat on another trial, or blow up the boat. Another run was agreed upon, and on Thursday evening both boats started fair, and kept nearly side by side for more than an hour. The Ocean, however, became impatient with restraint, caught the curb in her teeth, to tell the Cleveland folks that their favorite would be along there poko tiempo. She arrived in Cleveland 34 minutes, or ten miles, ahead of the Empire State. Ocean's time 10 hours, 58 minutes; Empire State's 11 hours, 32 minutes.

Still the Empire State was not satisfied. She wanted to be beaten "all de time." Capt. Hazzard had arrived, and was then on his post. A challenge was given to Captain Ward, the owner, and Capt. Willoughby, the commander, to make one more trial. It was accepted on the condition that the result should be final and conclusive. The day was spent in putting the Empire State in first rate running order - the bets were freely offered on the Empire State and as freely taken by the friends of the Ocean. The Empire State, as a south shore boat, was of course the favorite at Cleveland. At a few minutes past 7 p.m. the Empire State led off, and the Ocean followed about eighty rods astern. The shores for more than a mile were crowded with spectators, and the race for an hour was truly exciting and animated. The Ocean, however, passed her with ease at a quarter past eight, sent up two signal rockets to apprise Cleveland of her victory, and led on to Buffalo, where she arrived eighteen minutes, or about five miles in advance of the Empire State. She has thus won three successive victories over the boat which has claimed to be the fastest on the lakes. Ocean's time, 10 h, 48 m - Empire State's 11 h 3 m. The Empire State acknowledges herself fairly beaten, and admits that the Ocean can beat anything on the lakes. The Empire State is a noble craft, and the Ocean, in three successive triumphs over her, has won a victory worthy of herself.


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*Mrs. Grundy - n. Any person who is too much concerned with being proper, modest, or righteous (Rogets II Thesaurus, 1995)
The EMPIRE STATE was built at St. Clair, Michigan by Griffin in 1848 and was 299 feet and 1,554 tons, old style - a very large ship for her time. She had recently been placed on the Cleveland-Buffalo line. The Ocean was built at Newport (now Marine City) Michigan, in 1850 by E. B. Ward and was 254 feet and 1,052 tons. She was part of the Ward line out of Detroit, chartered to the Michigan Central Railroad.
Date of Original:
Tues., Apr 29, 1851
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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), Tues., Apr 29, 1851