Investigation Into the Stranding of the Steamship Turret Chief
An investigation into the stranding of the Canadian Lake and Ocean Navigation Co's. s.s. Turret Chief in Lake Superior, near Copper harbor, Keweenaw Point, U.S., on Nov. 8, was held at Kingston, Ont., Nov. 21 by Commander H. St. G. Lindsay, R. D., R. N.R., Dominion Wreck Commissioner, assisted by Captains F. Nash and W. S. Batten, as nautical assessors. The following judgment has since been delivered:
The Turret Chief was on a voyage from Midland to Fort William, Ont., in water ballast, and left the Sault Ste. Marie Canal on Nov. 7 at about 6:30 a.m., with a crew of 17 all told, and drawing about 11 ft. aft and 6 ft. forward, the propeller being only half immersed. Proceeding out into Lake Superior the patent log was set off Iroquois Point at about 7:45 a.m. Whitefish Point was abeam at about 10 a.m., when a course was set, n.w. by n., by compass, for Passage Island. Everything seems to have gone well until about 9 p.m., when the wind, which had been southwesterly all day, shifted suddenly to the northward, and commenced to blow hard. At 9:30 the vessel fell off into the trough of the sea, apparently not being able to hold up against the wind and sea, and apparently remained in that position until she drove ashore at 5 a.m. on the 8th. No attempt was made by the crew to leave the ship on striking, as she had driven almost broadside on to the shore, and was soon driven up by the seas within a few feet of the land, where she lay, and there was apparently no immediate danger anticipated of the vessel breaking up, as only spray was coming over the superstructure. At 10 a.m., the master considered it unsafe to remain any longer on board, as the ice was forming fast on the weather (starboard) side of the ship, and likely to list her to seaward, so all hands left her by means of a ladder from the fore part of the ship to the shore. The vessel is still on the rocks, with very little water in her holds, showing that her shell plating cannot be badly damaged.
The court, after carefully reviewing the evidence adduced, is unanimous in its opinion that the stranding was caused by the vessel not being able to head up to the sea, owing to her light draught, and the propeller having no hold of the water, and also to her peculiar construction exposing a very high side to the wind, which, being strong on the beam, would tend to drive her to leeward very fast. The court is also of opinion that the master, Thos. Padington, did not do all that might have been done to try to save his ship, inasmuch as he did not appear to have made proper allowance for the large amount of leeway the ship was making, and therefore lost the run of the vessel's position, and apparently he did not try and find out what speed she was making through the water after the patent log was lost during the night, and the court is satisfied that had he put his ship on the other tack, and headed her to the eastward, he might have had some chance of keeping her afloat, knowing as he should have done that the land, -- Keweenaw Point - was to leeward and only about 30 miles off, when the wind came out from northwest at 9:30 p.m. The court therefore severely censures him for this error of judgment, and total ignorance of or disregard to the most essential part of the duties of a master, viz: a knowledge of the position of his vessel at all times.
The court criticizes the fact of this valuable vessel leaving port so light that her propeller was only half immersed, and short handed in the stokehold, especially at this season of the year. It was no doubt due to this that the vessel was not able to head up to the sea. The court would suggest that either a deep sea lead and line, or a patent sounding machine would be very useful to vessels in circumstances like this in the inland waters, especially in Lake Superior, where soundings are of more than ordinary depth, and also that an officially fixed light load line for all vessels would be a great protection to lives and property engaged in navigation on the Great Lakes.