Friday, 20 December 2013

Anecdote Saturday - SS Charles S. Price (for Louise)

The Charles S. Price was a cargo transport steamer built by the Amercan Shipbuilding Co. in 1910, weighing 6322 gross tons, 500 ft in length, and powered by a triple expansion steam engine driving a single screw.

She was owned by the Mahoning Steamship Co of Cleveland, operating on the Great Lakes and commanded by Captain W.A. Black.

Between 7 and 10 November, 1913, a storm of hurricane proportions swept across the Great Lakes.  It later became known as the "Big Blow', "Freshwater Fury' or 'White Hurricane'.

The Great Lakes Basin and Canadian province of Ontario suffered the brunt of the storm, which peaked on 9 November, smashing and overturning ships on four of the five Great Lakes (especially Lake Huron).

Slow weather reports contributed to shipping being caught unaware.

When the storm blew out 250 people were dead, 19 ships destroyed, and 19 ships disabled. The shipping and cargo losses amounted to $5 million (probably $100 million in today's currency).

The genesis of the storm demonstrates remarkable similarities to storms off the Wild Coast.

The Great Lakes have relatively warm water for that time of year. Cold Fronts converged with the warm water creating  gale force winds and waves up to 35 ft in height.

Cold Fronts moving up the Cape coast in winter months converge with the warm Agulhas current moving down the coast. As in the case of the Great Lakes storm, gale force winds and waves up to 35 ft have been recorded.

After the storm had passed and people ventured out to witness the aftermath, those on the shores of Lake Huron discovered a remarkable sight.

A huge steel hull steamer was was seen to be floating upside down.

But no one knew which of the lost steamers this was.  Speculation ran rife in the press for a few days until on 15 November a hard-hat diver by the name of William Baker from the tug Sport, eased himself down the steel hull and emerged with the news:

"She is the SS Charles S. Price"

Two days later the steamer succumbed to the waters and slid to the bottom.

Salvage attempts were unsuccessful.

The engine room gauges panel from the Charles S. Price was recovered and restored and now resides in the Port Huron Museum.

The Waratah sailed into similar seas on the 27 July (the gale gaining in severity into 28 July) and one Waratah theory suggests that she turned turtle and floated for a period of time before foundering.

The Waratah, if this were the case, would have been subjected to the swift and powerful Agulhas current and drifted beyond the areas initially searched.

However, there is one vital difference between the Charles S. Price and the Waratah.

The Charles S. Price had only one screw (propeller) which implies that if her engine failed she would have been at the mercy of the storm and possibly struck broadside, causing her to turn turtle.

The Waratah, on the other hand, had twin engines and screws and should one of the engines have failed, she still had another to keep her bow into the oncoming waves.

A story from the Great Lakes storm highlights the horror as follows:

The barge Plymouth towed by the tug James H. Martin, dropped anchor when the storm hit.

The tug steamed to shelter.

But when the tug returned two days later the Plymouth and her seven crew had disappeared.

One of the seven, Christopher Keenan had scribbled a message which he placed in a bottle.  This bottle was found on the eastern shore of Lake Michigan.

The message read:

"Dear Wife and Children: We were left here in Lake Michigan by McKinnon, captain of the James H. Martin tug, at anchor. He went away and never said good-bye or anything to us. Lost one man last night. We have been out in the storm 40 hours. Good-bye dear ones, I might see you in heaven. Pray for me --- Christ K.I felt so bad I had another man write for me. Huebel owes $35.00, so you can get it. Good-bye forever."

One shudders to imagine the fear that overwhelmed this man and others trapped on the Great Lakes awaiting their moment of 'execution'.

SS Charles Price - turned turtle
My book 'Waratah Revisited' will be available by 12 December, via Amazon. I explore the human aspect of the tragedy and take a closer look at the Inquiry into the loss of the Waratah. Revelations abound. Don't miss it!

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