Friday, 4 April 2014

Anecdote Saturday - the Chicora

The Chicora was a wooden hulled cargo/passenger steamship built by the Detroit Dry Dock Company, 1892, for the Graham & Morton Transportation Company. She was 199 ft in length, with a draught of 13.6 ft, and powered by a single triple expansion steam engine, making 15 knots. The Chicora was designed to deal with winter seas on Lake Michigan, and had icebreaker capabilities. She was stout and somewhat top heavy.

20 January, 1895, Captain Edward Stines received a message to bring the Chicora to Milwaukee to collect a shipment of flour for St Joseph. He was short of a crew member and tragically signed on his 23 year old son as replacement. The voyage was uneventful, and the weather for the return trip was unusually fine for that time of year. The Chicora departed Milwaukee ten minutes after a messenger arrived with a telegram warning Captain Stines that the barometer was falling rapidly, signalling an impending storm.

It is estimated that the Chicora was half way across Lake Michigan when the storm struck. An eyewitness at South Haven reported seeing a vessel stern down and sinking. Another reported that a vessel in trouble was seen heading for South Haven blowing her horn continuously. The Chicora never arrived at St Joseph.

After the storm a search party were sent out from Saugatuck onto the ice where they found a portion of decking, some oars and both masts frozen into the ice, less than a mile off shore. An iceberg with seagulls was mistakenly reported by a tug as the overturned hull of the Chicora with crew members alive. However, no bodies were ever recovered. 23 crew and 1 passenger were lost. When the ice thawed, a chair used by chief engineer McClure was discovered. This was the last remnant of the Chicora.

14 April, a bottle message washed up on shore:

“All is lost, could see land if not snowed and blowed. Engine give out, drifting to shore in ice. Captain and clerk are swept off. We have a hard time of it. 10:15 o’clock.”

Another bottle message washed up a week later in Glencoe, Illinois:

“Chicora engines broke. Drifted into trough of sea. We have lost all hope. She has gone to pieces. Good bye. Mc Clure, Engineer.”

It is possible the first message was genuine but the second refers to engines. The Chicora had one steam engine. The wreck of the Chicora has never been found.

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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