The Captain Remembers

Sail Boat Arabia

The 300 ton Bark Arabia departed Chicago on her final voyage on Oct. 1, 1884, heading for Midland, Ontario at the southern end of Georgian Bay, with 20,000 bushels of corn. The Captain sailed his ship up Lake Michigan through the Straits of Mackinac and towards Tobermory across Lake Huron. Oct. 4, 1884, while still about 70 miles west of Tobermory, most violent storm conditions developed, huge waves battered the Arabia repeatedly with most savage intensity, before too long, the ship began leaking badly. After many hours of strenuous pumping ~ the really tired crew realized the hopelessness of the situation ~ After passing Cove Is-land Lighthouse ~ their trusty vessel began to sink. About 3:00 a.m., Oct. 5, 1884, the Captain gave the order to launch a life boat and abandon ship. The vessel quickly sank, in deep icy water off Echo Island just after the last man scrambled onto the life boat.

The 3 masted Arabia, built at Kingston, Ontario and launched April 26, 1853, measured 131 feet in length, 26 feet wide and 12 feet deep. The vessel was built by a reliable company, who had built 24 vessels between 1842 and 1869, that’s 27 years of building wooden ships.

The Arabia spent her 1st year sailing Lake Ontario routes, but in 1854, made the big crossing from the Great Lakes to Glasgow in the British Isles, loaded with 1400 bushels of wheat and 500 bushels of flour. The canals in the St. Lawrence River had been improved by 1884 ~ and large cargo movements began between Canada and Britain. The Arabia returned to the Great Lakes the following year, carrying a cargo from Britain all the way to Chicago ~ for the remainder of her life. She carried general car-go between the Great Lakes and Lake Michigan ~ ~ Can you beat that? A 130 foot sail boat cross-ing the ocean in 1854 ~ during her period, the weather must have been far more severe, than it is today ~ ~ 130 feet of a sail boat couldn’t have had much more than a magnetic compass ~ ~ had I been called for such a trip, on a little wooden sail boat ~ I would have quickly gotten sick ~ and by passed that journey ~ no shark or whale was going to get me . . . .

For about 90 years, the final resting place of the Arabia was some where off Echo Island north of Tobermory, Ontario and remained a mystery ~ commercial fishermen, however, knew there was a wreck in their area ~ because they were bringing in large corn stuffed fish. Finally in 1971, a Tobermory Captain pinpointed the wreck ~ he had luckily pulled up part of her wreckage in his fishing nets.

The Arabia’s hull was lying north to south, and split fore and aft, along her keel, with sides intact but leaning. A rudder 16 feet 7inches long lies flat near by the ship’s wheel and steering gear ~ the other parts of her wreckage scattered about. The Arabia is in such excellent shape because she sits in freezing dark water, at about 120 feet, an ice water show piece, and one of Canada’s most famous ship wrecks. In her lifetime her mile-age record must have really been up there ~ but in her day, she didn’t even have a mileage recorder.

There are usually 2 mooring buoys attached to 500 pound concrete blocks, one near the bow, the other near the stern ~ with lines running to the Arabia, indicating her position.

Over the years, 7 scuba divers have died ~ attempting to scout the Arabia ~ ~ ~ her history really interests me ~ having commanded lake vessels, for 25 years ~ and personally knowing the power of the seas.

Steamer Avondale (2)

Boland & Cornelius (1) new freighter was launched May the 2nd, 1908 and went into operation as the Adam E. Cornelius. In 1942 she was converted into a self unloader in Manitowoc, Wisconsin and at the same time was lengthened to 425 feet. March 10, 1948 she was renamed Detroit Edison (1) after the company she carried the most coal for ~ On Sept. 7, 1954, she was again renamed, this time to George E. Rand (2) ~ The Rand was purchased in 1962 by the Reoch Steamship Co. Of Canada ~ and received her final name Avondale (20 ~ in 1974 management was assumed by the Westdale shipping Co. ~ The Avondale career ended when she was retired at the end of the 1975 season ~ she was taken to Port Colburne, Ontario. Finally in 1978 she was set afire by vandals and her forward end was completely gutted. In 1979 she was towed over seas for scrapping and departed Quebec in tow of the Polish tug “Jantar”, with her in tow was the Ferndale ~ arriving at Santander, Spain, Aug. 1979 to be cut up.

Built 1908 St. Clair,MI for Boland.


Length 420 ft.

Width 52 ft.

Depth 24 ft.

G.R.T.  4900 tons

She had 4 owners ~ and my reference books, show no serious mishaps ~ so she was lucky in that respect.

Wooden Steamer - Wm. H. BarnumIn

Great Lakes history, some Captains and ship owners, pushed their abilities, their ships and their luck, hungry for a bit more money. This particular owner let his ship lay in Chicago, for the full winter ~ did absolutely nothing in line of much needed repair ~ in the spring ~ still doing nothing to overhaul their little wooden freighter ~ hooked on to a grain cargo for Port Huron, with the promise to insurance Co’s he’d have repair done in Port Huron. He signed on a 29 yr. old man for the Captain’s job ~ his 1st Captain’s job. Practically no experience ~ and took off. I worked my way up ~ having been crew for a while ~ 3rd mate, 2nd mate and 1st mate before at 40 yrs old, finally got a steel steamer to sail. This 29 yr. old captain hit the Straits of Mackinac ~ in a violent NW’ly gale and still ice covered ~ not knowing ice, he got himself positioned in an ice flow ~ damaging the wooden hull and sank 5.5 miles SE of Mackinaw City.

One Insurance Co. finally agreed to insure her as far as Port Huron for $22,000, on condition he get her repaired at Port Huron ~ other insurance companies claimed she was unseaworthy, and would not insure her ~ she sank with 55,000 bushels of corn ~ not able to navigate, he hired a tug to tow him, but too much for the tug, he took all hands off, and she sank there. The crew watched her go down, from the deck of the tug. She was finally located in 1969 ~ 75 yrs. after sinking ~ the rudder was recovered and put on display in St. Ignace ~ they positioned the rudder upright, in an ideal location, on the east side of Main Street, between Ace Hardware and Walker’s Furniture Store. However they didn’t even give her a couple coats of oil ~ to pre-serve the wood ~ there the 30 foot historical rudder stands ~ no flood lights to show her off, just decaying away. That rudder is history.