Sinking Of The Ayciffe Hall
By James Donahue
The Aycliffe Hall was a "canaller," a small freighter of special design to fit through the Welland
Canal locks linking ships between Lakes Superior and Erie and by-passing the great Niagara Falls. Thus she was only 253 feet
in length, far too small to survive a collision with the 586-foot steel hauler Edward J. Berwind on fog-shrouded Lake Superior
on June 11, 1936.
The Aycliffe, Captain James R. Sinclair at the wheel, began her final trip upbound, light, after passing
through the Welland locks on the night of June 10. Once out on Lake Erie the ship encountered heavy fog. Captain Sinclair
ordered the ship’s speed reduced and then retired to his quarters. He was rousted out of his bed to the bridge, still
in his pajamas, early the next morning after the Berwind hit the Aycliffe broadside, punching a hole large enough for "a man
to walk through," recalled the ship’s watchman Garnet Sample.
Sample, who was on duty at the moment of impact, said he was at the stern when he saw the Berwind
steaming out of the fog in the early morning sunlight. He said the big steamer was headed directly for the Aycliffe’s
port side. When they hit the impact tossed Sample into the air.
Sample said he sounded the alarm and saw Captain Sinclair taking command, getting his crew off into
the ship’s lifeboat.
"The captain was the last to leave the ship. As we pulled away her engines blew up and her stern settled
in the water." He said the Aycliffe dropped stern first, its stern resting briefly on the bottom of the lake before the rest
of the ship settled, its spars sticking above the water just off Long Point.
The crew was picked up by the Berwind, which took them to Lackawanna, New York.
There was a brief attempt at salvaging the Ayciffe Hall. When the wreck was located a few weeks later,
Ontario salvager Captain Tom Reid and his dive team anchored over the ship in the salvage ship Maplecourt. After securing
large pontoons and floating the wreck almost to the surface, the team was hit by a fierce autumn storm. The Aycliffe Hall
shifted on its pontoons, turned upside down, and sank to another watery grave about 72 feet down.
The wreck remains there to this day.