The Burning Of The Oscar T. Flint
By James Donahue
The lake carrier O. T. Flint was in its twentieth
year when it burned and sank in Lake Huron’s Thunder Bay during the early morning hours of November 25, Thanksgiving
Day, 1909. The steamer’s burned-out hull thus joined a fleet of sunken vessels now attracting sport divers to an established
underwater preserve off Alpena, Michigan.
On its final voyage, the Flint, Captain John
Sinclair, was steaming north from Kelly’s Island, Ohio, and riding low in the water, with the cargo holds full of limestone
and 500 barrels of salt packed on the open deck, bound for Duluth. She had the barge Redington in tow. The barge was headed
for Duluth to help carry back a cargo of 2,000,000 board feet of lumber. She was carrying about 800 tons of limestone, mostly
for ballast for what was expected to be a rough late season trip across Lake Superior.
As the boat was approaching Thunder Bay,
the chief engineer reported air pump problems so Sinclair pulled into the shelter of Thunder Bay and dropped anchor for the
night, giving the crew time to make repairs.
Sinclair, who slept in his cabin near the
pilot house, was awakened before dawn by the smell of smoke. Realizing that the ship was on fire somewhere forward, he fled
in his bare feet, wearing only the clothes on his back and a fur coat he grabbed on the way out of the cabin.
The fire of unknown cause was quickly spreading
through the 215-foot wooden vessel, engulfing the pilot house and superstructure amidships, and threatening to soon consume
the galley and crew quarters aft. Sinclair was able to awaken the crew in time to launch to yawl boats. The crew got safely
away and then watched as the Flint burned to ruin and then sink in cloud of smoke and steam in 40 feet of water.
The fire was seen from shore which alerted
the U. S. Life Saving Crew on Thunder Bay Island and the fish tug Ralph at the North Point Fisheries dock. The Ralph reached
the scene just ahead of the life savers. Both boats picked up the Flint’s crew members and brought them to Alpena
The Flint’s engine was later salvaged.
The rest of the wreck, including engine components, below deck machinery, anchors and the burned out hull lie in sand in shallow
water, making it a popular dive attraction within the preserve.