Ships 2


Ships 3


Schooner Lucerne Sunk In Superior Gale

By James Donahue

Captain Gregory Lloyd was an old-fashioned “rope puller” who preferred to sail the Great Lakes on the three-masted schooner Lucerne under sail than submit to having his command towed by the growing armada of steamships operating on the lakes in 1886.

Thus it was that Captain Lloyd rejected any offer of having his 195-foot-long ore-laden vessel brought under tow when he and his crew set sail from Ashland into Lake Superior on November 15. Even though November was known for its violent storms on the lakes, Lloyd reportedly declared that he would “rather go out with her under canvas than under the tow of any steamer.”

The schooner was bound for Cleveland on what was to have been its last trip of the season. But when it was caught in a furious winter gale a few hours later, the Lucerne was lost off Ontonagon, Michigan, on the lea shore of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

The last sightings of the Lucerne suggested that Lloyd had turned the vessel around and was sailing west, probably seeking shelter in Chequarmegon Bay. He almost made it. After the storm was over, the La Pointe light keeper located the wreck just a few miles from the entrance to the bay. Only two of the schooner’s three masts were above water and the bodies of three dead sailors, all frozen, were lashed to the rigging. Two other bodies later washed ashore.

The wreck rests upright in about 24 feet of water. The anchors were out, suggesting that the crew was unsure of the ship’s location in the midst of a blinding snowstorm and dropped the hooks in a last-ditch effort to ride out the gale. But the Lucerne was dragging its anchors and eventually was blown backward into a shoal. Once its centerboard was stuck in the sand, the vessel was immobile. This allowed the heavy seas to pound and sink it.

The Lucerne was among the larger schooners on the lakes. It was built in Tonawanda, New York, in 1873. Its sharp, elegant clipper bow gave the vessel speed. Built for the grain trade between Chicago and Buffalo, the vessel could carry up to 52,000 bushels of corn.


Sold in 1886, the Lucerne’s new owners put the schooner on a new route, carrying ore from Lake Superior. She did not survive its first season.