Thomas Friant A Victim Of Lake Superior Ice
By James Donahue
The Thomas Friant was small wooden vessel, only 96-feet in length, which may have accounted for the
variety of ways it was put to use during its years on the Great Lakes.
When launched at Grand Haven in 1884, the Friant was first used as a passenger excursion boat. It
was used mostly as a ferry on the river at Grand Haven, then later made lake runs between Grand Haven, Harbor Springs and
Waukegan. To make it more seaworthy for the open water, her owners changed the boat’s superstructure to offer passengers
better shelter from the open water, winds and waves.
By 1900 the Friant left Lake Michigan and turned up providing passenger service on the Keweenaw Waterway
at Houghton and Hancock, probably shuttling people two and from an amusement park that flourished at about that time at the
southern end of the waterway.
When on winter lay-up at Sault Ste. Marie the steamer was extensively damaged by fire on Dec. 22,
1908, which put an end to its years as an excursion vessel.
The ship was written off as a total loss and even removed from documentation as a Great Lakes vessel.
But the hull was sound and it eventually was rebuilt and put back in service as a gill net fish tug at Marquette. Her decks
now were open and the only deck structures were the pilot house and cabin housing the engine and boiler.
In 1923 the Friant was bought by new owners, Einer Miller and Halvor Reiten, and moved to Bayfield,
Wisconsin, who altered her appearance again. They closed in the decks and added a raised pilot house on the top deck. They
planned to use the Friant as a coastal steamer and run package freight along the shore.
As the roads were improved and trucks started to compete in the freight business, Miller and Reiten
gave up on that plan and put the vessel back on the water as a fishing tug.
The Friant was lost after it got trapped in the ice on January 5, 1924. Miller, who was the captain,
and Reiten, the engineer, and six other fishermen set out to cross the lake to spend the winter gill net fishing at Two Harbors.
On the trip the temperature dropped to 20 degrees below and a sheet of ice quickly formed on the lake.
The Friant sought shelter in Squaw Bay for the night and became frozen in place. The next morning
the wind began to blow, the ice broke up and the fishermen headed across the lake. But the ice punched a hole in the old wooden
hull and the boat was leaking. It sank 12 miles from their destination off the mouth of the Knife River and the men escaped
in the lifeboat.
They rowed the 12 miles to the North Shore because they knew the South Shore was locked in ice.
The wreck was recently found by sport divers. It lies in over 300 feet of water near the Apostle Islands
and is said to be in "exquisite" condition. It has been well preserved in the deep cold waters of Lake Superior.
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