Kate Moffat


The Kate Moffat

Fiery Wreck of the Kate Moffat


By James Donahue


The tug Kate Moffat came to a fiery end on the foggy night of May 31, 1885, on Lake Huron.


The Moffat, with Capt. Ben Moshier at the helm, was steaming up the lake with the schooners Metropolis and Havana in tow. Moshier lost his way in fog and ran his boat on a reef near Blue Point, three miles north of Presque Isle Light.


Before it could be stopped, the first vessel in tow, the Metropolis, also hit the reef. Both boats were hard aground within a few hundred feet of each other. The crew of the Havana saw what was happening, cut the tow line and steered that schooner away from danger.


“We thought we were all right until we struck,” said watchman George Griffin, of the Moffat’s crew. Griffin said the accident happened shortly after midnight.


He said Moshier and four members of his crew set off in the lifeboat for Presque Isle where they hoped to get a vessel to pull them free. In the meantime, the crew of the Metropolis began jettisoning cargo in an effort to lighten and refloat their boat.


The Metropolis had a heavy cargo of lumber and pig iron, so the work was hard. The crew managed, however, to shift the cargo to the stern, taking the weight off the bow where the boat was on the reef. Then they used the boat’s anchors and capstan to drag the schooner back into deep water.


The Metropolis was out of trouble by about 2 a.m., at about the same time a fire broke out on the ill-fated tug.


Griffin said he didn’t know what started the blaze. He said flames were first noticed breaking out around the smokestack, which indicated that the fire started in the engine room.


The 21-year-old tug burned with such speed the crew barely escaped. By the time a boat from the anchored Metropolis reached the burning tug, the sailors were clustered at the fantail and preparing to jump overboard to escape the advancing fire.


The crew arrived at Detroit that afternoon on the Metropolis, which by then was in tow behind the passing steamer Chauncey Hulbut.


The Moffat was built in Port Huron in 1864 by Alexander Stewart for James Moffat, who owned and operated a line of tugboats on the St. Clair and Detroit Rivers.



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