Saving the Ireland
By James Donahue
When the three-year-old
freighter R. L. Ireland stranded on Lake Superior’s Gull Island
in a snowstorm on Dec. 7, 1906, famed salvager Tom Reid of Sarnia
was called to the rescue.
Reid, who was taking
over the operation of his father’s salvage company, was already gaining a reputation for his daring exploits. He took
chances and saved boats that had been already written off by other salvagers and insurance carriers as total losses.
The Ireland, owned by the Cleveland
based Gilchrist Transportation Co., was not considered to be in serious trouble. The ship was on the rocks, with holes punched
in its steel bottom, and her rudder was gone. The ship was taking on water but the crew was still on board and the steamer’s
own pumps were keeping ahead of the water.
Gull Island is a small outcropping of rocks in the Apostle
Group of Islands at the western end of Lake Superior.
At first it looked like
an easy task for Reid’s crew. So easy, in fact, that Reid sent one of his employees, a Captain Brown, on the wrecking
tug Manistique, to do the job. Brown may have been Capt. Claud D. Brown, a Port Huron
native who also was a well-known tugboat salvage operator during that period. The Manistique was accompanied by a smaller
tug, the Crosby, commanded by a Captain Minckey, to help pull the wreck back into deep water.
The plan was to tow it to Duluth for dry dock.
The project was in trouble
from the moment the Reid tugs arrived. Winter storms pounded the Ireland
and the seas were so rough that little could be done. By December 10, Reid was on the scene. He telegraphed the ship’s
owners from nearby Bayfield, Wis., saying that he had high
hopes of getting the Ireland off the reef
if the weather moderated that evening.
The storms abated for
a few hours. That was all Reid needed. With both tugs pulling, the Ireland
was skidded off the reef. Then a hawser was attached to the Manistique, and the big tug set off across Lake
Superior with the crippled steamer in tow. The Crosby steamed along behind in
case of trouble. Reid apparently took a train back to Port Huron,
thinking that the problem was solved.
Another storm developed
and it turned out to be a dandy. The three boats took such a pounding that the Manistique broke a steam pipe. At about the
same time the hawser snapped and the helpless Ireland
drifted off. The two boats were separated in the storm. The steamer had an 18-member crew aboard and steam up, but it could
not be steered because it had no rudder. Everybody thought the Ireland
was going to sink.
Captain Minckey brought
the little tug alongside the drifting steamer and held it in place while the Ireland’s
crew members climbed to her deck. It was a daring rescue. The seas whipped the two boats so hard that they repeatedly rammed
into each other, causing extensive damage to the tug. Watchman Andy Daniels of Marquette
missed his footing and fell to his death in the raging seas. Two other men, Charles Shipman and William Zimmerman, were seriously
hurt when they landed hard on the pitching deck. Both men were hospitalized.
When the Crosby steamed
into Ashland, Wisconsin on Dec. 15, Captain Minckey believed
that both the Ireland and the tug Manistique
were lost. He was wrong. Captain Brown brought his vessel safely into Port Arthur,
Ontario, two days later after surviving a terrible battle against the elements.
The Ireland was found aground once again off Sand Island, and still intact.
After getting the Manistique
repaired, Brown returned to Sand Island
and started salvage operations all over again. Steam pumps were used to get the water out of the ship’s hold. Once she
was afloat again, the Ireland was towed successfully to Duluth. She arrived there safely on Dec. 29.
The Ireland remained on the lakes under the names Sirius and lastly,
as a Canadian-owned boat Ontadoc, until 1972. In the end, it was towed to Turkey
to be scrapped.
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