Collision Off Thunder Bay
By James Donahue
Faulty steering equipment
was blamed for the collision that sank the Canadian freighter W. C. Franz off Lake Huron's Thunder Bay on Nov. 21, 1934.
Investigators also said
defective ropes and tackle on the davits contributed to the deaths of four sailors as they attempted to flee the foundering
The Franz, under the
command of 71-year-old Capt. Alec McIntyre, of Collingwood, Ont., was steaming up the lake empty from Port
Colborne to snatch one last load of grain at Fort
Williams, Ont., before shipping halted for the season.
The weather was fair
and both the Franz and steamer Soreldoc, steaming parallel to each other, were making good progress. Both boats were belching
black coal smoke into the clear night sky as they sliced their way through Lake Huron, about 30 miles off the Michigan coast.
McIntyre retired to his
cabin and first mate James Gobson of Port Colborne replaced
him in the pilot house for the evening watch.
In the meantime, the
big 4,279-ton steamer Edward E. Loomis was approaching the two ships from the north. Her first mate, Joseph Lamontague, was
at the helm, while the skipper, Capt. Alex McKenzie, slept in his bunk.
Lamontague later said
he sounded signals to let both the Franz and the Soreldoc know his vessel was approaching. Then, as the three boats closed
in on each other, the Franz turned unexpectedly off its course, going directly across the bow of the Loomis.
"I threw my wheel hard
starboard," Lamontague said. "She came right at us and it was impossible to go between the Franz and Soreldoc. We hit her."
Officers on the Franz
said something happened to the steering. The ship was out of control.
The force of the crash
hurled wireless operator A. D. Reeser out of his bunk and into a bulkhead. He said he got dressed and went on the deck to
assess the damage. He then sent his only radio message at 3:27 a.m. It read: "We are sinking rapidly and taking to the boats."
Reeser was one of the
12 men who were in the Franz's starboard lifeboat when a rope failed. The boat tipped, throwing everyone into the lake. "I
swam a few strokes until I got to a ladder floating in the water," he said. "I hung on until the Loomis lifeboat picked me
Three other sailors in
the boat weren't as lucky. Wheelsman Joseph Langridge, who apparently was hurt in the collision, and steward Hugh Woodbeck,
disappeared after they fell into the water.
Chief engineer A. M.
McInnes and the cook, Norman Matthews, grabbed the lifeboat when one end of it dropped. They were still hanging there, calling
for help, when the Loomis pulled alongside. A line was dropped and someone pulled McInnes to safety. Matthews, however, lost
his grip and fell to his death between the two boats.
The fourth sailor to
die that morning was deck hand Francis Granville, who jumped overboard and landed on a floating hatch cover. Companions said
Granville tossed the hatch cover in the water before he jumped. He apparently planned to use it as a raft.
Granville was one of
several men who jumped overboard after the rope used to launch a lifeboat failed. The others were rescued by a boat from the
There were conflicting
stories about the length of time it took the Franz to sink. They ranged from 30 minutes to two hours. The ship was apparently
struck in the port bow because it listed first to port, then went down by the head.
It was the second time
the Franz was involved in a collision in that same part of Lake Huron. The ship was known
as the Uranus when it rammed and sank the package freighter Governor Smith in fog off Pointe aux Barques in August, 1906.
The Franz was built at
Wyandotte, Mich. in 1901.
It was among the larger steel-hulled vessels in its day, measuring 346 feet in length.
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