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 vessel.


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 up."


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 Loomis.


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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