Kaliyuga Under Construction

Lake Huron's Ghost Ship Kaliyuga


By James Donahue


When Simon Langell built his big new steamer at the St. Clair shipyards in 1887, he named it Kaliyuga, a name that means "age of iron."


Some might have thought it an inappropriate name for this boat, however. Even though it was built during the age of iron ships and trains, the Kaliyuga was among the last of the wooden-hulled steamers.


Had its hull been made of iron or steel, perhaps it might have withstood the storm on Lake Huron that claimed it. The vessel foundered with all hands somewhere on Lake Huron on Oct. 19, 1905.


That storm, with winds clocked at 72-miles-per-hour, was among the worst in terms of lives and property lost on the Great Lakes. An estimated 40 sailors perished and the Kaliyuga was one of 27 vessels sunk or driven on the rocks.


The boat was steaming from Marquette, laden with iron ore for Cleveland, when it disappeared. It locked through at Sault Ste. Marie early on Thursday and was seen leaving the lower Saint Mary River at about the time the gale was starting to build over Lake Huron.


The Kaliyuga was last seen by the crew of the steamer Frontenac at 4 p.m. off Presque Isle. Capt. F. L. Tomkin, who was in his first year as a lake pilot, was following the old, prescribed rules for riding out a bad storm. The gale was pounding his boat from the northeast, and he was turned, with the bow headed into the wind to offer the least resistance to both wind and wave.


Capt. John Duddleson, skipper of the steamer L. C. Waldo, reported seeing the Kaliyuga at about dusk on Thursday, still steaming east against the wind, somewhere between Middle and Thunder Bay Islands. Duddleson may have been the last person to see the ill-fated vessel. He said that around 2 a.m. Friday the wind shifted and blew a "terrible sea" from the northwest.


Sailors who know the lakes say those wind shifts can do terrible things to a boat. Waves continue to strike from one direction while wind is attacking from another. Sometimes even the waves can build from two different directions. The strain has broken the backs of even the steel hulled boats over the years.


Nothing more was heard from the Kaliyuga, and by the following Monday, her owners, the St. Clair Steamship Co. of Cleveland, reported the ship missing. An extensive search was launched.


On Oct. 26 the steamer Lillie Smith found a pilot house and sections of cabin floating in Georgian Bay. The name board on the pilothouse said Kaliyuga. Bodies of some sailors washed ashore south of Kincardine and at Port Elgin, Ont.


The official record places the wreck somewhere off Presque Isle, but the Kaliyuga's exact location has never been found. She joined the so-called ghost ships that "fell through the crack" and were never seen again.


More Ship Stories


Return to The Mind of James Donahue 

Great And Lost Ships Of The World