Fighting Against Big Odds, Str. Smith Limps Into Port
When Hope Had All But Gone
Capt. Carney Tells Graphic Story Of Battle With Elements
Before Vessel Is Brought Here Safely
Sheathed with ice, her upperworks broken and battered, and her crew in a state of exhaustion, the steamer H.W. Smith limped into port this morning after one of the most thrilling experiences in the history of the men who have followed the great lakes all their lives.
From Sunday noon until the steamer safely entered the mouth of St. Clair river this morning, a continuous fight was waged with the elements - by Captain Carney and his crew of brave men to save their steamer and their lives. The magnitude and fury of the blizzard which on Sunday lashed the lake and endangered the lives of many sailors, can be realized from the graphic story told this morning by Captain T. W. Carney upon the arrival of the steamer Smith at this port.
That one or more steamers may have been wrecked on the west shore of Lake Huron is evident from the report of Captain Carney, although nothing definite can be learned.
The steel steamer H. W. Smith in command of T. W. Carney of Detroit, passed this port at one o'clock Sunday morning, bound from Buffalo to Milwaukee with coal. The boat did not encounter the severe storm until Sunday noon when it was on Saginaw Bay. The waves were running mountain high and breaking over the entire length of the boat. Captain Carney did not want to take a chance of turning the big steamer around in the trough of the sea and kept her headed on with the engines steadily working. Finally the wind blew at such a terrific velocity and the sea became so heavy that the big steamer became unmanageable. It was a critical moment. For a time the big boat wallowed in the trough of the sea and the waves tossed her about like a rubber ball.
After working desperately for an hour or more, the captain and crew managed to get the boat under control and turned down the lake. With the waves breaking over the entire length of the steamer, she made slow progress toward this port. Tons of water poured down on her decks and she reeled in the heavy sea like a drunken man. As the storm increased in its fury, it was doubtful if the staunch boat would come through safely.
Crew Fights Desperately
The heavy seas crushed in the windows of the pilot house and the crew had to leave the deck house and seek shelter in the after cabin, which was also partially wrecked by the seas. Throughout the entire night the crew fought the water and as the waves broke down the doors and windows temporary barricades were erected.
It was a fight for life and the after cabin was in momentary danger of being swept away. Clothing, provisions, and articles of furnishings were swept overboard during the night and many of the crew were doubtful of ever again reaching port in safety.
During the night, Paul Backer, a porter on the Smith, took a chance on going outside to get a scuttle of coal. He was but a few feet from one of the doors when a heavy sea caught him and swept him down the passageway and up against the fan tail of the steamer. He was rescued just in the nick of time for another wave would have swept him overboard. Backer's both legs are badly injured and it is thought that one of them is broken. He was later removed to a hospital here for an examination.
John F. Sweeney, steward on the steamer and his wife, who is also employed on the boat, were in a serious condition this morning from exposure and it was necessary to take them off the steamer for medical attention. The Sweeney's reside at 600 Second avenue, Detroit.
Vessel Encased In Ice
When a Times-Herald reporter visited the steamer this morning, the boat was encased with ice and it was dangerous to walk on the decks. The deck house and after cabin, including the dining room, kitchen, and sleeping quarters were a mass of wreckage. Part of the furnishings
had been swept overboard and the battering of the heavy seas was indicated by broken windows and doors.
The story as told to the reporter by Captain Carney, in a matter of fact way, is one of the most vivid of marine incidents that has occurred in years. He said, "We passed Port Huron bound up loaded with coal Sunday morning at one o'clock. We were on our trip to Milwaukee from Buffalo. There was nothing in the weather reports to indicate that such a severe storm was imminent.
" The Smith is one of the staunchest boats on the lakes and we had no fear of going outside under the weather conditions which existed early Sunday morning. Everything went all right until we started to cross Saginaw Bay about Sunday night. There were two steamers near us, one of them a Pickands-Mather boat and the other belonging to the Becker line. I could not make out their names, but we all kept within sight of one another.
"As the storm began to increase in its intensity, I figured that we would have some difficulty in making headway. I have seen many storms on the great lakes but never in my life as a sailor have I witnessed such a storm as struck as Sunday noon. I kept the engines going just fast enough to keep her head on as it was impossible to make any progress. Finally the seas became so heavy and the wind had attained such a velocity that the boat was becoming unmanageable. It was but a few moments before we lost control of the big steamer. She was having her own way and the storm was doing the rest.
"I had hesitated about turning in the trough of the sea but now there was nothing to do but wait until we could again get the steamer under control. She rolled and wallowed in the trough of the sea, and the waves swept over her, pouring tons of water down on the decks. The windows of the pilot house had been shattered and my quarters were flooded.
"Slowly the gale drove the big steamer around and at times she was broad side to the gale. After trying for some time with the engine we finally got the boat under control and headed her down the lake. Yes, it certainly was a critical moment when we lost control of the boat, but there was nothing to do but to work hard and get her straightened around. As the steamer slowly gained headway, we started down the lake.
Everything Portable Swept Away
"But the fight had only begun. We were trying to reach Port Huron, the port we had left early Sunday morning. All the way down the lake it was one continuous fight. The seas washed the boat from stem to stern and it would mean a sacrifice of life for any one to venture out on deck. The windows and doors of the after cabin were crushed; the deckhouse was flooded and the belongings of the sailors were tossed about or swept away. In the dining room and kitchen everything movable was broken or swept away. The members of the crew, who remained in the after cabin were kept busy fighting the water all night. There was no sleep for anybody on the Smith from Sunday morning until now and it is a pretty hard matter to find a dry spot at present as all of the bedding is soaked.
"During the night, our porter, Paul Backer was swept against the fan tail of the boat and his legs are badly injured. He will be removed to the hospital.
"John T. Sweeney, steward, and his wife are in bad shape and will go ashore at this port. It was the worst storm to my knowledge that has ever swept the great lakes.
"I am fearful for the safety of the two boats who were trying to cross Saginaw Bay with us. I am particularly anxious for the Pickands-Mather steamer. We evidently were all swept around at the same time for I saw the Pickands-Mather boat swing to the westward and I am afraid that the captain went too far west and is liable to bring up on the shore near Point Au Barques. I lost track of the Becker line boat but think that it would weather the storm."
Reprinted from the Port Huron Times-Herald,
November 11, 1913, Page 1