Sunday, June 9, 2013

The wreck of the Henry B. Smith

The Duluth News Tribune has a story today about the wreck of the Henry B. Smith on November 8th or 9th of 1913.  The date of the wreck is somewhat up to question as with the lack of radio communications in the day once you were out of sight of shore you were pretty much on your own.

The Henry B. Smith unknowingly sailed out into one of the most horrendous blows in great lakes history when it left Marquette, Michigan on its last voyage.  It loaded itself with iron ore and then as it seemed the storm that had been battering the lakes for several days was abating sailed out into the lake.  Sadly the storm was not abating, it was just winding up for its second wind.

The Smith was not the only ship to be destroyed out on the lakes during that storm.  On Lake Superior several ship were driven ashore and the Canadian freighter Leafeild with a crew of 18 disappeared without a trace.  On Lake Michigan several freighters were driven ashore including the barge Plymouth with a loss of 7 lives.  Lake Eire claimed the lightship LV 82 with a loss of 6 lives, but by far the worst hit was Lake Huron where 7 ships completely disappeared and one was left floating upside down just north of Port Huron, claiming 199 lives.

The Smith had a crew of 25 when it went to the bottom north of Marquette.  Interestingly a note in a bottle was found the following summer claiming the ship had cracked in half north of Marquette on November 12th.  This is made far more interesting by what comes next.

On the great lakes ships are built far shallower than on the oceans, and loaded far deeper comparatively.  This had changed to some extent with the advent of ships that trade on both the Great Lakes and the oceans, but there are still many Great Lakes ships built along these general parameters.  The Henry B. Smith was 525 feet long, 55 feet wide, and 31 feet in depth of hull.  Great Lakes ships before the advent of loading regulations would be loaded as deep as the harbors would allow, which as of 1913 was generally 23 feet, meaning only 8 feet of the hull would be extending above the waterline.

The 1913 storm was reported to have waves as high as 35 feet in height and winds of above hurricane force, this would result in quite the pounding for a boat out in them.  Great lakes ships flex in the waves much like if you were to hold a pile of spaghetti noodles and twist them.  You can twist the spaghetti a certain amount, but above a certain point it will start to break.  On Great Lakes ships of this vintage the weakest point of the hulls were the riveted joints between plates.

There are many reports of ships making it to port after a particularly strong blow and having to shovel sheared rivets out of the hull.  I have seen some reports of ships having to have thousands of rivets replaced after one of these trips. 

The wreck of the Smith lies in 535 feet of water some 20 miles North of Marquette.  The hull is intact, but broken in the middle.  Apparently the hull has snapped in the storm, dumping out the iron ore cargo.  These hulls did not have the water tight barriers in them that would later become standard on most cargo ships so even lightened of cargo the ship would not be long for this world.  Maybe somebody did have time to scroll a quick note before the ship made its final dive to the bottom.  I am sure there will be further investigation to find out if the story of the note in the bottle could have some legitimacy or not.

Read More!
Henry B. Smith wiki
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SS_Henry_B._Smith
The Great Storm of 1913 wiki
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Great_Lakes_Storm_of_1913
News Tribune Article
http://www.duluthnewstribune.com/event/article/id/269445/