Walter J. McCarthy Aids in Rescue11/01:
The 110-foot excursion boat Grampa Woo is aground on Passage Island off the northern tip of Isle Royale after breaking free from its moorings in Grand Portage, Minn., on Oct. 30.
Meanwhile, the two men who were aboard the vessel when it went adrift are alive thanks to a combination of good luck and good seamanship and bravery by the crews of the Walter J. McCarthy, the Canadian tug Glenada and the Canadian Coast Guard boat Westfort. The vessels braved winds up to 70 mph and seas to 15 feet to save the two men from their ice-covered boat.
The adventure began about 9 a.m. Oct. 30. The tour boat was tied to a mooring buoy in Grand Portage harbor when 50 mph winds pulled the buoy loose from its 4,000-pound anchor and blew the boat into Lake Superior with Capt. Dana Kollars and his first mate aboard. The Grampa Woo was powerless to save itself because its propellers and rudders had been removed for repairs. Eight-foot waves in the harbor prevented small boats there from getting a line aboard the tour boat.
About 11 a.m., Kollars contacted the 1,000-foot Walter J. McCarthy, which was sailing the North Shore route to avoid 20-foot waves on the open lake. The coal-laden McCarthy was the last vessel to leave Duluth before a major storm blew across Lake Superior and brought vessel traffic to a halt. The McCarthy was likely the only vessel off the North Shore that morning - an amazing bit of good luck for the Grampa Woo's crew.
The McCarthy's master, Capt. Lawrence Smyth, declined a request to tow the Grampa Woo into Grand Portage - an impossibility given the McCarthy's size. Instead, Smyth offered to tow the Grampa Woo to Thunder Bay, about 40 miles away. The McCarthy spent three hours and made two passes before putting a line aboard the tour boat about 2 p.m. Oct. 30.
"You don't turn tight circles in a 1,000-footer, and you don't just stop it. I was worried they'd get blown into us and then pulled under and I'd end up killing the people I was trying to rescue," Smyth told the Duluth News-Tribune. "Our crew was running around on icy decks, in what was 8 foot seas and building...That boat (the Grampa Woo) was rocking like a bucking horse."
A Coast Guard official in Duluth called the McCarthy's work "amazing seamanship" under the weather conditions that existed.
The McCarthy towed the tour boat for four hours until reaching the entrance to Thunder Bay. But in the open waters of the bay, the vessels encountered winds to 70 mph and waves of 15 feet and higher. The tow line parted and the Grampa Woo was adrift again.
Meanwhile, the tug Glenada and the 38-foot buoytender Westfort had been hovering in the lee of Pie Island in case assistance was needed. When the tow line parted, the vessels went into action. Because of heavy ice buildup and the imminent threat of capsizing, the Westfort had to turn back. The Glenada continued on through dropping temperatures and snow squalls to approach the tour boat.
Unable to get a line on the tour boat, Capt. Gary Dawson of the Glenada decided to save the two men. He put his tug alongside the Grampa Woo about 7 p.m. and the two men, wearing survival suits, somehow managed to leap aboard the tug despite the high seas. The men were saved minutes before a Coast Guard helicopter was to be dispatched from Traverse City to rescue them.
"With it pitching like that and with the waves and the ice on the decks, I don't know how anyone could stand up on the deck to jump," Smyth said. "I thought it was bad for us. I can't imagine what they were going through."
The Glenada and Westfort sought shelter in the lee of Thunder Cape and the "Sleeping Giant" formation. The vessels were still in shelter late on Oct. 31.
A Coast Guard helicopter spotted the Grampa Woo about 2:30 p.m. Oct. 31, aground on Passage Island. The vessel was intact but being battered against 30-foot cliffs.
Reported by: Duluth News Tribune