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A Voyage into History with the Cyprus

By William Forsythe


Part 5: “A Whole Sail Breeze”

Thursday October 10, 1907, departure time was scheduled for 9:00AM. Captain Huyck had bid farewell to his wife and two sons. The Cyprus would leave Superior, WI with 7,103 tons of ore, 300 tons shy of full capacity. She drafted 19’-1” forward and 19’-7” aft. The weather was fine.

At 10:00AM the following morning, the Cyprus was 10 miles south of Stannard Light, with a moderate sea running. Captain Smith of the upbound R.O. Jenkins noticed the downbound Cyprus was rolling considerably, but no distress flags were seen.

The Cyprus had three operational sisterships. At the same time, the Hemlock had just completed unloading at the Lackawanna Steel Mill and was in ballast upbound at the eastern end of Lake Erie. The Odanah was in the process of unloading at the Lackawanna Steel Mill in Lackawanna, NY. The Calumet chose to take shelter in Two Harbors, MN to avoid the upcoming storm. She would leave port the following day when the storm abated.

At noontime, Second Mate Charles Pitz had come off watch, noting the ship was on a heading of E x S ¾ S (109 degrees). He promptly went to bed. Half an hour later, the Cyprus, traveling at 9 mph, caught up with the crippled George Stephenson towing the barge Magna. The Stephenson had one boiler disabled and was at a reduced speed of 4 mph. When the Cyprus was 1,000 feet off the broadside of the Stephenson, Captain Harbottle, skipper of the latter ship, notices a reddish-colored wake coming from the Cyprus’ ballast pump discharge. Water was entering the cargo hold and was removed by the ballast pumps as a heavy sea was running and the Cyprus’ decks were continually awash with big combers that broke over the rails.

In the late afternoon, Second Mate Pitz awoke to find they were rolling heavily in a full gale, or what the old schooner sailors would call a “whole sail breeze”. He noticed a slight list to port. During an inspection of the cargo hold, he discovered that some of the soft Mesabi ore cargo had shifted and some water was in the cargo hold. Mr. Pitz saw that waves constantly submerged the untarped hatch covers. From 6:45 p.m. on, Mr. Pitz noticed that the ship’s list became heavier and continued to worsen as the night wore on. The wind and seas increased as well.

By 7:00PM, Captain Huyck orders a watchman to gather all the forward crew together and sent them aft, don lifejackets, clear the lifeboats, stand by them, but do not launch them yet. The remaining forward crew consisted of Captain Frank Brainard Huyck, First Mate John C. Smith, Second Mate Charles Pitz, and Wheelsman George Thorne.

Half an hour later, the portside plank sheer, the edge where the spar deck meets the port hull side is well underwater, resulting in an approximate 20 degree portside list.

Part 6: “It’s All Off Now”

Five minutes after the portside plank sheer was seen to be submerged by the lake, a call came from the Engineer on watch informing the Captain that they lost steam pressure and the boilers went out. Captain Huyck informed the pilothouse crew that “It’s all off now”. The Cyprus was now at the mercy of Lake Superior’s fury.

At 7:45PM, the pilothouse crew had gone down to unlash the forward liferaft. The Cyprus slowly rolled over on her beam ends as her portside went underwater, taking the crew with it. All four men quickly returned to the floating raft to find the Cyprus had disappeared. They heard yelling from where the ship’s stern had been. The Captain remarked that the aft crew (17 men and one woman, the Second Cook) must have launched one or both of the lifeboats. The fore and aft crews shouted to each other through the darkness half a dozen times till all contact was lost. The waves came crashing down over their heads, threatening to drown them on the surface. The screeching cold wind pulled the breath from their lungs, the heat from their bodies, and began it‘s unrelenting assault on the survivors. Survivors for now. Meanwhile, $280,000 worth of the latest in marine engineering sank to a 460 foot deep grave.

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