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A Voyage into History with the Cyprus

By William Forsythe


Part 9: History Repeats Itself

The Cyprus wasn’t the first freighter to suffer from the early impression that untarped telescoping hatch covers (a.k.a. patent hatches) were watertight.

Friday September 1, 1905, the worst storm in 25 years swept the Lake Superior area. The angry lake forced itself into and sank the schooner Pretoria, the wooden steamer Iosco and it’s tow Olive Jeanette. The steel steamer Sevona was hammered into scrap metal in the Apostle Islands and the D. M. Clemson (I) limped into Two Harbors, MN with a severe list and the wooden covers on two of her hatches smashed into kindling.

The downbound Powell Stackhouse, launched at Wyandotte one month ago, structurally held up well under the pummeling she received out on the lake. She retained an even keel but, shipped enough water through her patent hatches that her draft increased to 20’-5”. Captain Millen remarked that he saw the hatches “spring” when the waves pounded the spar deck. The springing action allowed massive amounts of water into the hold.

The Stackhouse interrupted her voyage by stopping at Marine City, MI. She met the lighter barge T. F. Newman of the Great Lakes Towing Co.. The lighter offloaded 700 tons of ore from the Stackhouse. With the draft raised to 19’-0”, it would be safe to pass the Limekiln Crossing in the Detroit River.

Another close call came a year later when another relatively new freighter had a brush with disaster. Sunday November 25, 1906, the B. F. Jones (I) left Duluth, MN with a load of grain. The ship was just eleven months old when she had her steering gear disabled in a Lake Superior gale.

She fell into the wave troughs. The rolling of the Jones caused the cargo to shift till the plank sheer went below the water. Very similar to the Cyprus. Luckily, she reached the shelter of the Apostle Islands, but not before she lost a number of leaves from her telescoping hatch covers. In calmer waters, ballast water was pumped into the trimming tanks on the high side of the ship to return her to an even keel. A large amount of water was pumped from the cargo hold that had entered through the ships patent hatches. The Jones traveled to Ashland, WI to trim the cargo and stabilize the ship. She then resumed her original voyage.

The Captain wrote a letter to the maker of the telescoping hatches, singing their praises for their time savings and ease of operation. Nonetheless, he told his fellow skippers that his ship became so unmanageable from the water that entered past the hatch covers. Eleven months later, the Cyprus didn’t have the luck to find a safe refuge.

Part 10: “Note in Particular the Construction of the Hatches”

October 17, 1907, Second Mate Charles Pitz filed an accident statement with the Honorable Charles Westcott, Supervising Inspector of Steam Vessels, Detroit, MI. In his statement, he said that the Cyprus’ hatches were battened down. With no tarps aboard, he must have meant battened down as best as possible, with clamps and strongbacks attached.

The next day, a body washed ashore at the Two Hearted River Life Saving Station near Grand Marais, MI. The body was identified as Captain Frank B. Huyck of the Cyprus. His only worldly possessions consisted of a small memo pad and $175.00. The ship was sunk six days ago. In a macabre display of maritime tradition, the Captain was the last to “come ashore” from the ship. The two firemen were never recovered.

October 26, 1907, the Washington office of the U.S. Steamboat Inspection Service wrote a letter to their Great Lakes Inspectors. It read that they were “instructed to note in particular the construction of the hatches, their covers and securing same”.

Captain Daniel H. Mallory of the steel freighter D. O. Mills, launched March 12, 1907, received an express delivery at her dock. The Mill’s owner, Pickands, Mather & Co., sent a complete set of tarpaulins to their newest ship, arriving November 7, 1907. This gesture followed the companies policy that they “do not wish for the men or boats to want for anything”.

Eleven days later, Charles Pitz accepted a position as First Mate on the Maruba. The Maruba’s Captain Woodford was First Mate aboard the Cyprus during the latter’s first voyage. In the 1930’s, Mr. Pitz was in conversation with Captain Emory Massman Sr aboard the Coralia. He freely admitted to his Captain that the Cyprus had no tarps aboard.

Charles Pitz lived well into his seventies till his death in 1961.

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