The Great Lakes bulk freighter, SS John B. Cowle sank in just three minutes, the victim of a collision with the Isaac M Scott during heavy fog. The ship named for John Beswick Cowle, a Cleveland, Ohio shipbuilder, was lost near Whitefish Point in the upper peninsula of Northern Michigan on July 12, 1909. Fourteen of her 24-man crew perished.
SS John B. Cowle was built in 1902, for the then new Cowle Transit Company. John Beswick Cowle was part owner of the Globe Iron Works; the company was involved in building the first Great Lakes bulk freighters. Made from iron and steel, the vessels were nicknamed ‘tin pans’.
Under the command of Captain W.G. Rogers and loaded with iron ore, Cowle left Two Harbors, Minnesota and sailed for Cleveland, Ohio on July 12. Steaming in the opposite direction was a new 504-foot steel steamer called the Isaac M. Scott. On her maiden voyage, Scott had no cargo and was bound for Duluth, Minnesota. The Scott was followed the Frank. H. Goodyear. But the dense fog in Whitefish Bay would spell disaster.
Despite the Cowle slowing to half speed and blowing persistent fog signals, the Scott, running at full speed, hit the Cowle so hard, she almost split in half. The Scott had plowed bow-first into the Cowle and the ship quickly began to sink. The quick-thinking crew of the Scott threw a line from the bow to Cowle‘s deck. Only three sailors were able to board Scott, meanwhile the rest of the Cowle‘s crew jumped into the water.
In the wake of the ensuing chaos, both the Scott and Goodyear aided the rescue efforts. The Scott would sail again after being repaired but post-disaster hearings resulted in the suspension of Captain Rogers for 30 days as it was determined he had been steaming too fast. Scott‘s pilot, Edward E. Carlton was suspended for one year as it was found he had also been steaming too fast for the conditions, and for failing to signal. The wreck of the SS John B. Cowle is protected by the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve.
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© Copyright Vince Capone 2013