SS M.M. Drake (1882)

From SpottingWorld, the Hub for the SpottingWorld network...
SS M.M. Drake underway
Career (U.S.) Flag of the United States (1867-1877)
Name: SS M.M. Drake
Owner: John Green, Buffalo, New York
Port of registry: Buffalo, New York
Builder: Union Dry Dock Company
Completed: 1882
Identification: Official No. 91485
Fate: Foundered off Vermilion Point in Lake Superior with her tow, schooner Michigan on 2 October 1901
General characteristics
Class and type: Steamer, propeller, barge

915 Gross Register Tonnage

762 Net Register Tonnage
Length: 201 feet (61 m)
Beam: 34.42 feet (10.49 m)
Depth: 14.5 feet (4.4 m)

The SS M.M. Drake (1882) was a wooden steam barge that towed consorts loaded with coal and iron ore on the Great Lakes. She came to the rescue of the crews of at least 4 foundering vessels in her 9 year career only to suffer the same fate in her final rescue attempt. The Drake sank in 1882 off Vermilion Point after a rescue attempt of her consort Michigan. Her rudder, anchor, and windlass were illegally removed from her wreck site in the 1980s. They are now the property of the State of Michigan. The rudder is on display as a loan to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and the anchor and windlass are on loan for display to Whitefish Township Community Center. The wreck of the Drake is protected as part of an underwater museum in the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve.


The M.M. Drake was constructed in 1882 in Buffalo, New York as a wooden steam barge and named for the line superintendent of her building company, Mr. Marcus Motier Drake.[1] The Drake started her career in September 1882 by towing the barge F.W. Gifford. In 1883 she was chartered for Lake Erie to Duluth, Minnesota for coal and from Marquette, Michigan to Lake Erie for iron ore. In 1885 she was re-admeasured and had upper decks added at the Union Dry Dock Company in Buffalo, New York. James Corrigan of Wickliffe, Ohio became her third and final owner in 1889.[2][3]

During her nine year career, she came to the rescue of distressed vessels and she had several mishaps of her own, including stranding on a reef in 1882, running ashore in 1888 near Cheboygan, Michigan, and striking a bar and sinking at the dock in Duluth, Minnesota in 1889.[2] In 1883, the Drake rescued the crew of her consort, the 347-ton schooner Dot (the former Mary Merrit), when the Dot began leaking and sank off Grand Marais, Michigan. In 1889, the Drake picked up 3 passengers and the 15-man crew from the wooden steam barge Smith Moore that had been sideswiped by the James Pickands in heavy fog. The Drake towed the Moore for 6 hours when the Moore finally sank only 300 feet from the bar at the mouth of the Munising, Michigan harbor. In 1900, the Drake rescued the 8-man crew from the leaking schooner-barge R. Hallaran that foundered off Keweenaw Point near Stannard Rock Light. The Drake saved at least 4 crews from foundering vessels during her career but her final rescue of her own consort's crew caused a fatal blow to her structure that resulted in her suffering the same fate.[4]

Final voyage

On 1 October 1901, the Drake headed into a storm on Lake Superior with her consort, the 27 year old, 3-masted schooner barge Michigan, both heavy with iron ore loaded at Superior, Wisconsin. The masters of the red-hulled vessels of the James Corrigan line were following the practice of the early twentieth century shipping industry of sailing in foul weather to avoid losses from delays regardless of risk to life and vessel and towing aged wooden, schooner barges to increase profitability. As the Drake labored through frigid rain and 55 miles per hour (89 km/h) hour wind, by 2 October 1901 the seams of the Michigan's planking began to leak at a rate that overwhelmed her pumps. The flooded and dense iron ore cargo made it likely that the Michigan would sink without warning before the dawn of the day.[1]

Captain John McArthur Jr. of the Michigan ordered the thick towing hawser pulled in within hailing distance of the Drake to communicate their status by shouts amplified with a megaphone. It was decided that the Michigan's crew would be removed in the pitch black night as there was no chance of launching the Michigan's yawl in the prevailing winds. The Michigan was drawn up to the Drake so that her bow was up against the Drake's stern quarter on the leeward side. With the two wooden hulls grinding against each other, the crew of the Michigan leaped to Drake when the waves brought the two decks level to one another.[1] Just as the last of the Michigan's crew were safely transferred to the Drake, the wind carried the Michigan into a sea trough causing her jib boom that jutted forward from her forepeak to rake across length of the Drake. The Drake's after cabin was fractured and her tall smoke stack was loped off and shoved overboard.[1]

The Drake was mortally wounded. The loss of her smoke stack prevented a proper draft to her steamer to form a full head of steam to her engines and part of that steam was diverted to the pumps needed to stay ahead of the flooding below decks caused by the fractured after cabin. Without full steam, the Drake's Captain J. W. Nicholson could not keep her from hanging up in the sea trough in gale force winds even though he ordered the crew to break up her cabins to feed a wood fire that burned hotter than a coal fire.[1]

When the Northern Wave, a 2 year old steel package freighter, headed upbound out of Whitefish Bay shortly after 6:00 AM that morning, she spotted the struggling Drake flying a distress signal from one her masts and the crew frantically swarming the cabins with fire axes and bare hands. When Captain M.S. Peterson eased the Northern Wave to the windward side of the foundering Drake, three crew members leaped to the deck of the Northern Wave. Heavy seas prevented the steel Northern Wave from staying alongside for a rescue of the Drake's crew without risking her wooden hull. The Northern Wave attempted to tow the water-logged Drake but the hawser immediately snapped. Captain Peterson informed Captain Nicholson by megaphone that he would standby in case the Drake's crew could be taken off but both knew the near impossibility of launching the lifeboats in the gale.[1]

By late afternoon the Drake had slowed to a crawl due to her inability to keep up steam. The Northern Wave still hovering nearby. The situation appeared hopeless until the steel freighter, the Crescent City, came upon the struggling Drake. The Crescent City was nearly twice the size of the Drake and she used her massive hull to provide an artificial lee from the gale force wind. The Michigan's cook, Harry Brown, leaped toward the Crescent City before the two vessels were close enough and was swallowed by Lake Superior. The rest of the crew waited until the hulls of the two ships were grinding together and all of them safely jumped to the Crescent City by 5:00 PM. The Crescent City reached the Soo Locks with the Michigan and Drake crews at 2:00 AM on 3 October 1901.[1]

The Drake was a $35,000 loss and the Michigan was a $19,000 loss.[4]

Wreck history

File:Drake Anchor (2).JPG
Anchor and windlass from M.M. Drake (1882) displayed next to Whitefish Township Community Building
File:Drake Rudder.jpg
Rudder from M.M. Drake (1882) displayed at Whitefish Point

The schooner-barge Michigan was never seen again after the night of 2 October 1901.[1] The wreck of the Drake was first discovered by Captain Campbell of the Liberty just 4 days after she sank on 6 October 1901 when he was downbound for the Soo Locks. Captain Campbell reported that the Drake was located between Vermilion Point and Whitefish Point lying on her side in 40 feet (12 m) of water with about 5 feet (1.5 m) feet of water over her with a floating spar still strung to the hull.[1] The wreck of the Drake lay forgotten on the bottom of Lake Superior for 77 years until she was rediscovered at 46°46.588′N 85°05.933′W / 46.776467°N 85.098883°W / 46.776467; -85.098883 in 1978 by the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS)[5] who subsequently removed her rudder, windlass, anchor, and a sign board in the 1980s.[6] Michigan’s Antiquities Act of 1980 prohibited the removal of artifacts from shipwrecks on the Great Lakes bottomlands.[7] The Evening News reported a Michigan Department of Natural Resources 1992 raid on the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and its offices that found evidence of 150 artifacts illegally removed from the state-claimed bottomlands, including artifacts from the Drake.[7][8] Following a settlement agreement with the GLSHS, the Drake's rudder, anchor, and windlass are now the property of the State of Michigan. The rudder is on loan to the GLSHS for display nearby the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum and the anchor and windlass is on loan to Whitefish Township for display next to its community building.[6][9]

Great Lakes diver Harrington reports that the Drake's wreck lies scattered on the lake bottom about 0.5 miles (0.80 km) from Vermilion Point.[10] Oleszewski reports that decades of winter ice and spring and fall storms smashed the remains of her upright keel leaving only the boiler standing.[1] The Drake's wreck site is protected for future generations of scuba divers by the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve as part of an underwater museum. Divers who visit the wreck sites are expected to observe preservation laws and "take nothing but pictures and leave nothing but bubbles".[11] Harrington cautions that "divers must be certain of their abilities and equipment" when diving the Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve.[10]


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 1.4 1.5 1.6 1.7 1.8 1.9 Oleszewski, Wes (1995, 1996, 1997, 1998). Ghost Ships, Gales and Forgotten Tales: True Adventures on the Great Lakes, pp. 79 - 95. Avery Color Studios, Gwinn, Michigan, USA. ISBN 932212-83-2.
  2. 2.0 2.1 "Drake". Alpena County Public Library. Retrieved 25 May 2009. 
  3. "Great Lakes Vessels Online Index". Bowling Green State University. Retrieved 25 May 2009. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Wolff, Julius F. (1979). The Shipwrecks of Lake Superior, pp. 37, 55, 90, 94, 95. Lake Superior Marine Museum Association, Inc., Duluth, Minnesota, USA. ISBN 0932212-18-8.
  5. Stonehouse, Frederick (1985, 1998). Lake Superior's Shipwreck Coast: Maritime accidents from Whitefish Bay to Grand Marais, Michigan, pp. 93,94, Avery Color Studios, Gwinn, Michigan, USA. ISBN 0-9332212-43-3.
  6. 6.0 6.1 "Loaned artifacts". Whitefish Point Watch. Retrieved 27 May 2009. 
  7. 7.0 7.1 "Michigan DNR 1992 Affidavit and Search Warrant and Investigation Report of GLSHS". Whitefish Point Watch. Retrieved 3 March 2009. 
  8. Storey, Jack, (4 December 1992). "Shipwreck artifact dispute simmers". Evening News, p. A1.
  9. "State of Michigan Settlement Agreement with GLSHS". Whitefish Point Watch. Retrieved 18 April 2009. 
  10. 10.0 10.1 Harrington, Steve (1990, 1998). Divers Guide to Michigan, pp.322-336, Maritime Press & Great Lakes Diving Council, Inc., St. Ignace, Michigan, U.S.A. ISBN 0-9624629-8-5.
  11. "Michigan Department of Environmental Shipwrecks Program".,1607,7-135-3313_3677_3701-14514--,00.html. Retrieved 21 April 2008.