The Ford's Lost Sister

The J.B. Ford, originally named Edwin F. Holmes, was one of seven nearly-identical ships built for the Hawgood fleets between 1902 and 1904.  She had the longest active career of any of these vessels, and is the last of them to survive afloat (the nearest runner-up was scrapped in 1974).  Only one other ship among the seven remains intact in any form today, and ironically, it's the shortest-lived of them all: the Etruria, a sunken wreck recently discovered on the bottom of Lake Huron.

Str. Etruria (courtesy of Historical Collections of the Great Lakes, Bowling Green State University)Hawgood steamer Etruria was built in 1902, and had been in service for only three years when she sank on Lake Huron in 1905. Photo from the Historical Collections of the Great Lakes, Bowling Green State University.

On June 18, 1905, the three-year-old steamer Etruria was upbound with a cargo of coal from Toledo, Ohio, bound for Superior, Wisconsin.  Running in fog approximately ten miles off Presque Isle Light, she was struck by the Mesaba Steamship Company's new steamer Amasa Stone, which was downbound with a load of iron ore from Duluth and steaming at full speed.  The bow of the Amasa Stone tore into the starboard side of the Etruria abreast of her number nine hatch, and water flooded into her cargo hold.  The Etruria's crew of 26 abandoned ship, fortunately without any loss of life, and was picked by the nearby steamer Maritana.  Within five minutes of the collision, the mortally-wounded Etruria rolled over and sank in 300 feet of water.

The wreck of the Etruria lay undisturbed for the next 106 years, before being discovered in the spring of 2011.  The well-preserved wreck lies upside-down on the lake bed, in the federally-designated Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, near the J.B. Ford's longtime home port of Alpena, Michigan.  She offers a glimpse of some of the J.B. Ford's original features that were changed over the years, including the square cabin windows, wooden hatch covers, and cargo hold stanchions.  In return, a preserved J.B. Ford will offer divers planning a visit to the Etruria and other wrecks of similar vintage a chance to "walk through" and identify areas of interest and potential trouble spots in preparing their dives.

The Amasa Stone, the ship that sank the Etruria, was repaired and went on to sail until 1964.  Her hull survives today as part of a breakwater in Charlevoix, Michigan.

YouTube Video of the exploration of the Etruria wreck: