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GLS Downward Bound

Monroe Guardian Newspaper

January 5, 1997

1997 ã copyright by Daniel Rowe, all rights reserved.

This article is reprinted with the express permission of the author for this website only.


Reader shares father's shipwreck

By DAN ROWE editor

This week's Lake Tale comes from Emerald Forbes Baker of Monroe who discovered the story while compiling a family history. The tale is that of her father, Capt. Arthur Forbes, and the wreck of the Francis Widlar.

Deep water sailors have often looked down on their sweetwater brethren. There's a story of a crusty old sea captain who, with a sneer of contempt, asked a lake skipper if he'd ever sailed around the horn, some of the most dangerous waters in the world. The lake sailor is said to have replied: "Aye, Sir, I have. I've sailed Superior in a November storm."

CAPT. FORBES took the Widlar out of Duluth in mid-November, 1920, downbound with a cargo of ore. Caught in a snow storm, the Widlar hit Pancake Shoals near Whitefish Bay. The vessel started breaking up in the heavy seas. A call for aid to Crisp Point Life Saving Station went unanswered. The heavy seas washed over the stranded ship, easing her in ice as the storm raged and the crew huddled at the bow.

After 63 hours without food three men made a desperate move. Lashing themselves together, the three made their way aft on hands and knees seeking the food stored in the galley. Bruised and battered by the punishing weather, the three regained the forward cabin with provisions for the starving crew.

The ship's cook ripped the top from an oil stove and built a fire from broken furniture. Huddled together in the freezing cold, the crew of the Widlar gobbled the hot meal, thinking, with good cause, it might well be their last.

Now locked in a fog, Capt. Forbes knew only death awaited on the injured vessel. Taking the five strongest crew men, Capt. Forbes launched a boat and the desperate six sailors pulled for shore in search of help. Those remaining aboard the Widlar could hardly make out the tiny boat in the driving snow. The towering seas covered the boat on several occasions as the resolute seamen stroked for the unseen shore

FATE SMILED on the oars men. As they rowed for their lives and those of their mates, they came upon the steamer Livingstone and were taken aboard. A distress call went out to the Soo and the giant tug Iowa reached the stranded Widlar. That tug and a little fishing tug each made three trips to the wreck. The entire crew of the Widlar was rescued, including one unusual sailor

Capt. Forbes had taken his daughter's little dog, a fox terrier named "Tootsie," for company on the voyage. The crew men credited the frisky, little pup's antics through the trial with diverting attention from the impending doom and raising their spirits as they huddled in the storm. Tootsie, too was rescued.

The Widlar was salvaged and returned to work upon the lakes, sailing until July of 1966, but not with Capt. Forbes in command. He went west to California and took out papers for salt water. Still a seaman, Capt. Forbes eventually had his own fleet of tuna boats until his death in 1946.

Capt. Forbes, it seems, preferred the perils of the Pacific after once being wrecked and experiencing the November wrath of the Shining Big Sea Water.

Thanks to Emerald Forbes Baker for sharing this tale, much of which she discovered with the help of Bowling Green State University. Have you a lake tale you'd like to share? Write Lake Tales, do The Monroe Guardian, P.O. Box 1426, Monroe, MI 48161.

Our thanks go out to Mr. Rowe for allowing this article to be reprinted here. He has informed me that the series of articles entitled Lake Tales are no longer a feature in the Monroe Guardian, but he does have plans on publishing stories in some type of media in the future.


The Crewmembers That Day

List of Crewmembers of the Francis Widlar on that November day in 1920 donated by Emerald (Peggy) Forbes Baker:

The following places were used for research by Mrs. Baker

Manitowac, Wisonsin-Museum

Bowling Green University-Institute for Great Lakes Research,

National Archives and Records Administration: Coast Guard

Bureau of Marine Inspection and Navigation

Dossin Maritime Museum, Belle Isle, Michigan

Visit: Addresses for Research

for addresses to these institutions.

Note from Web Page Author:

According to "Lake Superior Shipwrecks" by Julius E. Wolff, Jr., page 169, the above happened on November 12, 1920 after leaving the port of Duluth, MN on November 9th. The Widlar was owned by the Cleveland Ship Company at the time and later sold to a Canadian company. The phone lines were down at the time and that is why the call for help was not answered by the Coast Guard.

Mr. Wolff sites: Duluth News Tribune, Nov. 9, 12, 14-16, 19-20, 1920 for news articles about the above.




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