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Amboy – Schooner Barge 1874-1905 (SHIPWRECK)

Amboy – Schooner Barge 1874-1905 (SHIPWRECK)

sugarloaf cove MN

The schooner-barge Amboy, U.S. Registry 95276, started its career as the proud schooner Helena, a 205-foot three-mast schooner built in 1874 for the Cleveland Transportation Company. The Helena was fully rigged out as a schooner, but it was used principally as a towed consort to the steamer Havana in the Cleveland, Ohio, and Marquette, Mich., iron ore trade. The schooner carried 1,500 tons of cargo and towed by the Havana made a round trip every ten days. The Cleveland Transportation Company operated four pairs of steamers and consorts like the Havana and Helena, all known as the “Black Boats.” They were regarded as some of the finest ships of their day. These included the steamer Geneva and consort Genoa, steamer Spartaand consort Sumatra, and steamer Vienna and consort Verona.

With its hull built of oak, the Amboy measured 209.3 feet in length, a beam of 34.2 feet and depth of hold of 14.4 feet, a gross tonnage of 893 tons and a net tonnage of 849 tons. The Amboywas built in Cleveland, Ohio, by Quayle and Murphy. The Amboy had a figure head and a square stern. The vessel’s keelson was composed of two main timbers and two adjacent sister keelsons, each two timbers high. The vessel had a single deck with hold beams, steel arches and steam pumps. It possessed a center board as did many of the Great Lakes schooners.

While no photographs are known to exist of the Amboy/Helena, a picture of its sister ship the Sumatra indicates the Amboy had a rather bluff entrance and was flat bottomed over most of its 209 foot length. The Amboy would have had an after deckcabin with at least five side windows on each side, a raised forecastle deck and at least two cargo hatches. Additionally, it would have had a hoisting engine powered by a donkey boiler positioned between its main and fore masts.

A photograph of the schooner Verona, also Amboy’s sister ship, indicates the vessel carried at least a huge square foresail, a gaff-rigged foresail, mainsail and mizzen. Rigging on the Veronaphotograph indicates these sister ships carried at least an inner jib and an outer jib, perhaps even a flying jib. With top masts it would have carried topsails, but their rig is uncertain. However, a photograph of the schooner Lucerne, which is in the same class as the Amboy and which has the same mast and spar configuration as the Verona, indicates that the vessels varied gaff topsails, a club-footed fore staysail and a foretopmast raffee. Apart from the rig, the photograph of the Verona shows these schooner barges carried two wooden stock anchors at the bow.

The Famous “Mataafa Storm”

The George Spencer and Amboy were bound for Duluth with coal when they were overpowered by the famous “Mataafa Storm.” When the storm was over and the toll tallied, 18 ships were discovered to be disabled or destroyed by stranding, one had foundered with all hands, and nearly a dozen others suffered various degrees of injuries to hulls or superstructures. Five of the mishaps had fatalities. In lakes history, this is called the “Mataafa Blow,” in memory of a major steel carrier wrecked at the Duluth entrance jetties. A total of 36 lives were lost in the storm on Lake Superior alone.

The Duluth Evening Herald of Dec. 1, 1905, describes the wreck of the two vessels:

Both boats lost their bearings in the snowstorm and landed on a sandy beach. As soon as they struck, buoys with lines were thrown over the side. When they floated ashore they were caught by fishermen and made fast. With an improvised life buoy rigged in the hawsers the entire crew were taken safely to shore preceded by Mrs. Harry Lawe, wife of the mate, who was acting as steward. The vessels ran on the rocks Tuesday morning, and for thirteen hours the situation of the crew on the battered hulks was desperate. Fishermen rushed into the surf almost to their necks and aided the sailors to escape. The Spencer’s cargo can be lightered but there is little hope for saving the boat. The vessels were coming up without cargo to load ore. Capt. Frank Conland sailed the Spencer and Fred Watson was master of the Amboy. The Spencer was valued at $35,000 and the Amboy at $10,000.

The Duluth News Tribune of December 6, 1905, states that “Captain C.O. Flynn returned last evening from an inspection of the stranded steamer George Spencer and schooner Amboy. He said `the schooner Amboy is a total wreck…the steamer Spencer is still in good shape. Her hatches are intact, and she does not appear to be seriously damaged. As to the condition of her bottom that cannot be told at present.'”

Where It Rests

The wreckage of the Amboy lies on the beach approximately 1 mile south of Sugar Loaf Cove. The beach blends from sand to large beach cobbles. What remains of the Amboy is a 74-foot section of keelson encased in sand and cobbles on the southern end of the cove where the vessel met its fate.

The wave-eroded keelson section, which lies parallel to the beach, is composed of four side-by-side timbers, two timbers high, heavily drifted together with iron drift bolts 1.25 inch and .875 inch in diameter. The drifts are fastened edgewise as well as top to bottom. Starting from the lakeside the timbers measure 13 inches, 15 inches, 12 inches and 12 inches sided, the lower tier 13 inches molded and the upper tier 15 inches molded. Numerous 11 inch high projecting iron drifts on the inshore timber suggest there was a rider timber atop this timber. The southern end of the two lakeside timbers are cut away and a vertical upright is present at the end of the inner of these two timbers. While no excavation was conducted to ascertain the true nature of this construction feature, it is thought to represent a portion of the centerboard trunk.

Amboy Detailed Information
MN historical Society Shipwreck Map


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