Saturday, August 9, 2014

The loss of the Photinia

Many years ago, when I was just a small child - I put it at around 1978 to 1982 - I remember a merchant vessel running aground in Lake Michigan, just off the shore here in Milwaukee. That's a little fancy for the way I *actually* remember it: "Stuck in the mud" is the way my young mind learned of it, and "Stuck in the mud" is still the way  I think of it today. I vaguely recall the ship making the front page of the local paper(s), and I clear as day remember my Dad taking us to watch the ship from shore. 

The thing is, for the longest time I seemed to be the only person in Milwaukee who remembers this. Heck, I once asked my Dad and HE had no recollection of the event. I even put feelers out from time to time online, and no one had any leads. 

I was beginning to think I took a minor incident - say, a yacht or powerboat getting stuck - and inflated its importance in my young mind. And that was a shame, because it was such a powerful memory from my childhood, even though it probably consumed all of half an hour of my life and by any objective evaluation was minor and inconsequential.

This time though . . . this time Lisa's Uncle Bruce saw my request for information and not only confirmed my memory, he came up with hardcore information proving it!

The picture below is of the Photinia as it lay stuck off the shore of Milwaukee. It was waiting to enter the Port of Milwaukee with a load of grain when she dragged anchor and got caught on a reef. 

The helicopter in the photo is presumably helping rescue the 33 crew members on board (all survived). The Photinia was declared a loss and scrapped. Additional information, as relayed by Uncle Bruce, can be found below, along with two pictures of the ship in happier days. 

Oh, and the date of this event? May 13, 1978. That means I was four years and two months old when this happened, and the memory of it has stuck with me all these years. Strange, the human mind, no? 

Thanks again Bruce!

PHOTINIA Other names : none Official no. : BR187933 Type at loss : propeller motor freighter, steel, bulk fright Build info : 1961, Redhead & Sons, South Shields, England Specs : 480x60x25, 7,660 gt Date of loss : 1978, May 13 Place of loss : off Milwaukee Lake : Michigan Type of loss : storm Loss of life : none Carrying : light Detail : Having just come up from Chicago, the ship was standing off Milwaukee, waiting to enter the harbor to load grain, when she dragged anchor and went on a reef off St. Francis Power Plant. Her crew of 33 was rescued by Coast Guard helicopters, and the vessel was later brought in to Sturgeon Bay. There it was decided that, due to the heavily damaged condition of her bottom, she was a constructive total loss of $2.5 million. Had participated in the repair and laying of communications cable near New Zealand in 1977. Image from Sources : nsp,is(3-78),mpl,ac

Several readers correctly identified the April mystery ship as the motor vessel Photinia. Ray Hedley (3rd Mate Photinia 1969) of Sudbury, Suffolk supplied the following information: Photinia was built by John Readhead & Sons, South Shields for Stag Line Ltd, North Shields, and was delivered in 1961. The 7,665gt vessel measured 480ft by 60ft and had an average speed of 13 knots. She was a 10,500dwt bulk carrier, with four holds separating the aft and midship accommodation/bridge, and a further two holds forward of the bridge. She was a tramp ship, and was used to carry any type of bulk cargo. Like most of the Stag Line vessels, she often traded in the Great Lakes when they were ice-free. In 1965 she had a career change when she was converted by Readheads into a cable layer, and Harry Pollitt’s photograph was taken while she was loading cable in Manchester, at BICC’s (Glovers) submarine cable loading gantry on Trafford Wharf, Manchester Docks, prior to sailing to New Zealand, where the cable was laid in the Cook Strait. The job was completed in May 1965, and for a while she remained on charter to BICC, laying a further cable between the islands of Trinidad and Tobago. Following the removal of the cable-laying gear, Photinia returned to tramping. In May 1978 she was caught in a bad storm while anchored off Milwaukee in Lake Michigan and was driven aground, fortunately without loss of life. She was declared a constructive total loss, but was eventually refloated and towed to Sturgeon Bay, where her machinery was removed. Over a year later, in November 1979, she arrived in Kewaunee, Wisconsin and was broken up for scrap. In 1961 Photinia had cost £919,216 to build and 17 years later, as a total loss, she realised £953,426 from insurers.


Dennis McLean said...

Found your post as I was looking for info on the Motor Vessel Photinia. I was one of the two pilots on board the Cost Guard HH-52A helicopter that day. We flew up from NAS Glenview and conducted the evacuation of the 33 crewmen of the vessel. We hoisted off the fantail and transferred them three at a time to the beach oil storage area. The local Coast Guard station personnel took them to the station until arrangements were made for them. I remember the weather was lousy with low clouds, high winds (40-50 knots), and seas 12-14 foot. The airport was closed so when we needed fuel the police escorted a fuel truck down to the cliff area where we could land and refuel. The cliffs were perfect for the public to watch the whole thing unfold.

Anonymous said...

I remember it well. I was a newly minted teenage driver living on the south side. Drove by the lakefront down there in St. Francis every couple of hours while the Photinia laid in distress. I believe the poor ship sat there for many days. It was a fascinating sight to a 17 year old back then.

Christine said...

Greetings from Melbourne, Australia! I grew up in St. Francis, and I remember the Photinia, despite being about a year older than you! So I was about 5 1/2 when this happened. It was actually stuck at the end of our street in St. Francis, Tesch Avenue. I remember it looked so huge to me as a 5 year old. Thanks for putting it up here.

Peter Kesting said...

Found this picture in my parents collection, date is later in 1978 they lived in Milwaukee at the time, not sure on many details.