Mike and Georgann Wachter authors of the Erie Wrecks series of books are pleased to announce the discovery of the schooner barge Commodore. This 170 foot long vessel was lost on June 17, 1918 while being towed from Cleveland to Sandwich Ontario. The aging tow vessel Jay Gould began to leak in a storm and abandoned the Commodore. Both vessels sank but both crews were rescued by passing steamers. The Jay Gould has been a popular dive site for many years.
The Commodore’s Story
The oak hulled Commodore was built as a schooner in 1880 but was converted to a barge in North Tonawanda, New York in 1912. She had a narrow escape on Lake Superior in late September of 1895. The steamer P.H. Birkhead had the Commodore and two other schooner barges, the Elma and the Charles B. Jones, in tow when she was mauled by a storm and the lines parted. The Commodore made the Soo on her shortened sails, while the Jones anchored for two days in mountainous waves and the Elma crashed ashore, killing one sailor.
On another occasion, she was waterlogged and scuttled near Thunder Bay in Lake Huron. This occurred on October 11, 1915.
The steamer Jay Gould and consort barge Commodore ran a regular route between Cleveland and Sandwich, Ontario in the coal trade for the Pittsburgh Coal Company. The steamer departed Cleveland at noon on Monday, June 17, 918 and headed into heavy seas with thirty mile per hour winds. The forty-nine year old steamer began to leak, so she dropped the tow line, setting the Commodore free. The bilge pumps on the Gould would not keep up with the rising water. Finally, after the water was over the knees of the engine room crew Captain James McCauley ordered the crew on deck. Her twenty-two men were rescued by the steamer Midvale and landed in Ashtabula.
Meanwhile, the Commodore was taking water and rolling uncontrollably in the trough of the sea. It was about 7:30pm when she was cut loose from the steamer. About two hours later, the Commodore’s crew of four men and three women boarded a lifeboat. They were floating alongside the waterlogged barge when it settled to the bottom of Lake Erie. The steamer Mataafa, under command of Captain D. Elliot and towing the T.L. Bell had noticed their plight. They were able to get Captain Booth and the rest of the Commodore’s crew on board. In the pitching waves, the barge Bell was damaged. The crew of the Commodore was landed in Sandwich, Ontario.
Much debris from both vessels came ashore at Kelleys Island.
The Wreck Site
The Commodore site is huge with parts of the wreck located three tenths of a mile away from the main body of the hull. At the bow the donkey boiler has been pulled out of the vessel by fish nets and rests on the port side with the windlass. Piles of chain and hawes holes indicate that the anchors are still on the wreck site, though with limited visibility and so much area to explore they were not immediately located. The stack for the donkey boiler is also present as well as other machinery. The port side of the wreck is more intact and piles of her coal cargo can be found everywhere.
At the stern there is a very small capstan near a set of bollards. In addition a toilet lies near the rudder which is fallen away from the main body of the wreck. If you wanted to follow the fish net a hatch combing is many yards away. Fish nets are a serious hazard at this site when the visibility is restricted. Though the Commodore was found by a couple divers more than 15 years ago, her location was not divulged and only the two divers who found her ever dove the wreck.
We will be updating information on this wreck on our web site (www.eriewrecks.com) and will release the location to the general diving public next season.
Over 250 Lake Erie shipwrecks are documented in the Wachter’s 3 books; Erie Wrecks West, Erie Wrecks East, and Erie Wrecks and Lights. All three are available at www.eriewrecks.com.