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John B. Cowle
Sunk 1909

The John B. Cowle is a 420 foot steel ore carrier, sunk in 220 feet of water, about 2 miles north of Whitefish Point, on July 12, 1909. The downbound Cowle was cut nearly in two, in heavy fog, by the upbound Isaac M. Scott. The Cowle sank in 3 minutes, taking 14 men to their deaths.

The bow is upright on the bottom at 215 feet, the top of the pilot house at 170 feet. The ship is split near the middle with the stern half jammed into the bottom and rising at about a 45 degree angle. It is possible to stand on the bottom, at 220 feet, under the ship and see the prop and rudder tower 20 feet above. The rear cabins are ripped open and the entire area shows considerable damage, probably due to boiler explosion as the ship sank. Because the rear cabins come to within 140 feet of the surface, it is more likely that the stern is buoyed, at least in recent years. The ascent line is often tied to what’s left of the emergency helm on top of the rear cabin.

The bow shows little damage, except for the steel mast which peeled back during the sinking and now lies back across the first three hatches. The hatch deck is at 185 feet, and it is possible to drop into the second hatch back an view a running light which dropped off the mast, draped above it. The small deck in front of the pilot house has a large capstan which is missing its top cover. The pilot house is intact, though mostly empty since the Cowle was found before it was illegal to remove artifacts from Great Lakes shipwrecks. Many of the artifacts are preserved and on display at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point. The brass capstan cover with ship name can be seen in the Cowle exhibit.

The bow is not always buoyed. If it is, the line is usually tied to the pilot house roof.

Story and photos ©2005 J.R. Underhill Communications

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