Adrift On Superior


By Pickle Meldrum, as told to him by Don "Carp" Carpenter


Seven Days Adrift

This story took place in June of 1940, after Frank Champion had purchased the above diesel operated fish tug. At this point it was brand new, but had only one engine. Champion, Johnny Cliffel, Cy Graham and Don Carpenter made up the crew. (Don is the last survivor of this group.)

They picked up their bait, which consisted of pin-herring, and headed for "Butches Bank", which was located about half-way between Michipicoten Island and Caribou Island. They expected to be gone for only three days.

In those days they didn't have the sophisticated navigational devices such as they have today. You had only a compass and a watch to try to determine your location. It was more or less a trial and error situation, and after two or more tries they finally located the bank, but then the engine quit, and would not start.

Frank would not allow the seal to be removed from the engine, as then the warranty would be voided. They began drifting, and after the third day, when their food was running out, they really began to be concerned. They tried putting the anchor out to stop drifting, but they were in too deep a water for it to hold. To add to their almost diminished food supply, they tried fishing, and even to catch a seagull, but had no luck at that either. The bait by then was too soft and wouldn't stay on the hook.

They decided that maybe the bait, with a good measure of salt and water added might make a palatable dish, but the herring was so soft it ended up as a soup. This managed to keep them going for the next few days. For amusement they made a checker board on the lifter pan, but either they hadn't played checkers very much, or they couldn't count well, as they didn't have enough squares and the game just didn't go right. (They actually never realized why until someone came aboard when they were towed in and told them.)

By this time they had drifted close to the Canadian shoreline, where they were hoping to beach the boat. At that time they spotted smoke on the horizon and realized a ship was approaching. On board, they had a broken mirror that they sometimes used to shave with when enroute to port, so they grabbed that and used it to try and signal a flash and alert someone on the ship that they were in trouble.

Finally the ship did notice and dropped his barge in tow, and came alongside to see if they could help them. They were towing a barge to Jackfish Bay (a port near Thunder Bay), but offered to take them in tow. They threw over a line, weighted with a chunk of wood with which to tie them up with. Then they also sent over a large basket, by means of a trolley rigged between the two ships. To the grateful crew, it was "manna from heaven", as it was full of food. The hungry crew dug in, though some of them wished they had remembered the old rule of not eating too much, or too fast, after been on a starvation diet. Carp said they all had belly-aches.

The Good Samaritan captain decided he would go out of his way and tow them back to Whitefish Point. From there the Coast Guard came and towed them back to Grand Marais.

Frank, (who was Axel Newberg's son-in-law) went immediately to Axel to get his advice. Axel was good at about everything, and his advice was sought by many. He looked the engine over, reached under, and came up with the seal in his hand. Poor Champ was upset, telling Axel that now his warranty would be no good. Axel just looked at him and asked if he wanted the thing to run, or not. Then he took a cover off near the bottom of the engine, took a small rod and hammer, gave it a blow and said, "Now try it." Sure enough the engine started and ran perfectly.

Needless to say, their starvation diet did wonders for their physiques, but poor Carp's eyes were so far back in his head they looked like two p--- holes in the snow.

(Donald Carpenter died 11 June 2003 at the age of 80 - H.H.)


Posted to the Web on Nov. 20, 2007, for educational purposes only.