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U.S. Coast Guard Awards

Frederick T. Hatch

Gold Lifesaving Medal with Gold Bar

Awarded 26 February 1891

During the night of Sunday, 26 October 1890, the schooner barge Wahnapitae of Port Huron, MI, while attempting to reach the harbor at Cleveland, OH, wrecked against the breakwater about a half-mile from the life-saving station. This resulted in the drowning of one of the crew, Orla W. Smith of Oswego, NY. The Wahnapitae was a large craft from Ashland, WI bound to Fairport, OH with a cargo of nearly two million feet of lumber. She was in tow of the steamer John M. Nicol of Detroit. The latter was bound to Cleveland. There were eight persons on the schooner, including the captain’s wife, who acted as cook.

Overcast and dark, it was a bad night for an attempt to enter the harbor. A strong gale was blowing from the north and the lake was rough, especially off the breakwater and piers. Under these circumstances the captain of the steamer saw that he would jeopardize his own craft if he tried to tow the schooner in. As his vessel was quite large, his best judgment and skill would be necessary to enter alone without being handicapped by a heavy tow. The towline was cast off and the steamer proceeded into the harbor while the Wahnapitae came to anchor just off the breakwater. It was expected that the harbor tugs would take hold of her and bring her in. The tugs did attempt to get a line to the schooner, but the sea was so heavy they were obliged to abandon the project.

It was soon realized that a single anchor could not hold the schooner. She soon began dragging until she crashed against the easterly end of the west breakwater. She stuck fast until very shortly she became a complete wreck. As soon as she struck, the people jumped onto the breakwater and made for the lighthouse that was about one hundred feet from where she lay. Some of them succeeded, with the aid of the lightkeeper, in reaching shelter. Others were less fortunate and narrowly escaped drowning.

The arrival of the tow off the harbor had been observed by the life-saving station lookout. He kept a sharp watch and realized that the schooner was dragging toward the breakwater. The alarm was promptly sounded and the lifeboat was launched as the crew set out to render whatever assistance they could. The boat was already on its way when the tugboats Tom Maytham and H. L. Chamberlin signalled to the station.

Upon reaching the mouth of the harbor, the crew realized that the boat could approach the schooner only from the windward. Any attempt to board her would be madness resulting in the destruction of the lifeboat. Keeper Goodwin, therefore, turned about and shot in under the lee of the breakwater. He found the tugs engaged in rescuing some of the schooner’s crew who had been washed off the breakwater. They picked up one man apiece, but a third was drowned before either boat could reach him. Seeing another man clinging to the ladder on the inner side of the breakwater near the lighthouse, the keeper sheered the lifeboat in alongside and rescued him just as a wave broke over the breakwater and covered the boat and its occupants with a smother of foam.

After a fruitless search for others of the shipwrecked crew, the keeper hailed the tugs to learn how many they had rescued and then pulled to the lighthouse to make inquiries there. The keeper of the light, Frederick T. Hatch, who had formerly seen service as a member of the Cleveland Life-Saving crew, informed Keeper Goodwin that he had under his care four persons including the captain and his wife. Hatch had done heroic work in aiding these people. It seems that when they jumped onto the breakwater he had run out and assisted some to the tower. When the waves prevented

his reaching the rest, he jumped into his boat and rowed along under the lee of the crib-work. Here he picked up the woman and one of the seamen. Turning back toward the lighthouse a huge wave burst over the breakwater and swamped his boat. He and his two passengers were thrown into the water. Fortunately, he had taken the precaution of attaching one end of a small line to the crib-work near the tower and dropped the other end into his boat. When the craft overturned he quickly grasped the line and pulled himself and the woman to the ladder and up to the lighthouse. The sailor who capsized with him was probably the one subsequently rescued from the ladder by the station crew.

Finding no others in the water the lifeboat crew returned to the station with the man they had picked up. The tugs on their way in landed their two rescued men also at the station and all three were furnished with food and dry clothes. Early the next morning (27th) the life-saving crew pulled to the breakwater and brought ashore the people from the lighthouse. It was then learned that Orla W. Smith was the man that had been drowned. The last seen of him was when he was washed from the breakwater the night before with the two sailors that were picked up by the tugs. But for the presence of these tugs it is likely that all three men would have perished. Lightkeeper Hatch deserves praise for his undaunted behavior on this occasion. It is remembered that as one of the station crew, he displayed remarkable gallantry in saving life on the occasion of the sinking of the schooner Sophia Minch in October 1883. The crews of the tugs Maytham and Chamberlin also deserve credit.

Last Modified 1/12/2016