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U.S. Coast Guard Awards

Charles C. Goodwin
Lawrence Distel
John L. Eveleigh
Joseph Goodrof
William Goodwin
Frederick T. Hatch
Delos Hayden
Charles Learned
Jay Lindsay

Awarded on 3 December 1884

About 7 o’clock in the evening on 31 October 1884, during a hard northwesterly, the three-masted schooner Sophia Minch arrived off the harbor of Cleveland, OH with a cargo of iron ore from Marquette, MI. While attempting to run in, however, the heavy sea disabled her rudder. She at once came to with both anchors off the east pier and hoisted a signal for assistance. The tug Peter Smith answered the call and steamed out to her. Two of the crew of the Cleveland Station (Ninth District) accompanied to assist in handling the lives. The captain of the Minch, deeming one tug insufficient to tow his vessel, refused to heave up his anchors until another tug could be procured.

The Smith, therefore, returned and obtained the assistance of the Fanny Tuthill. Keeper Goodwin and the rest of the life-saving crew, save one man left in charge of the station, jumped on board the Smith as she again steamed out to assist the disabled craft. Once alongside it was only with the greatest difficulty that the life saving men gained the schooner’s deck, one man, Surfman Distel, being left on the tug to aid in handling the lines. As soon as the anchors were tripped, the two tugs started with the vessel in tow. Before going very far, however, both towlines parted. The two tugs, unable to do anything further, sought safety behind the breakwater. The sea then began dragging the vessel towards the rocky shore. It was also discovered that the water was finding its way into the hold and the men were sent to the pumps. They could do very little, however, as they took every effort to save from being washed overboard.

The captain, fearful of the vessel driving onto the rocks, had a hasty consultation with Keeper Goodwin and resolved to scuttle her. He planned to let her sink to the sandy bottom where she would not receive so much damage and trusting to the chances of raising her after the storm. The scuttling was accomplished by boring auger holes in the deck forward. The schooner, in a short time, sank in shoal water with her deck just awash. All those on board, except two men, took to the fore rigging for safety. The other two, a surfman belonging and the mate, were cut off from the rest and were compelled to climb into the mizzen rigging.

Surfman Distel, who had landed from the tug Smith, acted promptly. He, however, had only one of the station crew to assist him. Though it was now between 2 and 3 o’clock in the morning, he cast about for volunteers. Customs Inspector Bates, the lighthouse keeper, George H. Tower, and three others, Messrs. Pryor, Duffy, and Tovat, promptly responded to the appeal. The latter, with his team to draw the apparatus cart, took the beach gear abreast of the sunken vessel. The first shot was successful, carrying the line just abaft the fore rigging. In a short time the gear was rigged and the breeches buoy hauled off. Keeper Goodwin was the first to come ashore to take charge of the operation. The rest in the fore rigging following one by one until all but Surfman Hatch were safely landed.

There were also the two men in the rigging aft who were unable to get forward. Surfman Distel volunteered to go off in the buoy to consult with Hatch as to the best means of saving the two men. The result was that Hatch agreed to attempt to reach the mizzen rigging and see what could then be done. It was an extremely hazardous undertaking, as the main boom and gaff were swaying from one side to the other in a most frightful manner. Literally taking his life in his hands, he told Distel that if he did not return in a reasonable time, it might be taken for granted it was impossible for him to do so. He further advised him to return to shore in the buoy and report the situation to the keeper.

Hatch succeeded in reaching the after part of the vessel and found the men safe, but it was utterly impossible for him to get back. Distel, therefore, faithfully followed out his instructions and when his comerade failed to return, he gave the signal to be drawn ashore and made known the facts to Captain Goodwin. As soon, therefore, as Distel could be sent off again, the gear was unrigged, the gun got into position, and communication established with the other end of the vessel. It took Hatch only a little while to haul off the whip and hawser. As soon as everything was all right, they were drawn safely ashore, Hatch being the sixteenth and last man to be rescued.

The-whole affair reflected great credit both on the members of the life-saving crew and upon the little band of volunteers, who came so bravely forward to assist Distel in landing his comrades and those belonging to the vessel. The personal effects of the captain and crew were recovered and landed subsequently when daylight gave them the opportunity. A few days later (November 4), the station crew boarded the vessel and assisted in stripping her of sails and rigging, On the day following, they aided in setting up a steam-pump on her deck and removing a portion of the cargo. When all the arrangements were completed (6 November), she was floated and taken into the harbor.

On 1 November, during the same gale that damaged the schooner Sophia Minch, the three-masted schooner John B. Merrill of Milwaukee, WI hove into sight off Cleveland Harbor. She was inbound from Escanaba, MI deeply laden with iron ore. A vessel of nearly six hundred-fifty tons and carried a crew of ten persons including the captain’s wife, who acted as cook. It was about 5 o’clock when she was met and taken in tow by the steam-tug James Amadeus. The latter had brought almost under the shelter of the breakwater, when the towline parted and the schooner began drifting toward the beach. The tug succeeded in getting a line to her again and renewed the attempt to tow her in, but the towline snapped a second time. The schooner was now so near the breakers that it was dangerous for the tug to again risk an attempt. As a last resort the anchors were let go, but failed to hold.

The life-saving crew closely watched the two vessels. As soon as it became apparent that the schooner must go ashore, Keeper Goodwin ordered the beach apparatus out. As it was already dark, the keeper started down the beach after giving his orders so as to keep track of the vessel. It was about half past 6 when the vessel stopped a little less than half a mile east of the station and nearly abreast of the Lake Shore Railroad freight house. It was, therefore, in close proximity to the sunken Sophia Minch.

As soon as she struck, the captain ordered the hatches opened in order to let her fill with water and remain steady. This saved the ship from thumping itself to pieces. This was a wise precaution, as she lay on the smooth, sandy bottom and it prevented her from driving up onto the rocks. Some of the volunteers, Messrs. Tower, Bates, Tovat, and Assistant Lightkeeper Reed, who had assisted the station crew in the morning with the Sophia Finch, were soon on hand. They rendered excellent service in getting the apparatus down and with the subsequent operations. The relief party arrived abreast of the vessel, which lay about four hundred feet from shore, at a quarter before 8. As soon as the gun could be placed in position, the shot was sent whizzing over the schooner. It dropped the line against the mizzen rigging. The whip and hawser speedily followed. When all was ready Surfman Hatch, with the keeper’s call for a volunteer, stepped forward and went off in the breeches-buoy to manage the gear on board. He had done likewise earlier on board the Sophia Minch.

As soon as he reached the schooner the landing of the people commenced. The captain’s wife was the first one hauled ashore. The rest followed one by one. Within 45 minutes from the firing of the shot, all hands were safe and quickly taken to places of shelter. The landing was effected none too soon, as the weather was freezing cold.

On 3 November, the gale having abated, the station crew lent valuable aid in pumping the Merrill out and in running lines to the three tugs employed to raise her. The task was successfully accomplished by 5 o’clock in the evening of the same day. The local press gave unmeasured praise to the life-saving crew and the little band of volunteers who acted so nobly at these two disasters. The captain of the John B. Merrill wrote the following complimentary letter:

The schooner John B. Merrill, in trying to make the harbor at Cleveland on the evening of 1 November, in charge of the tug James Amadeus, when near the end of the breakwater parted her tow-line and the vessel’s anchors were let go, but failed to hold. She drifted onto the beach, where she soon filled with water, the sea making a clean breach over her, making it extremely dangerous to launch a boat in the heavy sea that was running. The life-saving crew was promptly on hand, and in a very short time had succeeded in getting a line on board. Everything worked like clockwork, without a hitch, and in less than an hour all the crew of nine men and one woman were got on shore. It was blowing a gale, with a heavy sea running, and the night very dark. Too much praise cannot be given to Captain Goodwin and his crew for the efficient service they rendered in saving the lives of the crew, and also in getting the vessel off the beach on November 3.


Master of Schooner, John B. Merrill

One of the most thrilling episodes of the Cleveland Life-Saving Station (Ninth District) occurred on 11 November 1884. About 9 o’clock at night, during a violent northwesterly gale, the station’s crew observed a vessel under reduced sail heading directly for the harbor. She failed to reach the sanctuary of the breakwater and was compelled to anchor off the end of the east pier. Keeper Goodwin predicted trouble and ordered the surfboat deployed.

The sea was running so high that the lighthouse was often completely buried in foam. As the boat passed out of the harbor, the captain of the tug Forest City hailed the keeper. He told him that if he would run a line from the vessel and stand by to slip her cable, the tug would try to tow her. The lifesavers got on board all right, but found the sea breaking over her. She was covered with a glare of ice. She proved to be the schooner-rigged barge John T. Johnson of Sandusky, OH inbound from Escanaba, MI with a cargo of iron ore consigned to parties in Cleveland. Her crew consisted of six men and one woman serving as the cook.

The keeper realized that steps needed to be quickly taken, as there was danger of the schooner parting her cable and driving ashore. He hailed Customs Inspector Bates and Lightkeeper Reed, who were on the pier, and requested them to send the tug out. The message was promptly delivered, but by the captain of the Forest City had changed his mind. Fearful of risking his vessel, he refused to go. The other tug lying in the river also declined. This was soon communicated to Goodwin. He realized that it would be madness to attempt to land the people with the boat. Especially as chances were that they would be capsized and drowned before reaching the harbor.

As the vessel could not hold on much longer, he decided to return ashore with his men and make ready the breeches buoy apparatus. He left one of the surfmen, John Eveleigh, on board to see that the gear was properly rigged. The boat had less than a hundred feet when it was nearly swamped and rendered almost unmanageable. To make matters worse the men were nearly exhausted by the pulling out to the vessel. Before they could bail out the water, the boat had drifted so far to the east of the pier that they could not get back into the river. They were compelled to square away for a short stretch of beach between the harbor pier and freight piers of the Lake Shore Railroad. This course, while expeditious, was also dangerous. If they missed the beach, they would be swept into certain destruction among the piers beyond.

They had barely got the boat under control again, when a tremendous sea overtook and capsized them. All hands were thrown into the ice cold water. Washed off again and again, they made desperate but fruitless efforts to right the boat. Several of them had also been badly bruised from contact with the boat. In the meantime an excited crowd had gathered upon the pier. They threw pieces of plank to the struggling surfmen. Though well-intended, this only added to their peril. With their cork life-belts providing sufficient buoyancy, the poor fellows now had to exert their energy to avoid being struck by one of the timbers.

At last after great exertion two or three of the men got to within forty or fifty feet of the pier. They caught the ropes thrown to them and were pulled out. The rest boat soon afterwards reached the beach. They were in a pitiable condition and for some time could not speak. It was one of the narrowest escapes in the history of the Life Saving Service. But for their life preservers, they every man would have been lost.

They were taken to the office of the customs inspector. Here their wet clothing was removed and replaced with dry garments and in a short time, they began to revive. The situation of the people on the schooner was foremost in their minds and the report that the vessel was drifting ashore acted like magic. They were instantly on the alert again, forgetting all else. The gallant fellows repaired to the station and with the assistance of others brought out the beach apparatus. It was now nearly midnight.

The schooner had moved almost into the same spot as the Sophia Minch a few days prior. Her crew could be dimly seen perched in the mizzen rigging. As quickly as possible the gun was placed in the most favorable position and fired. Surfman Eveleigh, who was in the rigging with the rest, caught the line. Although the storm raged with unabated fury, the work was now comparatively easy. Under Eveleigh’s directions the whip block was hauled out by the sailors and made fast. The whip and hawser soon followed and were secured to the mast. When taut, the breeches buoy went out and the rescue commenced. The woman was landed first. Then followed, one by one, the four seamen, the mate, the captain, and, lastly Surfman Eveleigh, who reached the shore at 25 minutes after 12, just thirty minutes from the time the gun was fired. The seamen were at once taken to shelter. Though badly damaged, the schooner was subsequently saved along with most of the cargo.

Last Modified 1/12/2016