Site Description

  • Barque
  • 100ffw 33m
  • 140ft Lengths
  • Tobermory, Lake Huron
  • N45 18.713 W081 40.444

The Story of the Commemoration Block/ Underwater memorial/ Marker 

      Research by PAT WILLOUGHBY  – Text and photography by DAN ORR 
      By the mid-l9th century, trade was beginning to blossom between the Great Lakes and England, this due primarily to the improved St. Lawrence Canals in 1848. The barque CHEROKEE launched in May 1853, sailed directly to Liverpool where she and her cargo were sold at a considerable profit. The same year, the construction of a sister ship was completed by George Thurston and the ARABIA was launched on April 26, 1853, at the 
shipyard of the Kingston Marine Railway Company, Kingston, Ontario. George Thurston, no stranger to Great Lakes shipbuilding, built 24 vessels between 1842 and 1869. 
The ARABIA sailed the cargo routes of Lake Ontario until May 1854 when she left Montreal for Glasgow loaded with over 14,000 bushels of wheat and 500 barrels of flour. After successfully working the English coast trade, the ARABIA, unlike her sister ship, returned to the Great Lakes the following summer by delivering a full load of cargo to Chicago. She never again ventured seaward and continued to carry general cargo from the ports on Lake Michigan to the eastern Great Lakes for the remainder of her career. 
The Arabia’s final voyage began, October 1, 1884, when she left the port of Chicago with 20,000 bushels of corn bound for Midland, Ontario, on Georgian Bay, Lake Huron. Under her master, Henry Douville, the ARABIA moved slowly through the Straits of Mackinac and into northern Lake Huron. On October 4, about seventy miles from Tobermory and the entrance to Georgian Bay, she encountered a fierce gale. 
Her crew manned the pumps for the next 18 hours and fought gale force winds, mountainous waves, and freezing spray to keep her afloat. After she passed the lighthouse at Cove Island she began to settle. At approximately 3 AM., October 5, 1 884, her master gave the order and all hands scrambled for the yawl as she slid below the cold waters just off Echo Island. 
The crew was rescued later that day by a passing tug and taken to Wiarton, Ontario. 
The exact final resting place of the Arabia had remained a mystery for nearly ninety years when it was finally discovered in the fall of 1971 by Captain Albert Smith of Tobermory, Ontario. The general area had actually been known years earlier to local fisherman, who called it the `corn wreck’ because the fish caught in this area were found to contain corn. 
      Preliminary investigation and identification of the wreck were conducted under the direction of Stan McClellan, Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. The ARABIA rests eighteen fathoms below the surface three hundred yards off Echo Island within what is now the Fathom Five Provincial Park. 
In the spring of 1984, I requested permission from the Fathom Five Provincial Park and the Ontario Ministry of Parks to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the ARABIA. For the past ten years, my students and I have enjoyed diving the largely intact 19th century barque as partof their advanced and research diver training. The ARABIA, therefore, has special significance and I wanted, in some fashion, to celebrate this special event. I had asked for and received permission to place a memorial stone next to the wreck as part of our celebration. 
Our arrival in Tobermory was marked by a rapid deterioration in the weather, reminiscent of an October 100 years before that claimed not only the ARABIA but also the schooners SHANDON and GOLDEN WEST. The weather the morning of the dive was cold and grey with a stiff wind blowing. Our boat, the MAMIE, a veteran of the lakes (chartered from G & S Watersports and captained by Jay Harris), paid little attention to the blustery October weather as she plowed on through the swells to the wreck site. Tying up to one of two permanent mooring buoys (placed at the site to protect the wreck) was accomplished quickly despite the waves. The divers were divided into four teams, each team with a specific task to perform relative to the placement of the stone. 
Team # 1 (John Obara, Frank Baltes) was assigned the task of attaching a cable from the MAMIE to the stern of the wreck and selecting the site for placement of the stone. Team #2 (Dan Orr, Pat Willoughby) had to take the stone (attached to the connecting cable) to the stem of the wreck and ready it for movement to its final resting place. Team #3 (Bob Kane, Mitch Gannon) had to remove the stone from the connecting cable and move it to its final resting place. Team #4 (Bill Browning, Randy Eilders) had to remove the specially designed carrying crate and place the stone in its final position plus return all rigging to the boat. 
Following the pre-dive briefing with the divemaster, each team discussed their dive plans with the surface support supervisor, Betty Huffman. Each team was limited to only 12 minutes of bottom. time due to a variety of specific safety considerations for each diver (age, body composition, workload, 38 F degree water temperature, extreme depth, etc.). Each team briefed the following dive team as to the completion or modification of their task so that each team knew what to expect at the site. Some changes had to be made in procedures but in our numerous pre-dive briefings we had considered all possible contingencies and when something didn’t go as planned there was. always a backup plan. 
All tasks were completed after one dive by each team, and the memorial stone now rests against the taifrail approximately ten feet from the ship’s wheel. 
      Yes, I did say ship’s wheel. It is lying on the bottom still attached to the steering gear next to the wreck. It’s only one of the many exciting aspects of this largely intact wreck. Deadeyes, anchors, blocks and tackle, masts, spars and more can be seen but not removed by the visiting diver. The ARABIA and all her artifacts are within the Fathom Five Provincial Park and therefore removal of anything constitutes a crime (if not sheer sacrilege). 
Diving the ARABIA involves following a yellow permanent mooring line to a 500 lb. concrete mooring block on the bottom (110′). A light connecting line then leads the diver to the wreck. There are two mooring blocks, with connecting lines either going aft to the starboard railing just forward of the yawl boat davit or forward to the starboard railing just aft of the starboard anchor (I prefer to start my dive off the bow of the wreck). 
Leaving the mooring block, ypu follow the connecting line toward the faint, unmistakable silhouette like a spectre from the past. Swimming closer, the cold green shrouds of a century beneath the waves disappear to reveal the completely intact bow of a 19th century sailing ship. I’ve seen that sight over a dozen times but each time the experience is electrifying. 
To your right, the 30-foot bowsprit with supporting chain shrouds points a lonely finger towards the surface. In front of you is a mammoth wooden stock of one of her two huge anchors still mounted in place attached to their respective catheads. A close look at the shaft of the port anchor reveals the letters A E HART. Who or what it references remains a mystery. To your left, the starboard side railing with attached deadeyes fades into the darkness. As you swim over the motionless anchor windlass, you see a large sampson post and the pump. Handles missing, the pump is forever frozen in its last position, mute testimony to those last frantic, desperate moments. 
You pause a moment trying to imagine what it must have been like on that autumn day one hundred years ago, the wail of the winds in the rigging and the cries of sailors frantically trying to save their ship. But now it’s silent, save for the rhythmic sound of breathing and the exhaust bubbles racing toward the surface one hundred feet above. 
Swimming down the port side railing, you pass the now fallen mainmast with its cross trees and wire rope shrouds no longer straining against the wind. To your left is the centerboard and centerboard winch resting inside the hull. After one hundred years submerged, the hull has spread and the decking has fallen and with that the masts. Continuing down the railing and past the mizzen mast, you see inside the hull a deckhouse door and cook stove which once provided sustenance and warmth to the hearty crew but now gives no comfort against the 38 degree water. 
The stem is less intact and takes some concentration. The destruction of the stem probably occurred as she settled to the hard bottom. Looking around, you see the rudder, quarter deck and taffrail and nearby the ship’s wheel. And what diver can resist the urge to grab hold and in imagination fight the boiling sea and howling winds as her crew did. 
A quick glance at your watch tells you that time is running out and you must surface. As you ascend the mooring line you take with you the special memories of this unique diving experience. You touched history. 
During the last fleeting minutes of that special dive, hands on the ship’s wheel, sail the imaginary ship through the storm-tossed seas of your mind. Before you leave, glance over your shoulder and see the light gray laser inscribed memorial stone left there by a group of divers who wanted to pay homage to the Arabia. The stone is inscribed: 
      built: Kingston. Ontario 1853 
      foundered: October 5. 1884 
      commemorated: October 5. 1984 
      celebrate the history and the experience
      Underwater Education Program 
      Wright State University 
      Dayton. Ohio 

Dan Orr is director of the Underwater Education Program, Wright State University. 
      Inland Seas  Spring 1985, Vol. 41

Author’s note: I am still investigating the history of Arabia and would appreciate any information concerning the ship or crew. I am particularly looking for information regarding the inscription on the shaft of the port anchor: A E HART. Thank you.

Collection of Historical Articles #

      Geo. Wright, Esq., M.P.P. of Brampton, who made a very extensive investment in wheat and flour, during the season, has freighted the schooner ARABIA to convey a cargo of flour and wheat from Port Credit direct to the City of Glasgow. The vessel arrived at this port yesterday and will take on board today a large quantity of flour from the storehouse of Messrs. Borst & Co. When completed her cargo will consist of 14,000 bushels of wheat, and 500 barrels of flour, the property of Mr. Wright. 
      The ARABIA is a very pretty model; three-masted, brig rigged forward, and 283 tons measurement. She was built by Messrs. Counter & Co., Kingston, last season and is a sister ship of the CHEROKEE which was the first vessel to sail directly from Toronto to Liverpool. The ARABIA is the 2nd. in that enterprise, and will leave this port tomorrow for Scotland. 
      Her cargo is consigned to Messrs. Lamb & Fairplay & Co., Glasgow. — Globe 
      Barrie Herald 
      September 27, 1854 
Bark ARABIA. Official Canada No. 32844. Of 283 tons. Built Kingston, Ont., 1853, by George Thurston. three masts. 131.6 x 25.8 x 11.7 Rebuilt 1863, — Wrecked Georgian Bay, 1884  
      Herman Runge Notes 

Related Links #

Vlada Dekina (, 
Warren Lo Photography

Powered by BetterDocs

error: Content is protected !!