Divers explore eerie wreck of a ship lost more than a century ago

The James. C. King was a majestic schooner that had been used to haul timber from lumber yards in Canada and USA through the icy waters of the Great Lakes in the early 1900s. When steam ships became more efficient, the King was converted to a powered vessel and later to a barge that was towed by larger, newer ships to aid in the distribution of goods and cargo. On a stormy night with gale force winds and driving snow, the King and her towing vessel, the W. L. Wetmore, were under way through a treacherous passage known as Devil Island Channel. The weather had forced them off course in the night. Aptly named, the channel is a perilous narrows with rocky shoals that have wrecked many ships. Captain Hartman of the Wetmore was a seasoned sailor but the weather was against him as the visibility prevented him from seeing the nearby lighthouse that he would use to gauge his position in this dangerous strait. The wind tossed his ship and barges with a force that he could not overcome. He was unable to steer the trio of vessels and he was forced to engage the engine at full throttle in an attempt to outpower the fierce wind and get clear of the nearby shore. His efforts proved unsuccessful and a telltale scraping sound told him that the ship had struck a rock with the main propeller. With no other choice, the Captain pushed on, desperately hoping to clear the danger and navigate to the safety of open water that lay in view ahead. A second, more disastrous sound echoed in the night, audible over the howling wind. His crew knew they were now without power or steering and they prepared to be dashed upon the rocks. One crew member was pinned as a towing cable scraped over the hull of one of the barges and struck his thigh. He suffered a badly broken leg as a result. With the ship about to break up, the crew of the Wetmore and the King decided to take their chances in the icy waters. Together they swam to Russell Island where they were able to see the last of their ships slip beneath the pounding waves. They huddled together and built a fire to keep warm, a tactic that would see them survive the rest of the biting winds. For nearly 36 hours, the crew fought off hypothermia and weathered the storm until a passing ship caught sight of their fire and rescued them. The crew credited teamwork as the reason that no lives were lost in this disaster. Now, the wrecks of the Wetmore and the King lie on the bottom, preserved by cold water for the last century. Scuba divers explore these waters and inspect the wrecks, reminded of the incredible power of the wind and the weather, as well as the unpredictable and unforgiving force of nature. These wrecks are eerie and beautiful, seen only by those with the privilege of being able to slip beneath the surface to enter this icy realm.