Ship captain Andrew Port was not only a dynamic and brave Georgian Bay mariner, he is a personal favourite historical character of mine.
The history of the Grey/Bruce region has many interesting and dynamic characters. Because I enjoy researching and writing about Great Lakes history, a personal favourite of mine is ship captain Andrew Port. He was one of the many courageous men who captained the vessels which provided transportation and communication links between various Georgian Bay communities in the late 1800s.
Operating from his home harbour of Wiarton, Captain Port and his vessel, the Prince Alfred, sailed between Owen Sound and Tobermory, with the occasional trip to Manitoulin Island. In 1880 the land routes on the peninsula were little more than forest trails. Consequently, Port kept his vessel sailing as long as he could find a path through the ice and often set sail before the ice had melted from the bay.
One of my favourite stories about Port occurred in the late winter of 1880. Although ice still covered most of Georgian Bay the determined ship captain set out for Tobermory. The trip to the tip of the Bruce Peninsula was without incident, however, once into port, the Prince Alfred found itself barricaded by ice and unable to continue its return voyage.
However, this did not dampen Port's spirit. He took advantage of the ice which imprisoned his vessel, crew and cargo. Twenty men were hired to cut ice which was stored with an eye to sailing at a later date and selling the results of this harvest in the American mid-west.
Finally, friendly winds blew the ice jam blocking the harbour out into the bay and Port set out for Manitoulin Island. On April 5, 1880 they began their return journey to Wiarton. However, off Cabot Head the vessel became surrounded by a large ice field. Undeterred, Port continued. By the time they neared Lion’s Head, the Prince Alfred was completely locked in the ice again. Entry to Lion’s Head’s harbour was impossible. Yhe situation was further complicated by a broken rudder which made the vessel susceptible to the whims of its icy master.
To conserve what was left of the fuel, the engines were shut down and the crew maintained a 24 hour vigil trying to keep the ship and themselves from an icy coffin. After a treacherous voyage which took the vessel to within 40 miles of the north shore of Georgian Bay a wind arose which blew the ice and its captives to the mouth of Colpoys Bay.
Still trapped in the ice, the ship's captain looked to shore, perhaps somewhat wistfully. The warmth and safety of home seemed so near, yet so far. Port worried about those who awaited their arrival. To dispel their fears he braved the treacherous ice to walk to shore at Big Bay where he telegraphed Wiarton to give the news of their safety
Finally, Port was able to bring the Prince Alfred to shore near the entrance to Colpoys Bay were he took on more fuel and fashioned a make-shift rudder. Finally, the vessel limped into port and the Wiarton Echo on April 16, 1880 reported that the gallant little craft had made it into Wiarton 8:00 am Thursday morning.
This odyssey, perhaps, prompted Port to forsake the Prince Alfred and purchase a larger vessel, the Jane Miller. He hoped that the Miller would be less susceptible to the whims of winds and ice of Georgian Bay. Unfortunately, and not without a certain amount of irony, this action would have fatal results for the ship Captain Andrew Port. In November 1881 the Jane Miller sank in Colpoys Bay and the icy waters of Georgian Bay claimed one of its most courageous competitors, Captain Andrew Port.
A version of this story first appeared in my Local History column in the Owen Sound Sun Times.
List of Lighthouses on the Great Lakes: If you have names and/or pictures of Great Lakes Lighthouses please submit them along with details of their location.
Georgian Bay Ships: A List of all the ships that sailed on Georgian Bay until the 1960s. This list is not complete. If you know of a ship that sailed the waters of Georgian Bay please contact me with information about that vessel, and, if you have a picture that I could post with it, that would be much appreciated.
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Sailing Season Closing: A Frantic Time on Peninsula as ships raced from port to port delivering and picking up passengers and produce before the waterways froze.
Ship Captain Andrew Port was not only a dynamic and brave Georgian Bay mariner, he was a personal favourite historical character of mine.
Ships Stuck in Ice: The Oak Glen was icebound in 1996 but this sailing hazard has been impacting vessels on Georgian Bay since the beginning of time.
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Shipwrecks: The "Asia" wrecked off the eastern coast of Georgian Bay taking all but two of the more than 100 passengers to a watery grave.
Masters, Mates, and Pilots Association created its first Canadian chapter on Georgian Bay, providing maritime safety education, and other seafaring issues to better inform its membership.
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Sailing Stories: the Captain Who Smelled his way into Port The Captain Who Smelled his Way into Port details how pioneer seamen on Georgian Bay safely sailed the rough waters without the aid of the modern technological tools so readily used by today's mariners.
Sailing Story: The Voyage of the Prince Alfred the incredible voyage of the Prince Alfred, fraught with danger for both vessel and the crew in the winter of 1880.
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