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The steamer, now a popular diving site, was built as a bulk carrier in 1871 and sank after running aground on rocks six kilometers east of Port Colborne.

A shallow wreck in Lake Erie is a favorite of local divers. Although the steamer Raleigh is showing its age from the effects of waves and ice, it is still an interesting place to explore.

Built in 1871 in Cleveland, Ohio at the shipyard of NC and HJ Winslow, the Raleigh was designed as a bulk carrier. Her dimensions were given as 227.3 by 34 by 15 feet and her registry number was US 110154. As with most ships on the Great Lakes, her 40-year career on the lake was not without incident. However, none resulted in her total loss until November 30, 2011.

The headline of a Buffalo newspaper, “Three lives lost when steamer runs aground on rocks in Lake Erie, four miles east of Port Colborne,” sums up the tragedy of the event.

The ship had left Port Colborne with a cargo of pulp for Erie, Pennsylvania. As it set off, it encountered strong winds and heavy seas. Conditions only worsened as the night wore on.

By midnight the steering gear stopped working and the ship was at the mercy of the waves. The hatches were bolted and two anchors were lowered as she approached the Canadian coast. The anchors dragged on the sandy bottom and as the cargo moved the hatch covers were blown off. Water entering the ship extinguished the fire in the boiler and the ship was driven toward shore where she eventually came to rest west of the Port Abino lighthouse and offshore of the Empire Limestone Company’s plant at Shisler’s Point.

The captain had ordered the crew to prepare the lifeboats, and as the situation looked dire, the crew boarded them – five in the smaller lifeboat and seven in the other, larger one. The smaller lifeboat reached the shore, but the heavier one capsized and the people in it were thrown into the water.

The engineer, a man named Pritchard, made it back to the deck of the Raleigh, but Fred Wise and his wife, cook and stewardess were never seen again until their bodies later washed ashore, only five feet apart or, according to one report, in each other’s arms.

Pritchard’s body was also found about a mile away. He had apparently tried to swim to shore, wearing two life jackets, but they were apparently of no use. Workers from the nearby Empire Limestone Quarry assisted the survivors, and attempts were made to launch a tugboat and lifeboat, but conditions made this impossible.

This wreck is not the one you can see out in the lake, which was slowly being dismantled on the spot. That ship was the Steel Products. The Raleigh lies completely submerged in about 30 feet of water west of the Steel Products. Her bow points toward Point Abino and her stern toward Port Colborne. The Niagara Diver’s Association marks this and other wrecks in Lake Erie with a Coast Guard-approved buoy. This allows boats with divers to visit the site, with a buoy provided for safe mooring. It is also a popular fishing area.

Because it lies in fairly shallow water, the wreck shows the effects of over a century of wear and tear from waves and ice. Although it has been greatly altered, the wreck is an interesting place to visit. The steam capstan at the bow lies in place, with the chain running south. Many years ago, divers were able to follow this chain to one of the anchors. However, this 5,000 pound anchor was recovered and is on display at the Port Colborne Historical and Marine Museum. The chain is becoming increasingly difficult to see as it becomes covered with sand. A capstan (a simple capstan) lies near the capstan and another is also in the museum. The wooden hull has collapsed and can be easily explored.

A highlight of the dive are the large boilers on site. These provided steam for the tower compound engine that powered the Raleigh. A smaller boiler, probably used to power the winches, shows signs of an explosion, probably when it was submerged in the cold water when the ship sank. At the stern, parts of the broken steering gear, an anchor winch among some wreckage and the large rudder can be seen.

A 3D view of the site and other shipwrecks on the Great Lakes can be found online at 3D Shipwrecks on Sketchfab.

Currently, Dan’s Dive Shop in St. Catharines offers charters to the Raleigh shipwreck and others in Lake Erie. Call or email to book.

Call 905-984-2160, visit (email protected) or by email (email protected).