Maritime History: Shipwreck of the SS Regina

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The SS Regina was a Merchant Mutual Line cargo ship that was based in Montreal, Quebec. Regina had a tonnage of 1,956 gross register tons (GRT) and a crew of 32. It was named after Regina, Saskatchewan.

After suffering extensive damage during the Great Lakes Storm of 1913, the ship sank. She became renowned as the “Great Mystery of the Great Storm of the Great Lakes” after being lost for more than half a century. She has been a popular dive spot for scuba divers since her discovery and is now part of Michigan’s Underwater Preserve system.

Read The Scuba News Canada’s article on the Great Storm of 1913

Regina was built in 1907 by A. McMillian & Son in Dumbarton, Scotland. The ship was launched on September 4, 1907, and finished in October of same year. The ship’s first registration was at Glasgow, Scotland. The ship was re-registered in Toronto, Ontario, after ownership was passed to the Canadian Lake Transportation Company in 1912 and then to the Canadian Steamship Lines Incorporated (CSL) in 1913. Regina was utilized by CSL to convey a range of commodities to various ports along the Great Lakes as part of their package freight operation.

Regina was travelling north on Lake Huron from Point Edward, Ontario on November 9, 1913. During the night, one of the worst storms ever to hit the Great Lakes erupted. (Great Storm of 1913) The waves were up to 38 feet high (12 m). Regina was carrying a diverse cargo at the time, having 10 stops on her itinerary. There was enough canned goods to fill eight railroad cars, 140 tons of baled hay, and sewer and gas pipes heaped atop the upper deck, as well as scotch and champagne.

The captain attempted to get to a safe harbour during the storm. After failing to do so, he ordered the ship to be anchored close to shore about 7 miles (11 km) east of Lexington, Michigan, and the lifeboats to be dropped. Regina capsized and sank after mooring. The ship had driven aground, with a massive hole near the cargo hold and other dents, according to a later analysis of the disaster. Two dead were discovered at Port Franks, Ontario, in a capsized lifeboat from Regina, and ten more bodies were discovered on a nearby beach. There were no Regina survivors.

Because several of the dead of Charles S. Price’s crewmen were wearing Regina lifebelts, sailors initially assumed Regina collided with another ship sunk in the storm, the Charles S. Price. This notion was debunked when the Charles S. Price was discovered capsized in Lake Huron; a diver confirmed that the ship was the Charles S. Price and that there were no signs of a collision.

During the Great Lakes Storm of 1913, twelve ships foundered, and the location of the shipwrecks was a source of confusion. A massive steel ship was discovered floating bottom side up on Lake Huron the day after the storm, on November 10, 1913. The bow was around 30 feet (9.1 m) above water, while the stern dipped underneath to the point where the length of the carrier could not be determined. Every visible section of the hulk was covered in ice, and no identifying signs could be seen. The visible length seemed to correspond to the size of the missing freighter, therefore it was initially considered that this vessel was Regina. The ship was not identified as Charles S. Price until the morning of November 15th, soon before she sank on November 17th.

“BOAT IS PRICE — DIVER IS BAKER — SECRET KNOWN,”

Port Huron Times Herald: November 1913

The wreck of the Regina was discovered in Lake Huron in 1986 between Lexington and Port Sanilac, Michigan. The wreck is mostly intact, however it is upside down and in roughly 77–80 feet (23–24 m) of water. Wayne Brusate, Garry Biniecki, and John Severance were the ones who discovered her. Thousands of items, including hundreds of complete bottles of still potable Scotch and champagne, were recovered during an archaeological salvage effort led by underwater archaeologist and shipwreck expert E. Lee Spence in 1987. With approval from the Michigan State Department of Natural Resources, the Secretary of State, and the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Brusate and other divers did approximately 400 dives on the wreck, retrieving an estimated 1% of the wreck’s relics. The state and museums had first dibs on the relics, with Brusate keeping the ones he didn’t want. In 2013, Brusate gave more items to museums for display.

The scotch and champagne recovered from the crash of the SS Regina were auctioned off in Chicago, Illinois in June of 1988. People queued up for the wine auction, with scotch and champagne fetching up to $90.00 a bottle. Around 300 bottles of French champagne and Scotch whiskey were salvaged from the Regina, bringing in a total of $3,460 at auction. Other things salvaged from the Regina have been auctioned to assist further salvage operations. (1988) The search for the ship’s safe, which reportedly contained $86,000 in gold coins worth at least $2 million at current bullion prices, proceeded underwater.

The gold was thought to have been used for the payroll (workers) of the Sault Ste. Marie locks, which connect Lake Superior and Lake Huron.

It is unknown at this time if the safe/gold coins were ever found.

Scuba Nick @ YouTube

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Kathy is the owner of Kirk Scuba Gear, a passionate Scuba Diver, Ocean Advocate and Managing Editor of The Scuba News Canada

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