THE WRECK OF THE JACOB BERTSCHY
by Chester C. Reddeman, marine historian


On September 3, 1879, the screw steamer, Jacob Bertschy of Detroit, Michigan commanded by Capt. G. W. McGregor
bound from Saginaw, Michigan to Cleveland, Ohio heavily laden, having on board nineteen passengers and a crew of thirty-two persons was lying weatherbound at Port Austin, Michigan by an easterly gale. The wind suddenly changed to north and blew violently. The steamer began to pound on the bottom. 

The captain was obliged to weigh anchor and take to the open water. The vessel cleared the dangerous reef in that locality and was steaming down the lake apparently all right when she sprang a leak and began filling rapidly. Her steam siphon pump became choked and useless. To prevent her from foundering, she was headed for land. The captain hoped to beach her between the docks at Grindstone City where the passengers could be easily landed, but the vessel got too close to shore in the darkness before bearings could be taken, The fires were extinguished by the water and she struck about ten o'clock at night a quarter-mile from shore and three hundred yards southeast of the Grindstone City dock. 

A boat containing both mates and four men was lowered from the steamer soon after she struck in hope of getting help from the nearest lifesaving station, which was near the Point Aux Barques lighthouse seven miles away. The boat capsized almost immediately. The men clung to it and were washed ashore on some shelving rocks at the foot of a bluff forty feet high, which they were unable to scale. Another attempt was made about midnight by means of a boat, which broke adrift with only one man and was washed ashore at the same place, the man joining his  companions at the foot of the bluff. They remained clinging to the rocks in the rain and darkness bruised, drenched and hungry until seven o'clock in the morning when they were discovered by some of the citizens of Grindstone City, who hauled them up the bluff with ropes.

It was seven o'clock in the morning of September 4 when information was brought to the lifesaving crew by mounted courier from Grindstone City. The keeper sent for a team and in a few minutes had it hitched to the boat wagon containing the surfboat, men and equipment. They did not arrive at the scene of the wreck until nine o'clock. The journey of two miles took two hours because of the rough and sandy road. The boat was launched without delay.

About five hundred people gathered on the pier at Grindstone City which projects into the lake in a northeasterly direction. Southeast from the outer end of the pier at a distance of a quarter mile seen though the driving rain, lay the wrecked steamer, heeled over to starboard with water flying in great sheets over her. She was already breaking up, and her passengers and crew were grouped on the upper deck lashed to the bulwarks where they had been for hours, drenched by the flooding breakers. Between the vessel and the pier was a terrible sea running from the north-northeast in heavy furrows. The surfboat had to cross this threatening expanse of water in order to reach the wreck.

A crew of volunteers attempted to go out to the wreck in a fishing boat, but as soon as they got beyond the protection of the pier they felt the heavy sea and put back. Meanwhile the lifesaving crew was on their perilous way. To the spectators on shore and to the group on the wreck they seemed to go down, as their boat sank from sight in the troughs of the sea, but on each
occasion the boat rose to the summit of the waves with her bow headed steadily for the stranded steamer. The entire crew was working with their might at the oars. They reached the wreck in ten minutes and threw a line aboard. 

The surfboat was held loosely to the wreck by the connecting line and as the action of the waves would permit they would come up and snatch the people from the wreck. Two men jumped into the water and worked their way to the wreck where they directed the transferring of those on board to the surfboat. The position of the steamer afforded no shelter to the surfboat and the seas washed though between decks and came curling around her bows, constantly threatening to dash the boat to pieces against the hull of the wreck. 

The first to be lowered over the bulwarks were the eleven ladies on board and a little boy. None of the people on the wreck were injured in any way. Aboard the wreck the stanchions were cracking and the cabins were settling, but all forty-four persons were saved in four trips all made within an hour. About six o'clock the storm abated and the crew of the vessel went out to the wreck and brought back the luggage of the passengers and the cabin and stateroom furniture.

The Jacob Bertschy was built at Sheboygan, Wisconsin by Stokes and Lochlin in 1867 and was launched in August of that year. She was 145 feet overall length, 26 feet 4 inches beam and 10 feet 6 inches of hold and measured 467.32 tons. At the time of her loss she carried a cargo of 1,400,000 wooden shingles and a small amount of freight. She was valued at $11,000, and insured for $5,000. The massive remains of the wreck lies in 10 feet of water at N 44.03.42 W 82.53.13

Without knowing what it was or how it got there, the Bertschy has been a favorite fishing spot of the local residents for years.
There is also a small boiler near the end of the shorter pier which is in 8 feet of water and is about 6 feet long and 4 feet in diameter.

Prepared by Chester C. Reddeman, marine historian 20 March 1968.

Converted to HTML by Ricky Royce 05 April 2005.

 

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Pasco County Florida History Page

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