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October 17, 2013
It’s a demon wind that sinks a cargo ship carrying good luck charms.

Yet, no talisman could counter the 90-mph storm of November 1913 that blew 12 Great Lakes freighters and more than 250 crew to the bottom.

“The storm of 1913 was the worst storm ever,” said Mac McAdam, a member of the Great Lakes Maritime Institute board of directors from Dearborn.

Not even the 249-foot steamer, Regina, carrying horseshoes among her mixed cargo, survived intact.

“I added the combined tonnage of ships lost during the storm,” said Robert McGreevy, a marine artist and author formerly of Grosse Pointe, now living in Port Huron. “It added up to eight freighters the size of the Edmund Fitzgerald. Most of the ships sank in lower Lake Huron.”

The Regina lay undiscovered, upside down in 80 feet of water about 3 1/2-miles offshore between Lexington and Port Sanilac until found by accident in 1986 by commercial diver, Wayne Brusate, of Port Huron.

“I was looking for a tug boat that sank in that area,” Brusate said. “I came across a much bigger wreck.”

He swam down the broken hull past a large propeller and rudder to the nameplate on the stern: Regina.

Spilled cargo on the muddy lakebed included horseshoes.

“Think of the Regina as a general store,” said Brusate, in charge of the St. Clair County Sheriff’s Department dive team. “It supplied towns in the Canadian north with barbed wire, files, champagne, scotch whisky, soap, medicines, bails of hay and sewer pipe on her deck.”

About 50 artifacts from Regina are being sold at silent auction during the maritime institute’s dinner, 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, at Blossom Heath Inn, in St. Clair Shores. The dinner commemorates the storm’s centennial.

Tickets cost $40 each.

“This is a once-in-a-lifetime thing,” McAdam said.

According to John Polacsek, retired director of Dossin Great Lakes Museum and an institute board member from Detroit, artifacts include:

seven-inch white bowls,

wooden thermometer holders,

a gallon jug,

the bottom half of the ship’s compass housing,

the brass base for the ship’s telegraph, the top half of which was torn off in the storm,

a large metal block with a hook attached,

a brass door lock made by J. E. Stewart in Glasgow, Scotland, and

parts of oil lamps.

The silent auction includes:

glass jars marked “Chivers” that held kosher English preserves,

white ceramic lotion jars,

bottles of lotion produced by the A. S. Hinds Company in Portland, Maine,

Heinz 57 ketchup bottles,

metal spoons,

full bottles of Whyte & McKay Scotch, Dewars Scotch and bottles of Mumm’s champagne sold only as artifacts.

Before dinner, artifacts, which Brusate salvaged in accord with a Michigan permit, are exhibited at Gifts Afloat, 24601 Jefferson between Nine and 10 Mile, in St. Clair Shores.

The dinner includes presentations by Brusate and McGreevy about the big storm.

“We’ll discuss the difficult salvage efforts and eventual rewards,” Brusate said. “The audience will see the wreck as we first found it, before zebra mussels covered everything.”

McGreevy gives a half-hour presentation about the stranded 500-foot freighter, Howard M. Hanna Jr.

“She’s typical of the ships that sank during the storm, but the entire crew survived,” McGreevy said. “Everyone from the captain to the cook left a written account of what it was like in the storm.”

He read the accounts to piece together reasons the boat floundered.

“It is probably what also happened to the other eight ships that sank in lower Lake Huron that same day,” McGreevy said.

The sinkings were due to a series of physical forces coupled with overconfident skippers, McGreevy said.

“There were problems with the design of hatch covers of ships of that period,” he said. “The ships were extremely under-powered.”

“When you can’t keep your bow into the wind, there’s difficulties,” Polacsek said.

Tickets to the Great Lakes Maritime Institute’s 2 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 27, full-course dinner and silent auction of shipwreck artifacts are available at Gift Afloat, 25601 Jefferson, St. Clair Shores; by calling (586) 777-8300 or through PayPal by visiting glmi.org. Blossom Health Inn is located at 24800 Jefferson, St. Clair Shores.

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