—Wisconsin's Maritime Trails —
Listed on the National Register of Historic Places
In the waters off Outer Island lies the wreck of the Pretoria
, one of the largest wooden vessels ever to sail the Great lakes. On September 1, 1905, Captain Charles Smart and nine crew departed the Allouez ore docks in Superior, Wis., in tow of the steamer Venezuela
. They were bound for Chicago with a load of iron ore. The following morning the two vessels encountered a ferocious gale 30 miles northeast of Outer Island. When Pretoria's
steering gear failed, they headed for the shelter of the Apostle Islands. The tow line snapped before they reached the islands, leaving the colossal Pretoria
helpless and wallowing in the heavy seas. In the poor visibility, the Venezuela
lost sight of the Pretoria
Captain Smart lowered his anchors, but they could not hold in the rocky bottom. The pounding seas ripped the hatch covers, and Pretoria
started taking on water. The anchors finally took hold a mile and a half off Outer Island. By mid-afternoon, a big roller had ripped off a deck house, and the waves were tearing away at the deck. Captain Smart finally ordered Pretoria's
crew to the lifeboat. The crashing surf near shore capsized them and flung them ten feet into the air. The elderly lighthouse keeper on Outer Island , John Irvine,
repeatedly plunged into the waves and pulled five men to safety. The other five drowned.
Today, the Pretoria
lies in 55 feet of water off Outer Island. Marked by a Wisconsin Historical Society seasonal mooring buoy, the broken hull lies amid a large debris field. The donkey boiler, salvaged in the 1960s, was returned to the site in 2001. Pretoria's
anchor chain is draped around Bayfield's waterfront as ornamental fencing, and her anchors are on display at the Madeline Island Historical Museum.
Type: Wooden schooner-barge, three-masted
Built: 1900, Davidson Shipyard, West Bay City, Mich.
Sank: September 2, 1905
Length: 338' Beam: 44'
Cargo: Iron ore
Depth of Wreckage: 55'
Lives lost: 5