Steamer Panama as she appeared at time of loss

Type:		Wooden Bulk Freight Steamer
Length:		290 x 41 x 25 ft., 2044 gt.
Depth:		5 - 20 ft.
Location:	Mineral Point
LAT/LON:	46.50.17'/89.32.89'
LORAN:		32200.8/46518.9

The Panama was an oak hulled bulk freighter launched on May 19, 1888 at Trenton, Michigan as the John Craig. She was built by John Craig & Son at the Linn & Craig Shipyard as hull #34 and was enrolled with US official number 76729. She was built for the J.C. Gilchrist Transportation Co. of Cleveland, Ohio. She could carry 2044 gt., 1596 nt., and was 275.0 x 41.6 x 20.4 ft. She was powered by a triple expansion steam engine with cylinders of 19, 30 and 52 inches diameter and a 40 inch stroke. She could generate 900 hp and her 2 Scotch boilers had a steam pressure of 160 pounds. She was driven by a single screw propeller. She carried 2 masts and 2 smokestacks and had a small cabin on her deck amidships. Photos of this vessel exist both as the John Craig and as the Panama.

As the John Craig, she was severely damaged when she fetched up on Simmons Reef in Green Bay, Lake Michigan on June 25, 1903. She was recovered with considerable effort and rebuilt in 1904, receiving the new name Panama. After her rebuild, her dimensions were 290 x 41 x 25 ft. She was owned by the Davidson Steamship Company and had only one smokestack.

Steamer Panama as the John Craig

On November 21, 1906, she was upbound off the Keweenaw Peninsula with a cargo of coal and the barge Matanzas in tow when she was assaulted by a vicious storm. The added hull stress began to open her seams and she began to admit water to her hold. As she neared Ontonagon, the water she had been taking on began to overwhelm her pumps. When it appeared that she might founder, her master, Captain Jones ordered that she be run aground. At full speed, she was plowed ashore at the mouth of the Mineral River some 14 miles west of Ontonagon where the waves began to pound her on the rocks. The crew was forced to abandon her in their yawls, and rowed ashore where they had to camp out in the woods until the weather abated. Her barge Matanzas had been cut loose and was able to anchor off shore. The Matanzas was towed into Ontonagon by the fishing tug The Tramp, but the Panama proved to badly damaged to repair. The waves had broken her in two amidships and spilled much of her coal cargo into the water. Over the next two days, the waves continued to abuse her until her hull was unsalvageable. With her cargo, she was an insurance casualty of $40,000

In subsequent years, a team of salvors removed her boilers and engine as well as some of her coal cargo and any fittings or hardware of value. Her recovered boiler and engines were placed in one of the Davidson Steamship Company’s new vessels built at Buffalo, New York in 1907. Lumber and other materials were later scavenged from her remains by beachcombers and most of her remains then settled to the lake bottom. More recently, groups of sport divers stripped her of any remaining brass and most other artifacts. She is now protected from illegal salvage by state law as she is a historic wrecksite.

Her remains lie just off the mouth of the Mineral River in 5 - 20 feet of water and are completely broken. Her ribs and keel remain along with battered sections of hull and some machinery. She is still a very interesting dive, and some of her remains are visible from shore. She lies at LAT/LON 46.50.17’/89.32.89’ and is easily accessible as a shoredive. Because there are few other wrecks in the area, she is seldom dived. She can be reached by taking Hwy 64 and is just east of Silver City.

References: Lake Superior Shipwrecks - Wolff, Great Lakes Bulk Carriers - Devendorf, Milwaukee Public Library - Runge File, Greenwood’s Namesakes, Dave Swayze Wrecklist

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