The Luxury Steam Yacht Gunilda was the flagship of the New York Yacht Club and the pride of its owner, oil baron William Harkness, one of the wealthiest men in the world at the turn of the century. However a penchant for cutting corners sent this vessel to a watery grave in the Great Lakes.

Harkness took his family and some friends on a cruise up the Great Lakes during the summer of 1911, with plans to fish for speckled trout in Lake Nipigon, Ontario, accessible from the northern edge of Lake Superior via Schriber Channel. En route, the handsome 59.4-meter vessel drew stares of admiration for her fine mahogany wood accents and gold scrollwork on her immaculate white hull.

Harkness put into Jackfish Bay, Ontario, to inquire about retaining a local guide to navigate the channel, but balked at the fee. Sure that his crew of 20 could ease the steel-hulled yacht safely through the final leg of the journey to the fishing grounds, he ordered Captain Alexander Corckum to “carry on!” At his command, the majestic vessel steamed out across the bay on the foggy morning of August 29 on what was to become her last voyage.

The ship was 8 kilometers from Rossport, Ontario, when it slammed into McGarvey Shoal. No one was injured, but the Gunilda Shipwreck was stranded with 25 meters of her hull perched atop the rock, with the remainder dangling precipitously over nearly 100 meters of water. Harkness took a launch ashore to arrange for the area’s heftiest tugboat, the James Whelan, to pull the Gunilda off the shoal.

The tug captain arrived with a barge in tow, then recommended that a second barge be brought in to form a sling to stabilize the stranded yacht. But Harkness refused to pay for the extra watercraft, so the rescue attempt proceeded without this precaution. A sling was tied to theJames Whelan, which tugged mightily to loosen the yacht. When at last it broke free, the Gunilda keeled to starboard. Her masts hit the water and, as the vessel filled with water, the Harkness family, friends and crew scrambled to safety aboard the tugboat. Within minutes, the flagship of the New York Yacht Club found a new home at the base of McGarvey Shoal.

It doesn’t pay to be cheap

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