On this day 100 years ago, Captain I. Halvarsen pulled into the port of New Orleans and related the tale of how he managed to tow a schooner for 24 hours and rescue all of its crew members shortly before it foundered and sank, all without the benefit of any communication equipment.
American schooner Diria, approximately 1364 gross tons, foundered seven miles off the coast of Guantanamo, Cuba. The schooner, only two years old and worth $300,000, was bound for Baltimore from the Cuban ports to transport the Manganese ore. A schooner usually has at least two masts; however, this particular schooner contains five masts and was built in July, 1917 by Columbia River Shipbuilding Corp., Portland, Oregon. This organization was organized in 1918 and led by A. F. Smith and J. Frank Watson to build cargo ships for the U.S. shipping board. This organization built 32 ships in total before the war — which resulted in the end of this organization.
The schooner was fully functional for two years before it was foundered at the coast of Guantanamo, Cuba. The schooner shipped lumber on the West Coast for San Salvador, ore for Philadelphia and army supplies from New York to London and France. The Diria Schooner’s distress signal was noticed by Captain I. Halvarsen, skipper of the Lake Champlain on October 15th at 5:45 am. He managed to keep the schooner afloat for twenty-four hours and boarded the crew members of the schooner onto his steampship. He also managed to tow the schooner behind the steamship for a day until it began to put Lake Champlain in danger. Eventually, the schooner was cut loose and was foundered a few minutes later. The steamship, Lake Champlain, was bound from Cuba to New Orleans with cargo of sugar. The news of the foundering and rescue was received in New Orleans, as they arrived, due to the lack of radio equipment in 1919.
“Steamship Brings News Of Disaster Sinking of Schooner Diria Described by Lake Champlain’s Captain.” Times-Picayune. November 11, 1919. Access World News – Historical and Current.
“WRECKSITE – DIRIA SCHOONER 1917-1919.” Accessed October 9, 2019. https://www.wrecksite.eu/wreck.aspx?211867.
Williams, Greg H. The United States Merchant Marine in World War I: Ships, Crews, Shipbuilders and Operators. McFarland & Company, Inc., Publishers, 2017.