Schooner E. P. Dorr "The Fight To Rescue Those On Board"


      On the 11th day of September 1878, a gallant rescue of six men and a woman was methodically affected by the 9th District crew of from Charlotte Lifesaving Station No. 4. The "Schooner E. P. Dorr" out of Oswego, New York was observed just after 9:00 p.m. The E. P. Dorr was loaded down with coal, stranded approximately 1,200 yards from shore and a mile west of Lifesaving Station No. 4. According to historical documentation, the skies that night were dark, rain was steadily falling, the seas were tumultuous and waves were rolling in from the northeast.

      One of the surfman walking his nightly beach patrol saw a torch burning bright out in the waters of Lake Ontario. The surfman quickly returned to station and reported his sighting.  Joseph O. Doyle Keeper-in-Charge at Charlotte had his surfmen went to get the carriage that was near the station. Keeper Doyle’s ordered his men to place the surfboat up onto the carriage as quickly as possible. Once the surfboat was securely fastened down onto the carriage the men positioned themselves for deployment. The group of surfmen dragged the heavily latten carriage about a mile down the soft sandy beach. As the team moved quickly down the beach, Keeper Doyle and his men kept the stranded vessel within their sights. The toughest part of their journey was getting carriage down a twenty foot sand embankment.

     Once they reach their beach line destination the surfmen from Charlotte Lifesaving Station No. 4 and Keeper Doyle launched the surfboat into the heavy seas. The lifesaving station crew reached the Schooner E. P. Dorr just before 11:00 p.m. The schooner was sitting in a really bad position for this type of rescue and lying head long in heavy rolling seas. The water’s along the Lake Ontario were racing alongside the schooner. The waters continue to tumble in and around the schooners stern as the men continue to make their way towards the E. P. Dorr. Keeper Joseph O. Doyle and his men continued to race towards the stranded schooner. The seven men aboard were subjected to the elements and the strong current that continued to pound away at their tiny surfboat. This constant pounding made maneuvering the tiny craft difficult and the station crew struggled as they continue to maintain their line toward the schooner. Heavy seas, rain and worsening conditions on the lake made arrival at the schooner extremely difficult. What makes this situation even worse for those who were pulling hard against the seas was fatigue.

     The situation aboard the E. P. Dorr was favorable, even though the seas were putting a heavy burden on the lifesaving crew. The six men aboard schooner would not leave the ship without the woman who was responsible for feeding these men. The crew aboard the schooner had some difficulty in persuading the woman cook to just over the side of the stranded schooner. After some discussion a couple of the men picked up the woman and drop her safely into the arms of the surfmen aboard the surfboat. Once the woman was safely aboard the surfboat another one of the crew member jumped off the deck of the E. P. Dorr. Unfortunately, he landed in the water just past the surfboat. One of the surfman reached over the side and hauled him into the surfboat. Just as the crew member was situated in the surfboat heavy sea swept the surfboat some fifty feet astern of the E. P. Dorr. There was a thick rope that was attached to the starboard scull-hole of the surfboat and the schooner. The tension on the rope had reached the breaking point as the seas continued to pound away at both vessels. The rope broke apart and splintered into multiple pieces. As heavy seas continued their on slot, a large wave lifted the entire surfboat almost upright and onto its stern. If this situation wasn’t corrected the entire crew and those who were just pulled of the schooner could have been thrown into the raging lake. Keeper Doyle acted quickly and kept the surfboat upright even though his crew had a very difficult time keeping the surfboat heading directly into the raging seas. Keeper Joseph O. Doyle knew he had to change his oar position from the starboard scull-hole to the midship stern scull-hole right away. Doyle decided the best way to do this was to lashed the oar securely in place.

     In the meantime the Schooner E. P. Dorr had broached forward. This single movement gave the crew from Charlotte Lifesaving Station #4 a better shot at pulling off the remainder of the crew still on board the schooner. Now with a renewed sense of urgency the lifesaving crew quickly went back to work. They pulled off the last five men from the E. P. Dorr. The Keeper Doyle and his crew were now on their way back towards shore. The elements and heavy seas continued to plague their journey. Each one of the surfmen and Keeper Doyle were really fatigued and suffering from exposure. The crew members rescued off the schooner were cold and their clothing was soaking wet. As they made their way towards shore heavy seas and large waves continued to sweeping over the tiny surfboat. The journey for everyone aboard the surfboat seemed to take forever. Once the surfboat reached the shoreline the woman cook fainted as she stepped out of the surfboat and onto the sandy beach. She was picked up and carried by one of the surfman to a cottage nearby. Once inside the woman cook and the six men were helped by those inside. 

    As a result of his heroic under “Specially Hazardous Circumstances” the United States Lifesaving Service awarded Keeper Joseph O. Doyle the “Gold Lifesaving Medal” on the 2nd day of August 1879.  

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