The Resurfaced Tugboat

Courtesy of The British Museum

Courtesy of The British Museum

On May 4, 1868, an unexpected squall washed over Lake Ontario, battering the city with hail and tiny black stones described as “akin to pumice.” The frigid winds and choppy waters caught many mariners off guard.

The tugboat Robb was nearly lost in the gathering fog, but its silhouette was just visible from port. A handful of longshoremen saw something they would never forget: The boat swirled around, seemingly caught in a whirlpool, and the aft lifted into the air.

“It was as if the lake were sucking the boat down,” one laborer told the Toronto Sentinel.

Two weeks later, another blanket of fog eased over the lake, this time unaccompanied by storm. To onlookers’ amazement, the Robb emerged, coasting lazily toward the shore. No crewmen were present, and loose equipment and personal effects had been stripped from the interior. Examiners concluded that the boat had been fully subsumed in water, though none could explain how. Stranger still: The ship had then resurfaced, been drained of water and set adrift.

Owing to serious damage and a general sense of foreboding, the Robb was decommissioned, broken, and sold for scrap.

All hands were declared lost.

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