Over the Waves: John B. King

This week, we are going to leave the East Coast and venture along the St. Lawrence Seaway to the Brockville narrows. Just offshore of Cockburn Island lies the wreck of a drilling scow that met a quick and violent end - the John B. King.

Ship Stats

  • Nationality: Canadian
  • Length: 42.7 metres
  • Beam: 15.2 metres
  • Weight: 684.1 tonnes
  • Crew: 42
  • Class: Drill scow, wooden

Owned by John King B. & Co. Construction, the John B. King was a drilling scow leased by John P. Porter & Sons from St. Catharines. On contract in the waters of the St. Lawrence near Brockville, ON, the scow and her crew were in charge of widening and deepening a section of the channel.

The scow was equipped with 12 drills, an on board blacksmiths shop, and large boilers that produced steam for both the engine and the drilling system. The drills would bore deep down into the riverbed and the crew would then deposit dynamite charges into the holes. Ideally, the scow would then move off and ignite the charges from a safe distance away. Unfortunately, on June 26th. 1930, this wasn't going to be an option.

The weather had been particularly violent that day - a large storm had come in, offering relief against the heat wave that had smothered the area over the past few days. As the storm raged on above, the scow stayed in place on the water, floating above its recently placed charges. The U.S. Coast Guard cutter Succor (CG 211) was sailing nearby when there was a flash and the scow suddenly disappeared in a burst of flame and smoke. A bolt of lightning had struck her where she was, igniting the dynamite on board and setting off the charges in the riverbed below. By the time the smoke cleared, the John B. King was already on the bottom of the channel.

The Succor was the first vessel on the scene, pulling 12 crew members from the water. They would be the only survivors - 13 more bodies would be recovered over the coming days. 30 men lost their lives when the scow went up in smoke.

The wreck currently lies in 24m of water to the west of Cockburn Island. The wreck is considered very dangerous to dive due to its tangled state and the strong currents in the area. Some divers have been pulled into deeper water just off from the wreck, so it is only recommended to divers who are significantly experienced.

Unfortunately, I couldn't come up with a suitable image for this wreck. If anyone knows of any photos of the wrecksite, let me know!

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