The Scow Schooner, R. H. Becker

By Bill Wangemann, City of Sheboygan Historian, 1995

The R. H. Becker was a scow schooner of 140 gross tons, 108 feet 2 inches in length, and 23 feet in beam. She drew 7 feet 3 inches. The owners of the R. H. Becker rigged her as a two-masted schooner. At the time of her loss, the R. H. Becker was carrying a cargo of slab hardwood for her owner, the Freyberg Lumber Company of Sheboygan.

The roughly built scow schooners had flat bottoms, straight sides, square sterns, and, many times, square bows. Scow schooners were slow, cumbersome, and plodding, but they could carry large amounts of cargo and were constructed at very low cost. They were rough-work boats. Most often, they carried bulk cargo such as lumber, stone, or coal. Scow schooners usually had two or three masts and a heavy center board to give them added stability when under sail.

J. A. Johnson of Dover Bay, Ohio, built the R. H. Becker in 1867. Captain Charles Dresholdt of Sheboygan and a crew of four were on board at the time of the R. H. Becker's loss.

During a fierce northeast gale on 7 May 1908, the 41-year-old R. H. Becker tried to enter Sheboygan Harbor. The ship was in distress with her holds nearly full of water and her sails and rigging in tatters. The R. H. Becker missed the harbor entrance and began to drift toward the shore south of the harbor. To avoid being driven up on the beach, she let go both her anchors with the seas washing over her.

The plight of the stricken vessel was seen by the lifesaving station keeper, Joseph Dionne. The station keeper and his crew immediately launched a lifeboat and began pulling for the R. H. Becker. The tug Peter Reiss also left the harbor to try to aid the foundering vessel. After several tries, the tug managed to get a line aboard the R. H. Becker and began to tow her ashore. The line soon parted. The R. H. Becker had to drop her anchors again. By now, the ship was in near danger of sinking and began to fly her flag upside down, the universal distress signal. The lifesavers managed to bring their small surf boat along side the R. H. Becker. Four lifesavers transferred to the sinking ship. Once on board, the men tried to pump the ship out. The R. H. Becker was taking water too fast to pump out. The tug Peter Reiss returned with a heavier line. After the third try, they were able to pass the line to the stricken ship. The tug managed to tow the R. H. Becker into the harbor. Due to the large amount of water in the holds, the ship was rolling badly. At last, the R. H. Becker reached the safety of the harbor. Suddenly, a towering sea struck the R. H. Becker broadside. The ship rolled over with her spars and rigging entangling the south pier. The R. H. Becker sank immediately.

The captain and crew survived the sinking, but the ship was a total loss. The next day, they righted the R. H. Becker, pumped her out, and towed the ship to the beach. Once on the beach, the owners determined the ship was beyond repair. A tug towed the R. H. Becker half a mile north of the harbor to a point just off the foot of present-day Michigan Ave. The ship was abandoned at this location and sank in shallow water where she lies to this day.

Becker keywords: R. H. Becker; Freyberg Lumber Company; sailing; history; Johnson, J. A.; Dresholdt, Captain Charles; Dionne, Joseph

03 Jul 96