Description: freighter, steel.
Dimensions: length 291.2 ft., width 43.1 ft., depth 20.6 ft.
Tonnage: gross 2953, other.
Propulsion: steam. propeller.
Machinery: 3 cylinder triple expansion engine, cylinder diameters of 21", 34", 56" with a stroke of 36".
Cargo: 400,000 ft. of hard pine, rosin, turpentine, cotton, cloth, iron cores, clay, naval stores, boxed fruits (oranges, pineapples), cottonseed meal, rice, et cetera.

The Shipwreck

Date Sunk: December 26, 1903.
Cause: collision.
Location: On mile Southeast of Boston Lighthouse.
Coordinates: latitude 42° - 19' - 19" N; longitude 70° - 51' - 52" W.
Loran: 13991.6 and 25791.5 and 44265.5.

Delayed by an easterly snowstorm, the United Fruit Company steamer Admiral Dewey lay at Long Wharf in Boston. Its intended destination was Port Antonio, Jamaica, where it would load fruit bound back to the city. Shortly after noon, Captain Israel, anxious of further delay, decided to get underway and set course for Nantasket Roads, the harbor's southern exit.

At about the same time Captain Israel was preparing to leave Long Wharf, the newest addition to the Clyde Steamship Line, Kiowa was approaching Boston from the south. Less than a year old, the freighter was nearing completion of only its 14th voyage, having just left New York after loading at Jacksonville and Charleston, South Carolina.

As the storm intensified, wind driven snow reduced visibility considerably. Fearing to enter the harbor under such conditions, Kiowa's commander, Captain I.K. Chichester, anchored his vessel near the approaches to Nantasket Roads, about two miles outside Boston Light, north of Ultonia Ledge and west of Thieves Ledge.

An hour had elapsed since the Admiral Dewey left Long Wharf. Proceeding at slow speed and with utmost caution, the steamer had just cleared Nantasket Roads when suddenly Kiowa appeared out of the gloom directly ahead. With mere feet separating the two steamers Captain Israel could not stop his vessel in time to avoid a collision. Admiral Dewey's sharp bow struck Kiowa on the port side aft of the main rigging, cutting deep into the hull nearly to the keel. The force of the collision almost capsized Kiowa, but as the vessels parted, it settled back on an even keel. As Kiowa was taking on water fast, Captain Chichester immediately ordered all watertight bulkheads closed and distress signals sounded. Although the collision had mortally wounded Kiowa, Admiral Dewey was hardly scratched and stood by the stricken steamer to assist in rescue operations if necessary.

The first to answer Kiowa's distress whistle was the tugboat Cormorant, Captain George Ham, which was inbound with an empty scow on a 600-foot towline. Cutting across Kiowa's bow, careful that his tow cleared the other vessel, Ham first rescued two men in a rowboat, which had been launched from Kiowa to assess the damage and proved helpless in the gale. He then ran Cormorant up to the sinking steamer's lee side, where seas were calmer. By now portions of Kiowa's deck were awash. In some places only her rails stood above the rising sea. When Cormorant maneuvered close to Kiowa's stern, Captain Chichester ordered his men to jump for their lives as the freighter sank from beneath them. Miraculously there were no fatalities.

Dive Site Conditions

Depth in feet: maximum 45, minimum 30.
Visibility in feet:;

Salvers cleared Kiowa's wreckage to a depth of 30 feet. In places wreckage rises ten feet off the bottom but most of the debris is flat.

Historical Background

Constructed: in 1903, at Philadelphia, Pennsylvania by William Cramp & Sons Ship and Engine Building Co.
Construction details: 3 decks, 1 wood sheathed; 6 Bulkheads.
Crew: 35; Master: I. K. Chichester.
Owners: Clyde S. S. Co.
Home or Hailing Port: New York, NY.
Official number: 161229. Country: U.S.A.
Other Comments: two masted, schooner-rigged, considered one of the finest freighters on the coast.

Salvage

On December 27, 1903, the Kiowa was found to have settled on an even keel. At low tide there was 11 feet of water over its decks with only the tops of its masts and smokestack above water. The following day portions of Kiowa cargo began washing ashore at the Glades. The value of this cargo was estimated at $165,000. Lifesavers were dispatched to keep a lookout for wreckage and prevent pilfering.

The Boston Towboat Company was awarded the salvage contract. On the morning of December 29th work commenced as the tug Ariel towed the lighter Melrose to the sunken steamer, where three divers began removing cargo. The next day, the schooner Mary A. Whalen, returning from the fishing grounds, brought in 5 bales of cotton retrieved from the bay. Calm weather permitted salvage work to go on unhampered. According to one published source, on January 1, 1904 "about 100 bales of domestics, 200 boxes of oranges and 15 bales of cotton" had been recovered. However, favorable conditions were not to last. By January 7th the vessel's upper deck collapsed and it was "racked and badly battered." As Kiowa broke up, portions of her cargo continued to drift ashore. On January 17th "Great sticks of hard pine lumber and barrels of turpentine" were found firmly frozen in the ice at Small Cove, just over the Hingham Bridge.

On March 31, $1,100 was raised from the auction of 18 bales of cotton and 14 bdls of cloth, recovered from the wreck. By June 8th the Boston Towboat Company abandoned work raising Kiowa. Although another company applied for the privilege, permission was not forthcoming. However, by August 1st wreckers were back at work on the steamer. Unfortunately, published sources don't list this new company by name only that a "Captain Sorenson" was in charge of salvage work. His divers reported that one hatch had been cleared of lumber and the hull was in good condition. Work consisted of plugging holes in her stern, securing hatches and making the hull watertight. On August 30th steam pumps were lowered to the wreck, but a few days later attempts to raise the steamer were unsuccessful.

The Boston Towboat Company received the contract from the U.S. Government to remove the wreck, as an obstruction to navigation, before December 1st. The plan was to dynamite the wreckage and "save everything possible." Work commenced on September 9th. By the 19th they blew up Kiowa's decks and secured 50,000 feet of lumber.

Sources:

Boston Globe; December 26, 1903
Boston Post; August 6, 1904
Fishable Wrecks and Rockpiles; Coleman & Soares; 1989
Lippincott's Pronouncing Gazetteer of the World; J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1874
Merchant Vessels of the United States; 1903
New York Maritime Register; December 31, 1903; January 6, 13, 20, 27, 1904
March 30, April 6, June 8, August 3, September 7, 14, 21 1904
New York Times; December 27, 30, 1903
Shipwrecks and Nautical Lore of Boston Harbor; Sullivan, 1990
The Fisherman, August 18, 1988
The Record, "American Lloyds", American Bureau of Shipping; 1904