At this time 25 years ago, crowds were flocking to Park Point to see the freighter Socrates, which had been driven ashore on Park Point by a big November storm. Here is a look back in photos and stories from the News Tribune archives…
Chuck and Leeann Richards and their dog, Toby, glance back at the crowd on the dunes watching the beached freighter Socrates on Park Point on Nov. 19, 1985. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)
The Socrates was at anchor off Duluth on the night of Nov. 18, 1985, when strong winds and intense waves drove it ashore on the shallows of Park Point. Here’s the next-day account from the Nov. 19, 1985 News-Tribune:
WIND, WAVES PUSH SHIP AGROUND
By Susan Stanich, News-Tribune staff writer
Winds gusting to 40 mph blew the 584-foot freighter Socrates aground on Park Point in Duluth Monday night, stranding the vessel in shallow, sandy-bottomed waters.
A strong northeast wind hurled 10-foot waves over the Liberia-registered ship late Monday. However, Coast Guard officials said the ship was in no immediate danger and no attempts to free it were expected until today.
The saltwater vessel, with a Greek crew of 24 aboard, was coming into port for a load of wheat bound for Italy, said Dan Sydow, agent with Federal Marine Terminals Inc. in Duluth.
The ship, its decks lit up with floodlights late Monday, was lying almost parallel to the shore near 18th Street South on Park Point, said Petty Officer 1st Class Thomas Dennis, spokesman for Coast Guard Group Duluth. He said the waves were too high for tugs to try to pull the ship to deeper water.
About 7:45 p.m., “one of the people here at the station saw out the window what looked like a ship barreling into Park Point,” he said.
The ship had been anchored offshore when winds gusting to 40 mph began pushing it toward shore, Dennis said. The ship ended up in about 20 feet of water, about 50 feet off shore.
“It’s a sandy bottom, so there’s no hull damage,” Dennis said. “It’s in no danger of flooding, as far as we know.”
The Socrates is blown ashore on Park Point on Nov. 18, 1985. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)
From the moment it started coming ashore, the Socrates drew a crowd of spectators. It remained stuck for days. Here’s an account of the scene from the News-Tribune of Nov. 20, 1985:
GROUNDING LAUNCHED BIG BEACH PARTY
By Bob Ashenmacher, News-Tribune staff writer
At 8 p.m. Monday it was a maritime mishap.
Three hours later it was Duluth’s newest tourist attraction.
The grounding of the freighter Socrates on Park Point instantly turned a storm-lashed Canal Park and Park Point into a carnival.
The festive atmosphere increased Tuesday, until Duluth police — imposing restrictions that will continue today — began stopping sightseers from driving out onto the Point. If you didn’t have a helicopter or Jet-Ski, as some people were employing, you were out of luck.
Duluth radio and television stations began broadcasting word about the ship’s distress shortly after the situation became apparent Monday night. And after the television stations had led late newscasts with the story, hundreds of residents made their way to the area.
Never mind the icy rain, flooded streets or steady 40 mph wind that drowned out most sounds except the roar of the surf.
On they came.
Tow trucks zoomed everywhere, liberating people who had calmly driven into water up to their headlights, stalled and then gotten indignant.
One of the Aerial Bridge’s two lanes was closed for construction, so access was regulated by traffic lights on each end. Drivers ignored the lights, causing several near-collisions on the bridge.
The Warehouse Bar at Canal Park did a brisk business, according to owner Butch Curran. And there was some unusual behavior.
“Yeah, I saw kids standing up there letting waves hit them. Kids were driving up saying ‘Where’s the boat? Where’s the boat?’ Their parents had heard the news on TV in the Cities and called them. Weird, huh?”
Business was slower at Grandma’s Saloon & Deli, probably because it was nearly surrounded by water full of driftwood and other flotsam.
Crowds of chilly boatwatchers keep an eye on efforts to free the freighter Socrates on Nov. 22, 1985. (Jack Rendulich / News-Tribune)
The best action, of course, was out on the beach itself.
When the larger waves hit the side of the Socrates, the resulting geysers of water looked as though the ship was under torpedo attack. Spray catapulted over the tallest rigging and was illuminated by powerful floodlights atop deck cranes.
Already aground, the ship was visibly working its way further toward shore, more securely into the sand. Its bow, feebly lit by two nose spotlights, yawed laterally. An anchor chain set to the lake side jerked and slacked as the vessel rolled.
Occasionally a sound of smashing metal was audible above the roar of the wind and surf; it may have been a raised anchor banging against the side of the vessel that faced the beach.
Viewers made their way to the tops of the closest dunes. they stood bracing themselves against the wind as long as they could stand it, then retreated. They tried to record the spectacle on film with everything from Instamatics to elaborate shoulder-held video units.
On Tuesday, the weather calmed and the hundreds of sightseers turned to thousands.
People tramped through Park Point residents’ lawns on their way to the beach. They took group photographs in front of the vessel. they peeled bark from trees and scavenged driftwood for a bonfire.
Grandma’s did very good business, according to manager Brian Daugherty.
“In fact, we’ve been wondering how much it would cost to sink a ship on a weekly basis if it could be done,” he said.
He wasn’t the only one half-joking Tuesday about the tourism potential of the Socrates.
“My tongue’s in cheek, here — wouldn’t it be terrible if they couldn’t get it off, if it was there all winter?” said a chuckling Dan Russell of the Duluth Convention and Visitors Bureau.
He said the bureau received about 20 calls Tuesday morning from people elsewhere in the state wondering if the ship would be grounded long enough for them to make it to Duluth.
“There’s a tremendous amount of interest in it,” he said.
The Socrates lies stuck in the shallows of Park Point as seen from Skyline Parkway on Nov. 19, 1985. (Bob King / News-Tribune)
The Socrates rests nearly parallel to Park Point on Nov. 19, 1985. (Charles Curtis / News-Tribune)
The crew was evacuated from the ship, and after some delays a flotilla of tugs got to work on freeing the Socrates on Nov. 22, 1985. Eight tugs pulled on the Socrates; six were captured in this memorable image by the News-Tribune’s Charles Curtis:
As you can see in the photo, the tugs succeeded in getting the bow freed and swung around, but the stern stayed stuck in the shallows.
Crews dredged around the stern on Nov. 23, digging a 20-foot trench in the sand around the ship. And on Sunday, Nov. 24, the flotilla of tugs finally worked the Socrates free. Here’s an excerpt from the next day’s News-Tribune:
At 12:46 p.m., after having been coaxed about 120 feet forward, the Socrates started to pick up speed and slipped onto Lake Superior.
“She’s really moving!” said someone standing by a window in the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office at Canal Park. Coast Guardsmen ran to the window from the next room, where some of them had been watching the Minnesota Vikings play the New Orleans Saints.
“That’s it!” “There you go!” “:46 on the hour!” the men exclaimed.
Cmdr. Stanley Spurgeon, commanding officer of the Marine Safety Office, put down his binoculars. “The first big moment was when we got everybody off the ship (last week) … This is the second.”
A radio squawked in the next room: “No oil leakage around the Socrates.”
“And that was the third,” Spurgeon said.
An aerial view of the Socrates and the tugs that freed it on Nov. 24, 1985. (Bob King / News-Tribune)
The Socrates underwent repairs for some holes in a forward ballast tank, but otherwise was relatively unscathed from its unplanned sojourn on the shore.
The News-Tribune of Nov. 27, 1985, included some interesting details. A salvage official said crews needed “every trick in the book” to free the Socrates. Where it landed helped.
“It was on a sandbar. You couldn’t ask for a better thing to run aground on,” said Doug Oppliger, an engineer for Durocher Dock & Dredge. “If you look at the rest of the shore of Lake Superior, there aren’t a whole lot of better places to put a ship.”
Meanwhile, the News-Tribune also talked to the captain of the Socrates for that Nov. 27 story. Here’s an excerpt:
Up in the master’s quarters, Capt. Ioannis Kukunaris was finishing up paperwork and getting his ship ready to sail again.
“The high winds and waves pushed us ashore,” Kukunaris said, struggling to describe the grounding in English. “I saw the worst of the lakes,” he added.
Kukunaris, a seaman for 23 years, would say little about the accident. But Jack Frost, a representative of the ship’s owners, Heliotrope Shipping Corp. of Liberia, said the Socrates and its crew were overwhelmed by wind and waves that forced the ship to drag its anchors and drift into shallow water.
“They saw it was dragging,” he said. “The engines were ready. The crew did everything possible and couldn’t stop it.”
Frost said he doesn’t know the cost of the salvage operation. But Durocher officials have put the price tag at about $500,000 in salvage costs and lost time.
Socrates crew members descend a ladder to a waiting Coast Guard vessel on Nov. 19, 1985, the day after the grounding. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)
The ship left town on Dec. 6 with its load of grain for Italy.
On Jan. 18, 1986, the News-Tribune carried a story about the Coast Guard’s report on the grounding. The report cited the captain of the Socrates, Ioannis Kukunaris, for not reacting quickly enough to the worsening storm.
“He had shown concern about the weather and about the wind, but he took no positive action to meet his concerns,” Cmdr. Stanley Spurgeon, head of the Coast Guard’s Marine Safety Office in Duluth, told the News-Tribune. “It wasn’t a major foul-up, but it had major consequences.”
The Coast Guard said Kukunaris should have moved his vessel farther out on the lake, as another freighter did that evening. They did commend Kukunaris for acting quickly and professionally to prevent damage to the ship once he discovered it was drifting ashore.
Two years later, the Socrates still was sailing the Great Lakes with Kukunaris as its master, although it had not been back to the Twin Ports, according to a News-Tribune article.
As far as where the ship is today… I tried to find out online, but didn’t have much luck. If anyone knows, or if you want to share your memories of the Socrates, post a comment.
And here are two last photos from the News Tribune files…
Tom Maki and Carol Holleman and their dog, Rupert, at their home at 1609 Lake Ave. S. on Nov. 21, 1985. They saw the ordeal of the Socrates from their front windows. (John Rott / News-Tribune)
Pete Williams watches dredging operations around the Socrates on Nov. 23, 1985. (Joey McLeister / News-Tribune)
And one note for anyone looking for Part 2 of the Mr. Magoo the Mongoose story… I haven’t forgotten, and I’ll post it soon.