The R.H. Rae

Rae's Railing & Deadeyes

R.H. Rae's Railing & Deadeyes (31K)

Three-masted Merchant Barque

136.5' x 23.2' x 11.2'

344 ton


(note: quotes taken from the St. Catharines Journal Thursday October 8th, 1857)

The Barque R.H. Rae was built by Donaldson & Andrews of St. Catharines Ontario in 1857 for the firm Rae Bros. & Co. of Hamilton. She was launched Monday October 5th, 1857 and christened by Miss Andrews, eldest daughter of one of the firm. She was described "as a piece of naval architecture she is pronounced second to none on the lakes". Classed A-1, the highest classification, she had a number of innovations.

The R.H. Rae was the first Canadian vessel to incorporate Cunningham's patented self-reefing topsail design. This system was demonstrated at the time of launch, and one of the topsails was deployed and reefed in a span of three minutes with no men going aloft. This was a major step forward, as men being launched into the sea, or vessels being damaged when forced to carry too much sail had always been major concerns.

Instead of normally floating the "ceiling" at or below the main arch, they continued up to the deck against the ribs, then the arch is put on and over that the "clamp". Although this process consumes a few feet more wood, the additional strength and consequence security obtained more than counterbalance the expenditure.

Another improvement is the placing of two strong iron bars behind each mast, down through the keelson, instead of alongside the centerboard box, according to the usual plan. Around the centerboard is generally the strongest portion of the vessel and if leaks do occur in the box, they are always aggravated by the action of the mast, but this principle adopted by the builders of the Rae will alleviate all such occurrence in future and keep that part as watertight as other portions of the craft.

The Rae has also a double bulkhead, a precaution against accident that will be easily appreciated and comprehended by those not at all acquainted with seafaring life.

Her first voyage under the command of Capt. Bowman was to Chicago and back. After wintering in Hamilton, she was to haul cargo to the "old country " in the spring of 1858. We don't know if this trip was undertaken or not.

The R.H.Rae capsized and sank during a white squall on August 3,1858. All of the crew managed to escape.


The wreck of the R.H. Rae was first discovered by Barbara Carson of Kingston in 1976. At her invitation, Cousteau visited the site during his Great Lakes expedition in 1980. Over the years, only a handful of divers have known the location of and have dove the wreck.

During the summer of 1996, the M.R.Duck's from Duck's Dive Shop in Point Traverse with the help of Chris Kohl (Dive Ontario & Dive Ontario Two books) and a side scan sonar unit "rediscovered" the R.H.Rae. She is now open for public diving from charter boats in both Port Traverse and Kingston.

Current Description

The R.H. Rae rests upright on her keel and is still relatively intact, considering she has been on the bottom for 138 years. The deck has collapsed in most areas, but the hull with it's pointed bow and squared off transom are in excellent shape.Still visible is a carved symbol on the transom. Unique to this wreck is a split rudder system with its tiller gear steering system. Spread over the deck area are a number of various sized blocks and deadeyes, some pottery and tools. The railing is intact in some areas and laying on the deck in others. Also of interest are several sections of wooden bilge pipe and what appears to be an anchor winch (not windlass) on the bow. The R.H. Rae is a very interesting pre-Confederation vessel.

Underwater Photographs

Rae's TransomR.H.Rae's transom (24K)

CarvingCarving on R.H. Rae's transom (40K)

Tripple blockTriple Block on R.H.Rae (30K)

Wooden Bilge PipesRae's Wooden Bilge Pipes (21K)

ForedeckR.H. Rae's Foredeck (20k)

Article by Ian Marshall

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