By Richard Palmer - Pall Times
More than two centuries ago, early in the development of commercial sailing, a particularly bad spot for shipwrecks was located a few miles west of Rochester at what today is Hamlin Beach State Park, then known as “Devil’s Nose.”
One of the first such mishaps occurred there more than two centuries ago. The location is approximately seven miles west of Braddock’s Bay, near Rochester.
The reason why so many wrecks occurred here is no mystery. Fortunately, no loss of life was been recorded.
While the headland is easily spotted from the lake, there is — or was — a dangerous shoal extending outward from the shore, which was visible only during a heavy gale when the seas broke over it. Geologists say this shoal was the result of centuries of washing by waves and precipitation.
The Coast Pilot,” which was once the bible of navigators, warned sailors to keep half a mile off shore for good water as there was a “dirty spur” almost a mile east of Devil’s Nose, with only feet of draft on it, roughly three-eighths of a mile out.
Of the many vessels wrecked on Devil’s Nose, nearly all wound up there as a result of heavy weather, especially when the lake was fogged in. The ships would become hopelessly wedged in the boulders and break up like toothpicks.
This was the fate of the two-masted schooner Undine which was bound for Sodus on Nov. 1, 1890, and many others.
The first recorded shipwreck there was the Canadian schooner Duchess of York more than 213 years ago. About the only details existing of this wreck were reported in a newspaper published at Niagara-on-the-Lake, the Niagara Constellation, on Dec. 7, 1799:
“On Thursday last, Nov. 29th, a boat arrived here from Schenectady. She passed the York, sticking on a rock off the Devil’s Nose. No prospect of getting her off.
A small deckboat also, she reports, lately sprung a leak 12 miles distant from Oswego. The people on board, many of whom were passengers, were taken off by a vessel passing, when she instantly sank. Cargo is lost.”
Later, on Dec. 21, 1799, another newspaper, the Upper Canada Gazette, reported:
“We hear from very good authority that the schooner York, Captain Murray, has foundered and is cast upon the American shore about 50 miles from Niagara, where the captain and men are encamped. Mr. Joseph Forsyth, one of the passengers, hired a boat to carry them to Kingston.”
Forsyth had been a merchant at Niagara since 1793 when he arrived aboard the lake’s earliest private merchant vessel, Dorchester. The vessel was 80 tons, and built near Kingston in 1787.