The Madeira was representative of a little-documented vessel type called the schooner-barge. The vessel was built to carry bulk cargoes of grain, lumber or iron ore economically about the Great Lakes and on the coasts, under tow of a steam powered freighter. Each steamship could tow two or three similar-sized schooner-barges, for a considerable savings in fuel and personnel costs. A minimal sailing rig of five to seven sails was provided on the schooner-barges to aid the towing vessel.
Madeira's general design was in keeping with that of late 19th and early 20th century Great Lakes bulk freighters. The majority of the hull and superstructure were built of heavy steel, riveted plates, with wood joinery comprising most of the remainder. No propulsion engine was fitted, but a donkey boiler was fitted to help the small crew handle heavy lines and raise the anchor. The Madeira had a plate keel and was shaped very flat and full to maximize cargo capacity with minimum draft. Channel floors may have been used for the flat bottom of the hull, as was common practice in shipbuilding at that time, in order to avoid shearing of frame rivets and cracking of frames through rivet holes during grounding. Madeira's registered length was 436 feet, it was 50 feet in beam and 24.2 feet in depth of hold.
At the bow, Madeira's patent anchors were set approximately 8 feet above the waterline on port and starboard. The capstan was mounted forward in the topgallant forecastle. Aft of the capstan, the deckhouse sat on the centerline of the vessel just forward of the end of the bulwarks. Madeira carried three masts and was rigged as a baldheaded schooner, with upper and lower staysails, boom and gaff on all masts. A steam winch was located aft of each mast. The ship was flush-decked amidships, with ventilators on the centerline between the hatches. Great Lakes bulk carriers of this period had standard hatch dimensions; 8 feet fore and aft, spaced on 24-foot centers, frame spacing was 24 inches. Aft, a solid rail surrounded the Madeira's stern house. Above the stern house, the smaller pilothouse was set forward on an open bridge. The Madeira's boat, on gravity davits, was set on the starboard side of the open bridge. Madeira's small, white funnel was immediately aft of the pilothouse. Madeira's original colors were black for the hull, as well as the winches and bitts, and white for the deckhouses and funnel. The vessel's name was painted on the bow in yellow.
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