Loaded with 32,000 bags of sugar, the 5,000-ton Ward Line freighter Santiago left Cienfuegos, Cuba on March 4, 1924. The week before she had run ashore in Matanzas, necessitating the discharge of about 129 tons of sugar into lighters before she floated free. The sugar was put back on board and, apparently undamaged, the Santiago the sailed for New York.
Three days later, she ran into a severe storm and for the next 70 hours plowed through heavy seas while the wind increased steadily in intensity. The end came the night of March 11th, at a point approximately 60 miles south of Cape Hatteras. It was precipitated when one of the hatches broke open, letting great quantities of water pour into the holds.
The men were set to her pumps but were driven from her hold after several hours by the inrushing water. Perceiving that the open hatch cover was still intact, the first and third mate attempted to move forward to retrieve it. But as they reached the hatch cover, a huge wave poured over the deck and the two officers disappeared. By then the holds were practically filled with water, the pumps were inoperative, the engines had stopped and the vessel was unmanageable. Captain J.S. Baldwin had rockets sent up as signals of distress, ordered the boats launched and gave the command to abandon ship, meanwhile lashing himself to the mast.
In the scramble for the boats, three more men were washed overboard. The first lifeboat was finally lowered over the side, but before it could be moved into the open it was thrown against the huge steel hull, crushed and swallowed up by the sea along with the men on board. The second boat went over successfully, with 11 men aboard. “There was no attempt to man the oars,” a survivor said later, for all the occupants could do was “to cling desperately to the gunwales.” This boat drifted clear of the sinking freighter. Shortly afterwards, with Baldwin still lashed to the mast, the Santiago rolled over and disappeared.
For three more hours the lifeboat drifted in tumultuous sea, half-filled with water, the men able only to hang on for dear life. Suddenly the boat capsized and the 11 men were thrown into the water. Ten managed to regain hold on the over-turned boat.
Early the next morning the wireless station at Charleston picked up a message from the Norwegian steamer Cissy: “Picked up life-boat containing six sailors, three firemen, one carpenter from the steamer Santiago which sank 60 miles south of Hatteras. No other life-boats seen. Proceeding to Baltimore.”