By Terry Gallagher
News and Information Services
Researchers at the Center for Great Lakes and Aquatic Sciences (CGLAS) have discovered a previously uncharted, “extraordinarily well-preserved” wreck of a 19th-century three-masted sailing ship on the bottom of Lake Huron.
While there are hundreds of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, the U-M discovery is unique because the ship is whole and upright with masts and rigging still in place, according to CGLAS director Theodore C. Moore Jr.
“There are not many shipwrecks in Michigan waters that are of this age, this size and in this condition,” Moore says. The U-M has applied to the state Department of Natural Resources for permission to explore the wreck through the use of remotely operated diving devices that will transmit video images and gather samples.
The shipwreck was discovered July 25 with a sonar device on the U-M research vessel Laurentian. A class of undergraduates was on board the ship at the time the wreck was discovered. The class was examining the geology and biology of the lake under the direction of Linda M. Goad, a research scientist in CGLAS and adjunct professor in the School of Natural Resources.
“We could tell that it was a large ship, approximately 150 to 200 feet long, with three fairly sizable masts, in an extraordinary state of preservation,” Moore says. “You could see eight or nine hatches on the main deck, as well as other details.”
“The ship appears to be a sailing vessel typical of those in use on the Great Lakes between 1870 and 1900,” according to Scott Peters, exhibit coordinator of the Michigan Historical Museum in Lansing. “The arrangement of the hatches indicates that it may have been in the bulk cargo trade. The real treasure behind the find is the information that it may contain for archaeologists and marine historians. I’m very pleased that the U-M both found the wreck and intends to follow up with further research.”
John Halsey, an archaeologist in the Michigan Bureau of History, part of the Department of State, verified that the shipwreck’s location has not been previously reported. State historians have given U-M scholars a list of vessels of this size that were reported missing and presumably sank during this period.
While the wreck is of great historical importance, Moore emphasizes that finding sunken treasure is very unlikely. Ships of this type and size on the Great Lakes were used to transport lumber and agricultural products that would have no commercial value today.
Moore says the exact location of the wreck will be kept secret until it has been studied thoroughly.