Hundreds of Shipwrecks Were Revealed in Lake Michigan as Water Cleared
In 2015, Lake Michigan, one of the five Great Lakes of North America, put on a particularly rare show – crystal clear waters were created by specific climatic conditions that prevented the growth of algae blooms, revealing hundreds of shipwrecks lying on the sandy bottom, many of them unidentified.
The U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Traverse City captured a series of spectacular photographs of the wrecks after noticing the clear water conditions and posted a selection to their Facebook page.
Left: The 121-foot brig James McBride, which sunk in 1848. Right: Two sunken ships – one just visible in the lower right, the other clear in the upper left. (U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City )
The photos were taken near Sleeping Bear Point known as the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve, which was once a booming shipping area, as well as a place where ships “sought safety by attempting to ride out storms,” according to the preserve’s website. Manitou Passage is now one of the richest areas in Michigan for shipwreck diving.
Left: A wreck in shallow water below cliffs. Right: Another unidentified wreck spotted in Lake Michigan (U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City )
“Not much is known about most of the wrecks,” reported Susan Cosier, writing for On Earth “but they do include one doomed vessel, the James McBride, which was thought to be the first to carry cargo from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Michigan in 1848.”
With the advent of European exploration into the area in the late 17th century, Lake Michigan became part of a line of waterways leading from the Saint Lawrence River to the Mississippi River and thence to the Gulf of Mexico. Thousands of ships sank while traversing the Great Lakes. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum approximates 6,000 ships and 30,000 lives lost.
Map of the shipwrecks in the Great Storm of 1913 (Wikimedia Commons)
“Littered on the bottom of the Great Lakes are the remains of more than 6,000 shipwrecks gone missing on the Great Lakes since the late 1600s when the first commercial sailing ships began plying the region, most during the heyday of commercial shipping in the nineteenth century,” reported the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association. “The vast expanse of these inland waterways provided a natural transportation system linking the Midwestern states and portions of Canada to the rest of the world.”
One of the most famous lost ships of Lake Michigan is the Griffin, built by French explorer René-Robert Cavelier in 1679 to explore the Lake and the Mississippi River, but it was lost the same year.
“The Griffin sailed for the Niagara September 18,” History of the Great Lakes says. “A favorable wind bore her from the harbor, and with a single gun she bade adieu to her enterprising builder, who never saw her again. She bore a cargo, valued with the vessel at fifty or sixty thousand francs [in furs], obtained at great sacrifice of time and treasure. She was placed under the command of the pilot, Luc, assisted by a supercargo and five good sailors, with directions to call at Mickili-mackinac, and from thence proceed to the Niagara. Nothing more was heard of her.”
- Ill-fated ship of ill-fated explorer reportedly found in Lake Michigan
- 9,000-year-old complex hunting structures found beneath the Great Lakes
Featured image: Father Louis Hennepin’s woodcut of the Griffin (Wikimedia Commons image)
The Michigan Shipwreck Research Association said that unpredictable weather makes the Great Lakes some of the most dangerous waters in the world.
Sudden storms, fire, and fog have resulted in the destruction of these many thousands of vessels… Several hundred of these vessels—mostly hard-to-maneuver sailing crafts—have been the victims of the raging winds and currents that pounded them into kindling along shore. However, many hundreds more were lost in deep water far offshore. To date, only some 300 shipwrecks have been found beyond the surf line in Lake Michigan within the state waters of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. Many more await discovery.
Today, the shipwrecks of Lake Michigan remain popular with adventure divers keen to catch a glimpse of this amazing slice of history.
One of the shipwrecks in Lake Michigan visited by divers, the F. T. Barney, 1856 (Wikimedia Commons)
Featured image: This 133-foot long wooden steamer, the Rising Sun, is in 6 to 12 feet of water just north of Pyramid Point, where she stranded on October 29, 1917. All 32 people on board were saved. (U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City)
By Joanna Gillan