Long-lost ship found on Lake Huron confirms tragic story

Traverse City, Michigan (AP) — Even in the Thunder Bay area, a dangerous stretch of northern Lake Huron off the coast of Michigan, the Ironton’s fate seems particularly grim as it devoured many ships.

The 191-foot (58 m) freighter collided with a grain carrier on a stormy night in September 1894, and both sank. The Ironton’s captain and her six crew boarded the lifeboat, but were dragged to the bottom before the lifeboat could be removed from the ship. Only two crew members survived.

Shipwreck hunters have long avoided graveyards.

Now that the mystery is solved, those involved Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary said Wednesday in Alpena, Michigan. The Associated Press obtained details of the discovery ahead of the announcement.

A team of historians, underwater archaeologists and engineers discovered the wreckage in 2019 and deployed remote-controlled cameras to scan and document it, superintendent Jeff Gray said in an interview with The Associated Press. The sanctuary plans to reveal its location in the coming months and is considering placing a mooring buoy at the location. We keep our discoveries secret to prevent them from interfering with the

Video footage shows the Ironton sitting upright on the lake bed hundreds of feet below, and like many other Great Lakes wrecks, it is said to be “amazingly preserved” by the cold, fresh waters. Mr Gray said.

No human remains were found. However, the lifeboat remains tethered to the larger vessel, a poignant confirmation of eyewitness accounts from 128 years ago.

“Archaeologists study things to learn about the past. “And that lifeboat really connects you to the scene and reminds you how powerful the lake is and what it must have been like to work on it and lose people. “

The search and inspection involved a number of organizations, including the Ocean Exploration Trust, founded by Robert Ballard, who found the sunken wreckage of the Titanic and the German battleship Bismarck.

“We hope this discovery will contribute to the closure of the extended families of those who died on the Ironton River and the communities affected by their loss,” Ballard said. , is another piece in the puzzle of Alpena’s fascinating location in American trading history”, while the Thunder Bay Reserve “continues to uncover lost chapters in maritime history”.

About 200 shipwrecks are believed to lie within or near the boundaries of the sanctuary, which includes the Great Lakes Marine Heritage Center in Alpena and approximately 4,300 square miles of northwestern Lake Huron.

Several factors have made the area an “alley of shipwrecks” for more than two centuries, according to Stephanie Ghandula, the reserve’s resource conservation coordinator, but modern navigation and weather forecasts have made it dangerous. sex has been reduced.

The late 1800s was a time of great commerce on the Great Lakes. Thousands of schooners, or sailboats and hundreds of steamships, carried cargo and passengers between bustling port cities such as Chicago, Detroit, and Cleveland.

The Sanctuary area was like a cloverleaf on the Maritime Highway. Vessels traveled between Lake Huron and Lake Michigan and passed through the nearby Strait of Mackinac. Other ships were sailing north to Lake Superior to extract iron ore from mines in the Upper Peninsula of Minnesota and Michigan for steel mills.

“It’s where upstream and downstream transportation intersect,” says Gray. “High-traffic intersections are where most accidents occur.”

The weather was notoriously erratic, with heavy fog and sudden storms. Islands and underwater reefs lurked.

On that fateful night, the Ironton and another schooner, the Moonlight, were being towed north from the Lake Erie town of Ashtabula, Ohio, by a steam-powered vessel. railway. They were due to head to the port city of Marquette on Lake Superior.

The steamer broke down in the raging waters of Lake Huron at about 12:30 am on September 26th. Ironton and Moonlight separated by disconnecting the towline, and Ironton’s crew set sail and started the engines.strayed off course and crashed into the course Cargo ship with 1,000 tons of flour, Ohio About 10 miles from Presque Isle, Michigan.

Ohio soon sank and 16 crewmen were rescued by Moonlight. She remained afloat for over an hour before the Ironton sank.

The newspaper reported that William Parry said he and two other Ironton sailors bobbed on the choppy lake for about 30 minutes until another steamer, the Charles Hebbard, appeared. Parry struggled aboard as Hebbard lowered the lifeboat with several crew members.

They picked up two other Ironton men. However, a wave overturned the ship and threw everyone into the water. Hebard’s crew threw a line and pulled everyone to safety except Ironton’s companion Ed Borthwick.

“This is a powerful, tragic story,” Gandhula said.

The gale was so strong that it damaged another schooner, William Home, far west of Lake Michigan. Six of the seven crew members died.

Officials at the reserve, part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, conducted a sonar survey in the area where Ironton and Ohio collided in 2017. They detected two images of him on the bottom of the lake, one of which was later identified as Ohio. Another was a recent shipwreck.

It took two more years to track down Ironton, a few miles away. Ballard’s organization provided an autonomous surface vehicle designed for seafloor mapping. After several days of searching, they found a person later confirmed to be Ironton.

Higher resolution scans from 2021 have provided more detailed information. Mr Gray said the ship was mostly unscathed. Its mast is facing the sky and lies on the deck with rigging and ropes tied to the spars. A robotic camera also showed a lifeboat tethered to the stern.

The sanctuary is awaiting federal and state permits to install fixed buoys weighing up to 3,000 pounds (1,360 kilograms) on the lake bed. Divers could attach the boat to a flotation device and put their heads down to explore the long-lost vessel.

“Then we can share it with the rest of the world,” Gray said.