A ship that sank in Lake Michigan 142 years ago has been found almost entirely intact by Wisconsin historians.
The schooner Trinidad was Discovered 270 feet deep in Lake Michigan off the coast of Algoma, Wisconsin.by historians Brendon Baillod and Bob Jaeck.
“The wreck is among the best preserved shipwrecks in Wisconsin waters. The deckhouse is still intact and contains the crew’s belongings, as well as the anchors and deck equipment that are still there,” a statement said.
The boat sank in the lake in 1881. Baillod and Jaeck found it in July, using survivorship reports and historical records and a side-scan sonar to pinpoint the ship’s location.
Despite the passage of time, the ship was in near-pristine condition: the ship’s wheel was found on the seabed with no part missing. The main part of the boat was intact, the poles severed. The deckhouse only featured a notch in the roof, but the main structure remained largely untouched.
The 140-foot schooner – similar to a sailboat with extra sails – was used primarily in the grain trade between Milwaukee, Chicago and Oswego, New York.
Her last voyage was on May 11, 1881, when the Trinidad was shipping coal to Milwaukee and suffered a leak while en route through the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. The boat sank 10 miles off the coast of Algoma, “taking with it all the crew’s belongings and the captain’s Newfoundland dog,” according to the press release.
Captain John Higgins believed the hull had been damaged while the ship was crossing ice fields in the Mackinac Strait.
All nine passengers – including the captain – survived. They rowed the yawl boat to shore for eight hours.
The boat’s original owners did not maintain it, which has resulted in a decline in value. Insurance records show the Trinidad was worth $22,000 in 1867, but by 1878 she was worth half that, Baillod said in one press release.
The hull began to leak and the captain almost died when a block fell from the rigging. In 1879 the boat was no longer suitable for transporting grain and was sold.
In May 1880, the boat was commissioned to haul coal to the mines on Lake Superior’s Silver Islet – a route the older ships never took. On the way to the pier, it hit a reef and ripped out 10 feet of the bottom.
The boat was hastily salvaged and returned to service, Baillod said.
It was sent on what was supposed to be its final voyage, but the captain stopped halfway to await winter. It sank shortly after resuming its voyage.
Baillod and Jaeck began searching for the Trinidad, built in New York in 1867, two years ago. Baillod became interested in the shipwreck when he created a database of all known shipwrecks in Wisconsin waters, Baillod said.
Historians believed the shipwreck met “all the criteria” for discovery because the crew had given a good description of where the Trinidad sank and the boat slowly sank – meaning there was a good chance it was still in one piece was.
After relying on historical ship logs and the crew’s description of the sinking, Baillod was able to determine a search area of about a third of a mile.
They nearly missed the wreck on the sonar, but after rescanning the area, they spotted the ship.
A second team confirmed the wreckage after taking measurements on the hull.
The two historians are working with the Wisconsin Historical Society to have the site nominated for a National Register of Historic Places.
With post wires.