The recent discovery of a late-nineteenth century Canadian schooner in Lake Ontario peaked my interest this past week in the potential of underwater archaeology in the Great Lakes (especially the nearby Lake Ontario, which is only too familiar to me, being a life-long Rochestarian). I posted recently about a weekend excursion to the Thousand Islands during which time I took a clear-bottom boat tour of the shipwrecks in the St. Lawrence River. You can read a little bit about it here. It was fascinating, and reminded me of just how awesome it would be to do underwater archaeology (if I could get over my fear of deep water, that is). In any case, I thought that I would talk briefly about this new and exciting discovery which seems to be all over the news (NPR has been talking about it for 3 days, so it must be big!).
About a year ago, local shipwreck explorers (AKA the people with the coolest job title in the world), discovered the location of this shipwreck using sonar in the lake near Oswego while sweeping the area for historic wrecks. The explorers included Jim Kennard, Roger Pawlowski and Roland Stevens.
“This summer the team returned to the wreck site three times deploying a VideoRay remote operated vehicle (ROV) to obtain video recordings and sonar measurements of the shipwreck in an effort to identify the sunken ship. The wreck was that of the remains of an old schooner. The deck, much of the stern and the cabin are missing. The masts are gone except for a small stub about 3 or 4 feet of the foremast. Both sides of the ship have fallen away and lay next to the hull. Except for the area around the bow, most of the schooner lies flat as a pancake on the bottom. The anchors that would have hung on the bow rail and the windless used to hoist them are also gone. The scene of the wreck site is most characteristic of a ship that capsized with its parts and pieces torn or fallen away while upside down during a violent storm.” (source)
Below is the fascinating history of this particular wreck, pulled from the ‘Shipwreck World’ website:
“In early November 1890 the schooner Ocean Wave, heavily laden with a cargo of hemlock lumber and lath, was bound for Oswego from Trenton, Ontario. When the schooner was within 15 miles of its destination it encountered a sudden and violent squall from the south. A tug boat captain reported he was forced to run with his barge tow to a port on the St. Lawrence River, “It lashed the lake into a raging torrent that no vessel could have lived through it”.
The winds at Oswego were recorded as high as 34 mph, however in the middle of the lake they could have been over 45 mph. The waves created by these high winds may have exceeded 12 feet in height. The following day there were several reports from ships coming into port that they had passed what appeared to be the schooner Ocean Wave now bottom up and floating in the lake. A section of the stern with lath was seen floating northward. A tugboat was sent out from Oswego to rescue any survivors and possibly retrieve the sinking ship. The schooner was observed to be on its port side with just a portion of the starboard rail above the water and her spars floating nearby.
The stern had been washed away and only a small portion of the lumber cargo remained in the hold. The yawl was still attached to the schooner but there were no survivors. The squall must have come very fast and hit hard, not giving the crew any time to reach the yawl and possible safety. Because the Ocean Wave was so badly broken up and the cargo of lumber nearly gone it was not worth towing back to Oswego.” (source)
You can read much more about the history of this wreck and it’s recent discovery here, on Shipwreck World (the website of the recovery team). It’s a pretty fascinating story, particularly in terms of its relation to local nineteenth-century economy and transportation of goods across the Great Lakes, and the perils that surrounded such ventures.