Artistic rendering of Cornelia B. Windiate under sail by artist Robert McGreevy. Credit: Robert McGreevy 

Local Shipwrecks

Off the coast of Presque Isle there are numerous shipwrecks in water depths ranging from five feet to 195 feet. These historically significant wrecks lie within the NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, dedicated to preserving them for future generations. The information and images on this page are courtesy of the Sanctuary. Visit the Sanctuary to learn more.

American Union

Depth: 9 Feet
Latitude: 44.78820
Longitude: -83.29091 

Larger than the typical sailing craft of the time, the 186-foot, wooden American Union’s giant size ultimately led to its demise. After 30 years of service on the Great Lakes, the American Union encountered a fatal storm on May 6, 1894. Strong winds and pounding waves drove the 3-masted barkentine aground at Thompson’s Harbor. Crew from the Thunder Bay Island Life-Saving Station came to the ship’s aid and rescued the entire crew. Lake Huron eventually tore the American Union to pieces.

Today, the wreckage of the American Union rests a quarter mile from shore in 10 feet of crystal, clear Lake Huron water. The remains of the ship’s hull offer an incredible opportunity for divers, snorkelers and paddlers to explore a workhorse of the Great Lakes.

https://thunderbay.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/american-union.html

L.M. Mason

Depth: 18 Feet
Latitude: 45.34640
Longitude: -83.49355 

On October 22, 1861, a fierce storm descended on Lake Huron. Violent northwest winds and a blinding snowstorm wreaked havoc. The heavy weather stranded 14 ships in the North Bay of Presque Isle. Remarkably, there was not a single loss of life, and all of the ships but one were eventually freed. The 125-foot schooner L.M. Mason remained stranded, and Lake Huron’s heavy seas pounded the schooner. Over time, ice, wind, and waves tore apart the vessel.

Today, the remains of L.M.Mason rest in 18 feet of water half a mile southwest of the New Presque Isle Lighthouse. Its shallow resting place in crystal-clear water and proximity to shore make this shipwreck a popular site for divers, snorkelers, and paddlers. Visitors can see a large section of the schooner’s port side and a wooden arch built into the hull to strengthen the vessel.

https://thunderbay.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/lm-mason.html

Albany

Depth: 5 Feet
Latitude: 45.32328
Longitude: -83.45836 

By the 1840s, tens of thousands of settlers arrived yearly in Buffalo, New York, in search of passage and opportunities further west. Fast, reliable and often opulent steamers, such as the sidewheeler Albany, carried these passengers across the Great Lakes to rapidly growing cities such as Cleveland, Detroit, Milwaukee and Chicago.

On November 26, 1853, a gale swept Lake Huron and drove Albany ashore as it struggled toward refuge in Presque Isle Harbor. After surviving a harrowing night of fierce wind and waves, the nearly 200 passengers and crew were rescued by local boats. Salvage efforts, winter ice, and storms eventually tore the wooden ship apart.

Today, sections of the steamer rest in as little as five feet of water less than two miles from shore in Albany Bay, named in honor of the wreck. A seasonal mooring buoy marks a 100-foot section of Albany's lower hull and provides access to the wreck for paddlers, snorkelers, and divers.

https://thunderbay.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/albany.html

Kyle Spangler

Depth: 182 Feet
Latitude: 45.38359
Longitude: -83.43559 

Kyle Spangler is one of the most intact canal schooners preserved in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. It is a stunning shipwreck site to visit. With masts still upright, anchors hanging from the bow, bilge pumps, aft cabin, ship’s wheel, and name plate all still in place, the shipwreck is an amazing example of a mid-19th-century Great Lakes sailing schooner. The only damage on the wreck is the broken bow, a result of the collision that sank the vessel.

Kyle Spangler was also one of many Great Lakes vessels that periodically worked on the ocean. In 1859, it left the lakes by way of Buffalo, New York. First arriving in Boston, Massachusetts, the schooner made New York City on September 30. Once back on the lakes, Kyle Spangler resumed carrying bulk cargo with loads of lumber and corn.

Less than a year after returning to the lakes, on November 7, 1860, the schooner collided with the schooner Racine off Presque Isle. In less than 10 minutes, Kyle Spangler sank with its cargo of 15,000 bushels of wheat. It was not seen again until its discovery in 2003. The Kyle Spangler is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

https://thunderbay.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/kyle_spangler.html

Portland

Depth: 6 Feet
Latitude: 45.41065
Longitude: -83.74722 

The wooden schooner Portland, one of the most accessible shipwrecks in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, lies a short swim away from shore.

Built in 1863, the 150-foot Portland carried bulk cargo across the Great Lakes for 14 years. Loaded with 300 tons of salt, the two-masted schooner encountered a fierce Lake Huron storm in October 1877. The gale drove Portland ashore, where relentless waves and jagged rocks tore the schooner to pieces. The entire crew survived; Portland was a total loss.

Today, snorkelers, paddlers, and divers can explore the scattered remains of Portland in Lake Huron’s clear water. A seasonal mooring buoy marks the 130-foot main section of the wreck, the schooner’s lower hull and starboard side. This wreckage rests in just six feet of water, about 100 yards from the beach.

Another large section of the wreck, the stern section, rests in a few feet of water in a naturally formed lagoon just north of the main trail to the beach.

Besides the two main sections, small parts of Portland are scattered throughout the area. Wind, waves, and ice move pieces of the wreck and occasionally push them ashore. If you find them, please leave them in place. Do not disturb, take or burn them. Federal and state regulations prohibit removing or damaging artifacts or wreckage.

https://thunderbay.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/portland.html

Cornelia B. Windiate

Depth: 182 Feet
Latitude: 45.32618
Longitude: -83.32712 

In late November 1875, the 139-foot Cornelia B. Windiate, designed to carry 16,000 bushels of wheat, left Milwaukee, Wisconsin with 21,000 bushels. The crew of nine battled extreme cold and high winds as they sailed toward Buffalo, New York.

The Cornelia B. Windiate’s final moments are a mystery. Spray from huge waves may have coated it with layers of ice, adding a crushing weight to the overloaded ship. Handling the vessel likely became difficult and then impossible. The ship and crew vanished off Presque Isle.

Until divers found the wreck in 1986, few believed the Cornelia B. Windiate ever made it to Lake Huron. Sitting upright in 185 feet of water, the ship is frozen in time by cold, fresh water. With its masts still standing and the crew’s lifeboat resting silently nearby, the Cornelia B. Windiate is a dramatic reminder of the dangers of late season travel on the Great Lakes.

https://thunderbay.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/windiate.html

John J. Audubon

Depth: 164 Feet
Latitude: 45.28957
Longitude: -83.34010  

During the 1850s, the push for speed on the Great Lakes led to more wrecks than ever before. In the fall of 1854, ship owners and sailors reeled from the most costly season to date: 119 lives, 70 ships, and $2 million in property losses.

Defiance and John J. Audubon were victims of that dangerous year. On October 20, 1854, Audubon sailed north for Chicago with a load of iron railroad track. At 1:30 a.m., the southbound Defiance emerged from the darkness and fog, striking Audubon’s mid-section. The collision cut a hole deep in Audubon’s hull and fatally damaged Defiance. Audubon sank quickly. Defiance struggled on, finally sinking a few miles away. Miraculously, both crews survived.

Today, Defiance and Audubon rest intact in more than 170 feet of water. Dr. Robert Ballard and Jean-Michel Cousteau have studied the pair of wrecks, helping to bring national attention to these underwater treasures.

https://thunderbay.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/john_j_audubon.html

Credit: Doug Kesling

Typo

Depth: 185 Feet
Latitude: 45.29134
Longitude: -83.31545 

Built in 1873, the three-masted schooner Typo ended its 26-year career when it sank six miles southeast of here in October 1899. Loaded with coal for Racine, Wisconsin, the schooner was struck from behind by the steamship W.P. Ketchum. Since the stern cabin served as the crew’s living quarters, this was devastating. Only three of Typo’s seven crew members escaped before it sank in 180 feet of water.

Typo has been incredibly preserved by Lake Huron’s cold, fresh water and sits upright with the foremast intact to the crosstrees. The main mast is broken and topmasts, cross trees, spars, and wire rigging are spread across the deck. The ship’s bell remains hanging atop the windlass. Nearly all of Typo’s hull is intact, except for the stern damage caused by the collision. Piles of coal that spilled from the schooner as it rapidly sank are in a debris field behind the wreck.

https://thunderbay.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/typo.html

Florida

Depth: 194 Feet
Latitude: 45.29639
Longitude: -83.28390 

The steamer Florida, a large package freighter, carried anything shipped in boxes, barrels, or bags, in addition to regular bulk cargo, such as corn and coal. Though powered by a large steam engine, Florida was built at a time when steamships still carried sails and was fully rigged with three masts.

On May 20, 1897, while traveling in a dense fog off Presque Isle, Florida collided with George Roby. The impact cut Florida nearly in half. The steamer sank so quickly that its stern was crushed when it hit the bottom. Air trapped in the bow blew the pilot house clear off the ship, and debris floated on the lake’s surface for days. Fortunately, George Roby rescued Florida’s entire crew.

Sitting in 206 feet of water and almost completely intact, Florida is an incredible dive site. The impacts of the collision and sinking are visible, and the obliterated stern allows divers to explore a cross-section of the wreck. All three masts still lie along the sunken freighter’s deck.

https://thunderbay.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/florida.html

Norman

Depth: 195 Feet
Latitude: 45.3116
Longitude: -83.27904 

At 1:30 PM we heard a tin pan rattling in the fog and we came...along side of the wreck which proved to be the Canadian steamer Jack of Kingston, loaded with square timber. She was waterlogged; the timber holding her above water, her stem and upper works forward is all smashed up also her rigging and topmast is carried away.” - Thunder Bay Island Life-Saving Station 1895

Fog was one of the greatest dangers facing Great Lakes sailors in the days before radar and GPS-aided navigation. Without visibility, the busy shipping lanes became danger zones as large ships passed each other, risking fatal collisions. On May 30, 1895, the bulk carrier Norman encountered just such a fog while steaming north with a load of coal. Disaster ensued when, passing Presque Isle, Norman collided with the freighter Jack. Jack's bow punched an immense hole into Norman's side while most of Norman's crew slept in their berths. A frenzy ensued as they struggled to abandon ship. Within three minutes, Norman and three of its crew disappeared below Lake Huron's waves.

Located 10.5 miles east-southeast of Presque Isle, Norman's nearly intact remains are spectacularly preserved by the cold water of Lake Huron. Unique characteristics of this Great Lakes ship design are its forward pilothouse, open deck with evenly spaced cargo holds, stern cabin, and engine room. At depths between 170 and 200 feet, the vessel is a popular site for technical divers.

https://thunderbay.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/norman.html

Defiance

Depth: 182 Feet
Latitude: 45.23448
Longitude: -83.27864 

During the 1850s, the push for speed on the Great Lakes led to more wrecks than ever before. In the fall of 1854, ship owners and sailors reeled from the most costly season to date: 119 lives, 70 ships, and $2 million in property losses. Defiance and John J. Audubon were victims of that dangerous year.

On October 20, 1854, Audubon sailed north for Chicago with a load of iron railroad track. At 1:30 a.m., the southbound Defiance emerged from the darkness and fog, striking Audubon's mid-section. The collision cut a hole deep in Audubon's hull and fatally damaged Defiance. Audubon sank quickly. Defiance struggled on, finally sinking a few miles away. Miraculously, both crews survived.

Today, Defiance and Audubon rest intact in more than 170 feet of water. Dr. Robert Ballard and Jean-Michel Cousteau have studied the pair of wrecks, helping to bring national attention to these underwater treasures.

https://thunderbay.noaa.gov/shipwrecks/defiance.html

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