The water of Lake Michigan has been so crystal clear that that a routine Coast Guard aerial survey has revealed a fascinating view of several shipwrecks.
During a routine flyover on April 18th, the Traverse City Coast Guard saw more shipwrecks then they had ever before. Some of the wrecks were easily identified by the crew, but others are unidentified and are still being researched with help from the Facebook fans of the U.S Coast Guard of Traverse City. The Coast Guard notes that it is not unusual to see shipwrecks on their aerial surveys, but that it is highly unusual to see so many and with such a clear view.
One of the wrecks found was a 121ft ship known as the James McBride. The ship launched in 1848 and traveled from the Atlantic Ocean, Chicago, and even Turk island before being abandoned in 1857 on a journey to Manitou Island during a particularly bad storm. The boat has remained near Sleeping Bear point at a depth of about 5-15 feet ever since.
Another is the skeleton of Rising Sun, a 133ft wooden steamer that sunk in October 1917. The rising sun launched in 1884 under the name the Minnie M and had many different lives and owners over the years. The ship operated most frequently a passenger ship, but it was a run carrying vegetables and lumber to Benton Harbor during an early season snowstorm that would be its last job.
The tropical looking water of Lake Michigan is so uncharacteristically clear because of ideal conditions; mostly ice cold snow melt and low algae levels. While the cold might not provide great swimming conditions, the ice cold water is part of the reason these wrecks have been so well preserved over the past hundred years or so.
The area the Coast Guard surveyed lies at the top 25 miles or so of the 300 mile long lake, which represents a small portion, but the number of wrecks found was quite high. This raises the question, why so many wrecks? The answer is not so simple, but a common thread between the wrecks seems to be work boats sinking in terrible storms.
According to Michiganpreserves.org, “during the heyday of Michigan lumbering, this was a booming shipping area. It is also an area where ships have sought safety by attempting to ride out storms in the lee of the Islands.” It is estimated that about 6,000 ships have wrecked in the great lakes, and 1,500 of those have been in Lake Michigan Alone.
Keep updated with the story by following the Traverse City U.S. Coast Guard on Facebook.