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Explore Lake Superior Shipwrecks

Lake Superior diver.

Photo courtesy of Travel Michigan.

The cold, fresh waters off Wisconsin’s Lake Superior coast have preserved hundreds of shipwrecks from the last century and a half, transforming their depths into museums of maritime history.

Armchair adventurers and divers alike can now easily explore seven of these wrecks thanks to a Web site and a set of dive guides produced by the University of Wisconsin Sea Grant Institute and the State Historical Society of Wisconsin (SHSW).

The Wisconsin Web site, called “Ice-Water Mansions: Shipwrecks of the Apostle Islands,” can be found at www.seagrant.wisc.edu/shipwrecks. The site features historical ship images, photos of the wrecks from archaeological investigations, and accounts of the vessels’ histories and final voyages - including the grim fate of the three-masted schooner Lucerne.

On Nov. 15, 1886, the Lucerne departed Ashland, Wisconsin, loaded with 1,256 tons of iron ore and bound for Ashtabula, Ohio. Hit by a violent, sudden snowstorm, the ship turned back to seek shelter in the protected waters of Chequamegon Bay. When the storm subsided four days later, the Madeline Island lightkeeper discovered the Lucerne’s masts jutting out of the water. The bodies of three men were found frozen in the rigging, encased in up to six inches of ice. The entire crew perished. The Web site also recounts the fate of the 372-foot steel bulk carrier Sevona, the 338-foot wooden schooner-barge Pretoria, and four other unlucky vessels.

For those who wish to venture beyond cyberspace, the dive guides will enrich a visit to the wrecks themselves. The waterproof, 9.5" x 6.5" guides put site maps, historical information, and technical explanations at divers’ fingertips. Exploring the wrecks in person offers “a history lesson like no other,” according to Jeff Gray, acting state underwater archaeologist at the SHSW.

“It’s like taking a trip back in time,” Gray said. “You leave the modern world behind when you visit the wrecks. You’re transported to a time when schooners and steamers ruled the Great Lakes. You get an appreciation for the critical role these vessels played in the development of the region and a respect for the men and women who worked the lakes. There’s no other way to get this close to history.”

The guides cost $25 per set, plus shipping. For more information, call the SHSW at 608.264.6493.

By Sea Grant Staff
April 1999

Return to April 1999 Seiche

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