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The Wrecks of Thunder Bay: A Photo Essay

The remains of the three-masted schooner American Union (1862–1894) lie scattered and flattened on the lake bottom near Thompson's Harbor in Lake Huron. Larger than the typical schooner of its time, the 185-foot vessel ran aground in May 1894. Now resting in only 10 feet of water and a short swim from shore, the American Union is a perfect site for kayakers, snorkelers and beginner divers to explore.
The bow of the F.T. Barney (1856–1868) looms out of the shadows of Lake Huron. The stillness belies the speed at which it sank; within two minutes after colliding with the schooner T.J. Bronson, the Barney was 160 feet below the surface of Lake Huron. The wreck is one of the most complete of its kind with masts and deck equipment still in place.
After more than 30 years on the Great Lakes, the steam barge B.W. Blanchard (1870–1904) ran aground on Thunder Bay's North Point Reef during a blinding snowstorm. The November storm also claimed one of the Blanchard's consort schooner barges, the John T. Johnson; today their remains lie intermixed in just nine feet of water.
Working in excellent visibility at a depth of 185 feet, sanctuary researchers document the schooner Defiance (1848–1854). With careful documentation the sanctuary produces site plans to help students, historians and divers envision the site as a whole. The data also establishes a baseline from which changes at the site can be monitored.

Sunk as a result of a collision in 1854, the intact Defiance is a striking example of the incredible preservation possible in the cold freshwater of Lake Huron.
One of the ways sanctuary researchers work to preserve historic shipwrecks is by creating photomosaics like this one of the Defiance. Future generations of recreational divers, explorers and archaeologists are depending on us to preserve historic shipwrecks. Divers who enjoy the shipwrecks of Thunder Bay, must always respect the past and remember it is illegal to remove or disturb artifacts.
Divers practice good buoyancy as they hover over the bow of the schooner E.B. Allen (1864–1871). With its heavy-duty windlass still on deck and anchor chains and rudder still in place, the Allen presents a vivid image of a typical 19th century Great Lakes schooner.
The wooden schooner E.B. Allen (1864–1871) rests upright in 100 feet of water and is marked with a sanctuary mooring buoy. In this bow shot you can see the folding catheads used to secure anchor once it was raised. Every inch of hull length and width meant more bushels of grain and more profit for owners. Innovative features like folding catheads and bowsprits ensured that purpose-built "canal-sized" schooners did not waste valuable space while transiting the locks between Lakes Erie and Ontario.
Approximately 200 feet below the surface of Lake Huron, a technical diver examines damage to the Florida's (1889–1897) huge wooden hull. In a dense May fog, the 270-foot package freighter was nearly cut in half by the steamer George W. Roby. Today, the Florida sits upright on the lake bottom just off Middle Island with much of its package freight still inside.
Barrels, still watertight after over one hundred years beneath the surface, float behind a diver as he maneuvers through the interior of the massive freighter Florida. Caught between well-preserved deck beams, the barrels are just some of the remaining package freight within the wreckage.
In this image below the collapsed decks of the steel freighter Grecian (1891–1906), remnants of deck planking rest among still-intact steel beams and stanchions. Even at 100 feet, the waters surrounding the once swift steel freighter are clear and blue.
One of the most popular recreational dive sites in Thunder Bay, the Grecian (1891–1906) rests with a slight list at 100 feet with bow and stern still intact. The 300-foot wreck was one of the first steel freighters to work the Great Lakes. The midship section has collapsed but the engine, boiler and portions of the propeller and deck machinery are all in place. There is also a steel canalon (salvage lifting device) lying off the vessel's stern from a 1909 salvage attempt.
A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) surveys the wreck of the Grecian. Highly maneuverable and typically equipped with cameras and recording instruments, ROVs are used in various sanctuary research missions ranging from locating shipwrecks to sampling underwater sinkhole bacteria.
The Monohansett's (1872–1907) steam boiler looms within 10 feet of the lake surface at one of Thunder Bay's most visited shallow wreck sites. Just 500 feet west of Thunder Bay Island lighthouse and in only 18 feet of water, the Monohansett is exposed to immutable forces of waves and ice, yet its impressive propeller and heavy framing structure are still evident to divers, snorkelers and kayakers.
At a depth of 140 feet, a diver peers into the passageways of the nearly intact ocean freighter Monrovia (1943–1959). Despite improved charts, navigational aids, communication and even radar, ships still go down in the Great Lakes. Such was the case on June 25, 1959, when the Liberian-registered Monrovia was rammed by the freighter Royalton in a heavy fog just outside Thunder Bay. At 448 feet long, the Monrovia is one of the most immense wrecks in the Great Lakes.
A lofty steeple compound engine and scotch boiler sit upright amidst the wreckage of the lumber carrier Montana (1872–1914). At a depth of 63 feet and with high-quality visibility, the shipwreck Montana is an excellent spot to see plump burbot (freshwater cod) slinking around ship timbers.
Just below the surface of Lake Huron, a diver photographs the most recent shipwreck within current sanctuary boundaries the German freighter Nordmeer (1954–1966). The wreck resides at a shallow depth (for many years, part of the vessel actually stood out of the water) and is almost 500 feet long offering divers lengthy bottom times as they explore the twisted steel hull.
When the steamer Jack collided with the freighter Norman (1890–1895) on a foggy May morning, it almost cut the 300-foot steel freighter in two. The severe impact damage is one of the most striking features at the 210-foot deep wreck site; the damage also allows for below-deck penetration by trained wreck divers and ship construction analysis.
At 210-feet deep with water temperatures hovering between 38 to 45°F, the Norman is one of the most challenging technical dives in Shipwreck Alley. This treacherous stretch of Lake Huron, just outside of Thunder Bay, claimed hundreds of ships throughout the 19th and early 20th century. Multifaceted wreck sites like the Norman with its huge engine, lifeboats and personal artifacts take divers back to a time when sail and steam ruled the lakes.
The sheer size of the "fast-steel flyer" Norman (1890–1895) is evident in this striking photomosaic created by sanctuary archaeologists. The steel bulk freighter, weighing in at 1,870 tons, hauled thousands of tons of material in its short five-year career. With the hull broken just forward of the boiler house and the ship listing hard to port, the wreck of the Norman, which claimed the lives of three sailors, is an intense dive experience.
Archaeologists use a number of mediums to visualize what a shipwreck site looks like on the bottom of the lake or ocean. Working with sanctuary researchers and Stan Stock (the Michigan diver who discovered the lost schooner), renowned maritime artist Robert McGreevy created an archaeologically-based perspective drawing of the site of the Kyle Spangler (1856–1860). Not only artistic, the image furthers interpretation of a site 185 feet below the surface of Lake Huron.
A diver hovers just below the bow of the nearly intact wooden schooner Kyle Spangler, sunk in a nighttime collision in 1860. Still loaded with 15,000 bushels of corn, the vessel is relatively undamaged except for the bow; the cabin is complete and its foremast can be seen rising nearly 100 feet off the lake bottom. This photo showcases Lake Huron's typically clear visibility even at 185 feet deep.
After 25 years of hauling logs, lumber and other forest products, the W.P. Thew's (1884–1909) career was abruptly cut short by a collision with the 545-foot freighter William Livingston. The Livingston sailed on, but the Thew sank quickly just off Thunder Bay Island. Today, the boiler and steam drum of the 132-foot wooden barge stand upright amidst scattered ship timbers.
The wreck of the schooner Typo (1873–1899) is a dramatic reminder of the inherent dangers sailors faced when navigating the Great Lakes in the busy 19th century. Struck by the steamer W.P. Ketcham, the Typo sank in October 1899 taking the lives of four sailors. Today, the Typo is a favorite of local divers sitting upright at a depth of 155 feet, its foremast intact to the crosstrees. The somber atmosphere of the site is amplified by the broken main and mizzen masts with their topmasts, crosstrees, spars and rigging all strewn about the deck. The hold is still full of coal and the ship's bell still hangs in the belfry, forever silenced.
A diver contemplates the practical bow of the Lucinda Van Valkenburg (1862–1887), a wooden schooner struck by the iron propeller Lehigh in May 1887. As was typical of many Great Lakes canal schooners, the Van Valkenburg's bow was less sharp than ocean-going vessels; this design enhanced the cargo space rather than the vessel's speed. The centerboard trunk is just visible in the background, another construction feature adapted by Great Lakes shipwrights. The Van Valkenburg lies at a relatively shallow 60 feet; its masts stood out of the water when it first wrecked.
Probably dislodged during an illegal salvage attempt, the Cornelia B. Windiate's (1874–1875) iconic wheel serves as a reminder of the vulnerability and fragility of these shipwrecks. To safeguard the recreational, archaeological and historical value of historic shipwrecks, Michigan state law prohibits altering wreck sites or removing artifacts. Shipwrecks within the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary are also protected by federal regulations.