There are some famous shipwrecks on the Great Lakes -- the one that comes to my mind first, of course, is the Edmund Fitzgerald. I remember singing that song when I was 13, begging my parents on a driving trip around the U.S. NOT to change the radio channel until it was over. the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum estimates that there are 6,000 shipwrecks, 30,000 lives lost, although some estimate that there have been as many as 25,000 shipwrecks.
One of the things to do on the Great Lakes, of course, is to visit these shipwrecks. We chose a shipwreck tourout of Munesing, MI. It offered a 2-hour narrated excursion of several shipwrecks: the Bermuda (1860-1870) and the Herman H. Hettler (1889-1926) on the bottom of the Lake Superior, with the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore in the background. We also got to enjoy a close-up view of the historic East Channel Lighthouse and the colorful rock cliffs and caves of Grand Island, as well as a third, unnamed, mysterious shipwreck!
Our tour headed toward Grand Island, an island of mostly pristine wilderness with just a few settlements on it. Most of the island remains as it was during when the Hudson Bay Company traded furs with a small band of Chippewa Native Americans who lived there. Depending on what source is providing the info, the name of the inhabitants varies. A local state park notes that the "Anishnabeg Tribe" lived there for "many generations. There is much I don't know about Native American heritage, so perhaps the Anishnabeg were a subgroup of the Chippewa? I note I will need to do some more research! The same state park source also noted that there are archeological remains of a small fishing camp from 4500 years ago, so the island has a long history of habitation. Abraham Williams was the first white settler, arriving in 1840. He operated a small trading post at the southern tip of the island for many years.
The two-masted Bermuda was a typical schooner, designed to trade through the confining dimensions of the old Welland Canal between Lakes Ontario and Erie. Launched at Oswego, NY in April 1860, she was 136 feet long, 26 feet wide and 11 feet, 9 inches deep. Her early years were spent carrying grain between Lakes Michigan and Ontario. When the demand for iron ore increased, she shifted to carrying ore down from Marquette, MI.
Her top deck is just 12 feet below the water’s surface where she has remained for 128 years. The wreck is intact -- remarkable condition. She seemed so peaceful down there in the cool waters, disturbed only by tourists like me aboard this sightseeing trip or by the more adventurous divers.
She was very strongly built, with heavy framing, steel arches in the sides, diagonal steel strapping and an especially robust bow for punching through ice. A 485 horsepower fore-and-aft compound steam engine provided the power. She measured 200 feet long, 35 feet wide, 13.3 feet in depth and 726.33 gross tons.
On November 23, 1926, the 36 year old wooden steamer Herman H Hettler was seeking shelter in Munising Harbor from a fall gale when a reported compass variation caused her to veer off course and slam into the rock reef off Trout Point, at the north end of the east channel. The Hettler, under Captain John M. Johnson, was en route from Ludington, MI, to Duluth with a cargo of 1,100 tons of bulk table salt. The accident happened about 8:30 p.m. while visibility was restricted by heavy snow squalls.
|Yes, that is the captain's toilet seat. How do we know it's the captain's? (I asked.) |
Because only the captain was granted the luxury of a toilet seat!
The force of the grounding was so severe that it ran the steamer on the rocks up to her third hatch and forced her bow three feet out of the water! The seas were slamming into the Hettler regularly, causing the steamer to “work” on the rocks, and slowly but steadily opening her seams. Blowing his whistle to attract attention, the captain kept his 16-man crew aboard and worked the pumps. The following day, when it was obvious the steamer wasn’t going anywhere, they launched their lifeboats, which were towed into nearby Munising by a fishing tug.
Hours: For more details, check the website. Plan on arriving 30 minutes prior to the tour. Open 7 days a week, rain or shine, May 28 to October 9, 2016.
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