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Maritime Historians Find a Schooner that Sank in 1881 Intact in Lake Michigan

Source: Newsline/YouTube

There’s no telling the vastness of the waters and the deep secrets our oceans hold. But shipwreck hunters are determined to find as many sunken treasures as they can. 

Recently, these modern-day adventurers made a significant discovery that was good enough to make the headlines of top news outlets—a schooner that was buried in the depths of Wisconsin waters 142 years ago!

A schooner is a type of sailing ship characterized by its unique rigs. This vessel, which was historically dedicated to cargo transport, finishing, and many other uses, has a fore-and-aft rig and at least two masts. 

In 1867, one such schooner, the Trinidad, was built at Grand Island, New York, primarily to facilitate grain trading activities between multiple cities, including Chicago, Milwaukee, New York, and Oswego. This masterpiece was 140-foot-long (43 meters) and was built by William Kefe, an astute shipwright.

On May 13, 1881, it embarked on one of its trading voyages to Milwaukee with a load of coal. Sadly, this journey met an abrupt end when the schooner suffered a catastrophic leak not long after crossing the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. 

According to AP, the “Trinidad” sank as much as 10 miles off the Algoma Coast, and it took “all the crew’s possessions and the captain’s pet Newfoundland dog with her.”

The story has it that the Captain, John Higgins, and his 8-member crew were able to make it out alive in the vessel’s yawl boat. They survived rowing 120 miles in 8 hours to reach Algoma. 

Higgins was sure that the ship’s hull was destroyed a few days before it sank as it navigated the ice fields of the Straits of Mackinac. It was this ship that Wisconsin maritime historians Brendon Baillod and Robert Jaeck discovered.

What is most astonishing about Baillod and Jaeck’s discovery is the fact that they found all the crew’s possessions intact after so many years. This is most likely due to the fact that it was buried in Lake Michigan, whose cold and fresh waters have been known to preserve its sunken vessels.

According to a news release, “The wreck is among the best-preserved shipwrecks in Wisconsin waters with her deck-house still intact, containing the crew’s possessions and her anchors and deck gear still present.” It was discovered some miles away from Wisconsin’s coastline.

Baillod and Jaeck were able to find the Trinidad after reading the historical accounts by the ship’s survivors and pinpointing its location with the help of a side-scan sonar. 

After the discovery, the shipwreck hunters reported it to a Wisconsin Historical Society underwater archaeologist.  The archaeologist then arranged for an underwater vehicle to survey the site. Fortunately, the vehicle was able to identify the vessel and document the historic artifacts found in it.

Experts have already developed a three-dimensional ship model that allows members of the public to inspect or explore the site of the schooner wreck virtually. Baillod and Jaeck also have plans to have the site nominated to the National Register of Historic Places with help from the Wisconsin Historical Society.


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