Diving for Great Lakes Shipwrecks

Wisconsin’s Maritime Trails program seeks to document, preserve and protect the state’s submerged archaeological sites, and it is much more than just a traditional land-based “trail”. Through websites, interpretive signage, public presentations and shipwreck moorings, this initiative encourages divers, snorkelers, boaters and other adventure- and history-minded residents and tourists to explore these amazing resources and treasures.

The Wisconsin Historical Society places seasonal buoys at the site of 23 shipwrecks in Lakes Michigan and Superior. Some of the most popular are profiled here, and you can see a complete list on the Wisconsin Maritime Trails website – and you’ll find the essential information for your own adventure there.

Daniel Lyons

Casualty year: 1878
Maritime Trail: Mid Lake Michigan
Water Depth: 95 ft

About eight miles North East of Algoma Harbor (about three miles off shore) lie the remains of the schooner Daniel Lyons. Marked with a seasonal Wisconsin Historical Society mooring buoy, the Lyons sits in about 100-feet of water, making this a wonderful dive for more advanced divers. Despite having a collapsed hull, the Daniel Lyons site represents a nearly complete Great Lakes schooner. Although the wreckage is fairly broken up, the pieces remain for divers to explore, providing an interesting lesson in late-nineteenth-century wooden ship construction. Large sections of the hull as well as machinery such as a bilge pump, windlass, and elements of the ship's rigging make up this interesting site.

The three-masted, 173 feet long schooner Daniel Lyons was built at Oswego, New York in 1873. She was carrying a cargo of grain from Chicago bound for New York on October 18, 1878 when the schooner Kate Gillett collided with and sliced halfway through the Lyons' starboard side. She quickly sank to the bottom of Lake Michigan. No lives were lost, as the crew of the sinking Lyons were rescued by the crew of the Gillett.

The Daniel Lyons is best visited by launching from the City of Algoma’s municipal ramp.
Selah Chamberlain
Casualty year: 1886
Maritime Trail: Mid Lake Michigan
Water Depth: 87 ft

The Selah Chamberlain rests in 85 feet of water, and offers an exceptional opportunity to explore one of the Great Lakes’ earliest wooden bulk freighters. A seasonal Wisconsin Historical Society mooring buoy marks the location. Many artifacts can be found in this wreckages, including the large towing bit used in towing schooner barges as part of a consort system.

Built in 1873, the 212-foot steam barge Selah Chamberlain spent the majority of its career in service of the Bradley Transportation Company, transporting bulk cargoes such as coal, iron ore and wheat. The vessel predominately plied a Buffalo to Duluth route. On October 13, 1886, the Chamberlain and her consort Fayette Brown left Milwaukee bound for Escanaba, MI, to load iron ore. While heading north, the Chamberlain encountered fog and began sounding her whistle at regular intervals. Later in the evening the Chamberlain was struck in the port bow by the steamer John Pridgeon Jr, also a wooden hulled propeller steamer. The Selah Chamberlain sank quickly with the loss of five crew members.

Ocean Wave

Casualty year: 1869
Maritime Trail: Green Bay/Door County
Water Depth: 110 ft

The story of the Ocean Wave, a scow schooner, is not unlike that of other vessels lost on the Great Lakes – she struck a deadhead and sank. Suspicions are raised, however, related to a timely insurance policy taken out by the ship’s captain just three weeks before its loss. Sinking in 360 feet of water at the time meant there was no hope for salvage. With no witnesses to the incident, thoughts persist that the captain deliberately sank the ship in an insurance scam.

Over the years, the Ocean Wave has drifted and now rests in 110 feet of water, four miles offshore. The bow is the most intact part of the wreck, with the bowsprit and jib boom still standing. Unusual for small coasting schooners, a griffon-like figurehead stands guard below the bowsprit – a crudely-carved bird perched with open mouth, tongue extended, with red paint still visible on its eyes. A seasonal Wisconsin Historical Society buoy marks the location.

Ship descriptions and other information provided by the Wisconsin Maritime Trails website, and courtesy of the Wisconsin Historical Society's Maritime Preservation and Archaeology Program.
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