Great Shipwrecks of New York's Great Lakes
Why so many Shipwrecks?
Because so many boats have traveled NY Waters From the earliest times, people have utilized New York's waterways to travel, transport, & control. About 13% of New York State is covered by water.
For centuries, the waterways of New York State were the most efficient means of inland travel. Native Americans used birch bark and dugout canoes to fish, hunt, trade, and make war. Europeans flocked to the region in the 17th century, and introduced rowing boats, sloops, schooners, and brigs as trading and war vessels. Waterborne commerce flourished in the 1800s aboard sail- and steamboats. When man-made canals connected rivers and lakes, they required custom watercraft: the canal boat. Steam tugboats and diesel workboats of all sizes were essential in canals and ports for "pushing us around." Today, steel-hulled working boats like tugs, freighters, and tankers, are a common sight for recreational kayakers, sailors, and cruisers. There may be as many as 10,000 shipwrecks in NY state waters. -National Park Service
Whose stuff is it anyway?
The fresh waters of New York State are an excellent environment for the preservation of shipwrecks and artifacts.
The Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 required the State to provide the public with "reasonable access" to abandoned shipwrecks.
Water to air
When shipwrecks or artifacts are brought to the surface, the change of environment rapidly accelerates deterioration of shipwrecks and artifacts, sometimes within a matter of weeks. Conservation is critical to maintaining an object's long-term physical integrity.
Owned by all
The State of New York has a long history of providing access to public resources, from Adirondack trails to canalside bike paths. Underwater, shipwrecks can be opened to the diving public as historic preserves. Even non-divers can experience shipwrecks in programs that utilize remotely-operated vehicles. It is our generation's privilege to care for shipwrecks so that our children can also explore them. Divers are often the first to notice changes to shipwrecks due to mishandling, accident, or environment. Divers and boaters can also help slow the spread of aquatic invasive species by following "Clean, Drain, Dry" guidelines for dive and boat gear.
Shipwrecks are non-renewable resources. We must ensure they are not loved to pieces. Take only pictures; Leave only bubbles.
A shipwreck can be many things. Time capsule. Workplace and home. Grave and memorial. A treasure and a teacher. In addition to schlepping scuba gear, nautical archaeologists bring tape measures, cameras, pencils and clipboards to document a shipwreck. For every hour spent underwater, it takes more than seven to transcribe drawings and do research.
What's that stuff?
When archaeologists use the word "treasure" to describe the objects contained within a shipwreck, they don't mean "made of gold." Artifacts are a window into the lives of the men, women and children who once worked and lived aboard these vessels. A single button can narrow the date of a shipwreck site; a cannon ball's size reveals the type of gun that fired it.
Don't Get Wet
Technology now allows the researcher to get information without ever leaving the surface. Remote sensing equipment includes sonar, bathymetry, subbottom profiler, and remotely operated vehicles. An Archaeologist strives to learn and share. His or her studies may result in books, films, artwork, exhibits, or even full-sized working replica vessels.
So Many Ways to Explore Shipwrecks:
Scuba Diving & Snorkeling Museums Artwork Shipwreck Tours Traditional Skills Reenactments Books & Films
The Great New York State Fair and New York Sea Grant
Great Lakes Seaway Trail Great Lakes Research Consortium Lake Champlain Sea Grant Lake Champlain Maritime Museum H. Lee White Maritime Museum USCG Auxiliary
NYS Divers Assocation National Aquatic Service Aquatic World
Sponsored by the non-profit Great Lakes Seaway Trail
Discover the spectacular 500 mile route that winds along the shorelines of Lake Erie, the Niagara River, Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River. This National Scenic Byway has something to offer every traveler from the outdoor adventurer to the scuba diver. Although the route can be driven in as little as a day, the Great Lakes Seaway Trail is best enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
Lake Ontario Brig-Sloop HMS Ontario
Lake Ontario At a Glance
Fed by the Niagara River, flows into the St. Lawrence River "Lake of Shining Waters" in the Huron language 193 miles (311km) long 53 miles (85km) at its widest 802 feet (244m) deep 432 trillion gallons (1638 km3) water Borders New York and Ontario As many as 1,000 shipwrecks
Against the Rebels
HMS Ontario was constructed by the British at Carleton Island in 1780 during the American Revolution. This Brig-Sloop had two masts and 22 guns, but was up against a more powerful foe than the Rebels: mother nature. Sailing to Oswego from Niagara on October 31, 1780, HMS Ontario was overcome by a fierce storm, claiming the lives of at least 88 men, women, and children. Every person on board of her has perished. -Alexander Fraser Nov.8, 1780 She will be a noble Vessel for size as she will hold near a thousand Barrels. -Robert Hamilton March 25, 1780
Schooner St. Peter
I do not know what caused her to go down. It might have been that the coal listed to one side and caused her to careen. Or... the force of the waves broke in the cabin doors. -Captain John Griffin A three-masted schooner, St. Peter was an impressive sight on the water. On October 26, 1898, she loaded up with a cargo of coal in Oswego, NY, bound for Toledo, OH. That night a violent blizzard hit Lake Ontario, bringing 70 mph winds, 20-foot seas, and freezing sleet. Unable to reach the safety of Welland Canal, the captain turned back east. The distressed vessel was sighted from shore, and the tugboat Proctor went out to assist, but it was too late for the crew. Only the captain survived. We steamed down the lake as fast as we could. We saw her suddenly list to port once and ...the second time she went down. We could see nothing but about eight feet of a mast sticking up out of the water. -Captain Gray, Tugboat Proctor
Lake George 1758 Bateau Fleet
Lake George At a Glance
The "Queen of American Lakes" Flows north into the La Chute River and Lake Champlain 32 miles (51 km) long 4 miles (6 km) at its widest 200 feet (61 m) deep Entirely within New York and the Adirondack Park 200+ shipwrecks Bateau, the French word for boat (plural bateaux), was used by the English and French to describe the doubleended, flat-bottomed work boats that were common for carrying troops and goods during the 18th century. Divers found the remains of at least seven bateaux, known as the "Wiawaka Bateaux Cluster," which were intentionally sunk in 1758 for storage. These have been documented by Bateaux Below, Inc. and are now a public dive site. Battoe-men are a breed apart. Their grousing, strikes, desertions, unquenchable thirsts, insatiable appetites & willingness to rifle any cargo makes them rather difficult to command. -General William Shirley, 1755.
Radeau Land Tortoise
This floating battery, or radeau had seven angled sides to deflect cannonballs and musket balls. Land Tortoise was built in 1758 by the British to combat the French during the French and Indian War. Using ballast rock to sink vessels for winter storage was common, to avoid theft or destruction by the enemy, or ice damage at the surface. However Land Tortoise drifted over deeper water before it sank, making retrieval the next season impossible. Today, Land Tortoise sits upright in 107 feet of water, a popular site for recreational divers.
Lake Erie Canaler John. J. Boland
Lake Erie At a Glance
210 feet (64 m) deep Fed by the Detroit River, flows into the Niagara River and Lake Ontario 241 miles (388 km) long 57 miles (92 km) at its widest Shallowest Great Lake: warmest in the summer, first to freeze in the winter Borders Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, New York and Ontario 1,000+ shipwrecks She was a "canaler" one of the steel vessels constructed to fit within the locks of the Saint Lawrence Canals prior to the Seaway. On October 5, 1932, John J. Boland was headed to Hamilton, Ontario. She carried a cargo of coal which was overloaded in the holds, above the hatches, and on deck. The seas built, washing over the decks and into the open hatches. She sank in minutes, claiming four lives. The tragedy resulted in a new regulation prohibiting the operation of vessels with open hatches.
Schooner Saint JamesA Lake Erie Mystery With 14,000 bushels of wheat in her cargo holds, two-mastered schooner Saint James departed Toledo, OH on October 23, 1870. Captain James Burrill led the vessel and seven crew toward Oswego, NY. All vanished, and the cause of the accident is still uncertain. Today, Saint James lies in deep water with her masts still upright, preserved by the cold, dark, fresh water of Lake Erie. The Saint James is commonly considered to be the best preserved example of a 19th century schooner anywhere in the Great Lakes. -Georgeann & Michael Wachter, Divers and Researchers.
Lake Champlain Canal Schooner Troy
The captain's hat trunk and pocketbook... have been picked up but none of the bodies have yet been found. -North Star 1825.
Lake Champlain At a Glance
Flows north into St. Lawrence River 120 miles (193 km) long 12 miles (19 km) at its widest 420 feet (122 m) deep 6.8 trillion gallons (25.8km3) fresh water Borders New York, Vermont and Quebec 300+ shipwrecksThe sailing canal boat is a unique vessel type, found in few places beyond Lake Champlain. These boats were designed to sail on Lake Champlain and then fit in the NY canal system where they were towed by animals. Troy is one of the earliest surviving examples. On Troy's last voyage in 1825 she was carrying as much as 90 tons of iron ore to Westport, NY in a fierce November rough waters, causing the boat to founder and sink in minutes. The lives of all five young crewmen were lost. Today, Troy lies in deep water. The shifting iron ore drove her bow into the lake bottom.
Steamboat Champlain II
Today, the stern of Champlain II is an Underwater Historic Preserve. The rudder, porthole and bell are on exhibit at the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum. Originally named Oakes Ames, the 244-footlong steamboat could carry fourteen railroad cars between Burlington, VT and Plattsburgh, NY. She was converted to an ornate luxury passenger steamer, and renamed Champlain. On July 16, 1875 near midnight, Champlain II was rocked by a huge crash. Moving at near-full speed, pilot John Eldredge had run the steamboat ashore. No one was injured, though investigation revealed that Eldredge had been taking morphine for painful gout and had probably fallen asleep at the wheel. You can see the rock through the bottom! -Cabin boy, after the accident.
St. Lawrence River At a Glance
Flows northeast from Lake Ontario into the Atlantic Ocean 744 miles (1,197 km) long 250 feet (76 m) deep 2.6 million gallons (9.8 ML) water discharged per second Borders New York, Ontario, and Quebec 1,864 islands in the Thousand Islands
Flying French and English Flags
Iroquoise was built in 1759 at a French shipyard at Point au Baril in Ontario during the French and Indian War. This 60-foot, two-masted schooner was crewed by 36 men, and could carry ten 12-pound guns. The British captured her at the Battle of Fort Levis in 1760, renaming her HMS Anson. The following year, she struck Niagara Shoal. She was salvaged, but shortly after, burned to the water line, and eventually was dragged into deeper water by the winter ice. Divers recovered numerous artifacts in the 1960s. These included three cannons, two anchors, and belt axes.
This sidewheel steamer was built in 1871 and originally named James H. Kelley. She was renamed John Thorn in 1879, and then Islander in 1887 when the Thousand Islands Steamboat Company purchased her. The 125 foot long steamer served as a mail carrier and took people on river tours until September 16, 1909 when she burned at her dock at Alexandria Bay. Today, Islander is easily accessible to recreational scuba divers. Three hours cannot be more delightfully spent than by taking this famous sail. -Steamboat brochure
Finger Lakes Tugboat Thomas H: Finger Lakes At a Glance
Eleven Lakes (traditionally): Otisco, Skaneateles, Owasco, Cayuga, Seneca, Keuka, Canandaigua, Honeoye, Canadice, Hemlock, Conesus Longest: Cayuga Lake 38 miles (12 km) Deepest: Seneca Lake 618 feet (188 m) Keuka: "Canoe landing" in Iroquois Canandaigua: "Chosen spot" in Seneca
May 29, 1945
Six ore-laden barges were being towed across Oneida Lake by the tugboat Thomas H, bound for Oswego, NY. Around 11pm, the weather turned fierce. Pounding waves opened here seams, and the tug's pumps were unable to keep up. Shortly after midnight, she sank, along with three of the six barges. All but one crewmember jumped to the floating tow and were rescued by the Standard Oil tanker Poughkeepsie. Today, Artifacts such as the wheel, ship's bell, and plates have been conserved and are on exhibit at the H. Lee White Maritime Museum.
Queen of the Cayuga Fleet, Frontenac was the largest boat on Cayuga Lake, built in 1870 and licensed to carry 370 passengers. For $1, passengers would travel from Cayuga to Ithaca and back in luxury. On the windy night of July 27, 1907, fire broke out on board, and spread rapidly, consuming the lifeboats. Captain Melvin T. Brown ran Frontenac aground, got passengers into life preservers, and encouraged them to jump into the water to swim or wade ashore. Eight people perished in the chaos of the event. The cause of the fire was never determined.