On the evening of Friday, the 24th, we received a call from our friends at the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association that new shipwreck remains had just been reported on the beach north of Ludington, near the entrance to the State Park. The next morning, Eric, the manager of the maritime museum, was out surveying and recording the wreckage, taking measurements and photographs that can be used to work on a possible identification.
High water tends to reveal long-buried shipwrecks, and several around Lake Michigan have recently become visible. The waters between Big and Little Sable Points are notoriously dangerous. Dozens of ships have become total losses between the points, some in deep water offshore, but many more grounding near shore. Some were salvaged if not too badly damaged, others were left to break up in the surf. As shown in the museum’s current shipwreck exhibit, over 300 ships have grounded on the west coast of Michigan over the last 170 years, at least 20 of those between the two Point Sables.
Shortly after we announced our survey of the wreckage, MSRA was contacted by the Epworth Historical Society, who let us know that in the 1980s a large wooden rudder had come ashore at Epworth, just to the south of the wreckage we surveyed. Also, a few years ago, workers at the Ludington State Park recovered a large wooden windlass that had washed up on the beach. It is possible that those items and the recently uncovered wreckage may be related.
The wreckage is a hull fragment from a wooden vessel. At the time of the survey the wreckage was approximately 32 feet long by 8 feet wide. The hull fragment consists of 15 double frames (the “ribs” of a vessel) with planking on both sides. The planking is quite large, with widths measuring between 8 and 11 inches, joined to the frames with metal fasteners. These remains are just a fragment of a vessel. Unfortunately, there are no centerline timbers such as the keel, keelson, or centerboard trunk, (the backbone of the vessel) which could give us a much better idea of the size and type of the vessel. The construction and measurements are consistent with schooners built between the 1850s and 1880s.
Working with our partners at MSRA, comparing the wreckage with historical records we have identified several possible vessels that the wreckage could be from: The J.B. Skinner built in 1841, the George F. Foster built in 1852, the J.O. Moss built in 1863, the Eclipse built in 1852, and the Orphan Boy built in 1862. We also know of a wooden hulled tug, the Frank Canfield, built in 1875, that sank off Big Sable Point, which is another possibility.
A special thank you to Jen Tooman and Chris Brandt, for bringing this to the attention of MSRA.