Many states and provinces in the Great Lakes region have museums, monuments, and shipwrecks that tell the story of the explorers, shippers, and industries that are a part of the region’s maritime history. But one state in the region plans to market itself as the place to visit to learn about the region’s maritime past. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports:
Many states and provinces in the Great Lakes region have museums, monuments, and shipwrecks
that tell the story of the explorers, shippers, and industries that are a part of the region’s maritime
history. But one state in the region plans to market itself as the place to visit to learn about the
region’s maritime past. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports:
Michigan has declared itself a ‘Maritime Heritage Destination.’ Bill Anderson is the director of
the Michigan Department of History, Arts and Libraries. He says visitors have long come to the
state for its natural beauty and outdoor activities. But he thought the state could appeal to
regional visitors interested in the culture and history of the lakes. He says the state has many
maritime-themed attractions, including the nation’s only underwater sanctuary devoted to
“Lighthouses, maritime museums, historic ships, underwater preserves, performing artists that specialize in maritime culture, cruises, other museums that have significant maritime collections…”
And so on. Anderson says discussions are underway with the National Park Service to bring the
park service on as a partner.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tamar Charney.
The Coast Guard has completed its investigation into the capsizing and sinking of the J.W. Westcott II. The J.W. Westcott delivers mail, miscellaneous items, and crew members to Great Lakes freighters as they pass through the Detroit River. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports:
The Coast Guard has completed its investigation into the
capsizing and sinking of the J.W. Westcott II. The J.W. Westcott
delivers mail, miscellaneous items, and crew members to Great
Lakes freighters as they pass through the Detroit River. The
Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Tamar Charney reports:
Last October, the J.W. Westcott II sank while attempting to drop-off and pick up a pilot from a tanker. The J.W. Westcott’s captain and a crew member died in the accident. The coast guard has concluded that the captain misjudged the effects of the water and waves surrounding the tanker. However, the coast guard’s report and an earlier report from the Transportation Safety Board of Canada found several contributing factors. The J.W. Westcott II was early, there was no communication between the two vessels, and the tanker hadn’t slowed down yet. The coast guard’s report recommends changes in training and procedures for how the J.W. Westcott II approaches, meets, and conducts transfers with ships. Since the accident the J.W. Westcott II was pulled up from the bottom of the river, fixed, and is back delivering mail to the passing ships.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Tamar Charney.
For years, biologists have warned that non-native zebra mussels threaten plant and animal species throughout the Great Lakes. Now, underwater archeologists say the mussels are also damaging historic shipwrecks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Brian Mann visited an underwater museum on Lake Champlain and has our story:
For years, biologists have warned that non-native “zebra mussels” threaten
plant and animal species throughout the Great Lakes. Now, underwater
archeologists say the mussels are also damaging historic shipwrecks. The Great
Lakes Radio Consortium’s Brian Mann visited an underwater museum on Lake Champlain and has our story:
It’s mid-afternoon and a haze floats over the dark green water, as dive-master Doug
Jones ties his boat to a yellow buoy. New York’s Adirondack mountains rise in the distance, but our destination this morning lies below the waves. Forty feet down on the silty bottom sits the wreck of a ship known as the Burlington Bay Horse Ferry…
“I suggest you do a tour around the wreck. It is possible to duck underneath part
of the decking that’s there. Please don’t, okay. It’s very fragile, especially the spokes to the paddlewheels that are sticking out. So buoyancy control is really important.”
The horse-powered ferry is one of six ships in Lake Champlain’s Underwater
Historic Preserve. Underwater sites like this one are sprinkled throughout
the Great Lakes. From commercial barges to warships, archeologists say
these wrecks hold a vital part of the region’s history.
(Respirator check and dive master chatter)
Perched on the dive platform, I go through a final equipment check. I’m
sheathed from head to toe in a wet suit, insulation against the cold water.
“Now come on over here and hang onto the buoy.”
Here on the lake, each wreck has its own buoy and a network of guide ropes.
Before the ropes were installed, divers sometimes bumped against the ships’
fragile timbers. After a pause to get my bearings, I slip below the
(Air bubble ambience)
Looking down, I see the buoy chain dwindle away into shadow. As I descend,
the water is cold and thick. Forty feet down, I reach the bottom. A dozen
strokes with my flippers and there it is, a man-made shape forming itself
out of shadows and watery dust.
I glide slowly past the delicate spokes of the paddle wheel. I drift above
the intricate, exposed ribbing of the deck.
“The horse ferry is the only known example of this type of vessel in North
Chris Sabick is Director of Conservation at the Lake Champlain Maritime
Museum, where they’ve built a half-scale model of the ship and its complex
Sabick: “It was a vessel type that was fairly widespread during the
19th century. But it’s one of those vessel types that has slipped
through the cracks of history and just kind of faded away.”
The lake’s murky water preserved the horse ferry. The fresh water is cold
and calm. The silt actually protects artifacts from bacteria. In many parts of
the Great Lakes, ships like this one have rested for centuries, completely
But now that’s changing. A box of tiny, brown and white shells has been
added to the Maritime Museum’s display. It’s a new organism – the zebra mussel.
They arrived in the Great Lakes in the late 1980s, carried in the ballast
tanks of ships. Zebra mussels have wreaked havoc on native fish and plant
species. But they’ve also coated hundreds of historic wrecks:
Sabick: “The enormous weight of hundreds of thousands of these
shells on water-logged wood can obviously cause things to collapse.”
Using wrecks like the Horse Ferry, scientists throughout the Great Lakes are
studying ways that zebra mussels actually change the water’s protective
Sabick: “It seems that the microenvironment that exists deep inside the mussel
layer or colony attracts a type of bacteria that accelerates the
degradation of the iron. And obviously all of these shipwrecks are fastened
with iron fasteners.”
Over time, the wrecks could literally come apart at the seams.
Back in the water, I draw close to the horse ferry’s bow. Thick layers of
shells coat the ribbing. In places, not an inch of wood is visible.
Researchers say they won’t know for several years how much damage has been
done. But as the zebra mussels continue to spread, scientists fear that
underwater museums like this one could be lost forever.
For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Brian Mann on Lake Champlain.
Laws protecting Great Lakes shipwrecks from looting vary from
state to state. But officials agree it’s nearly impossible to catch
underwater thieves… and only a handful of arrests are made each year.
Now, a Michigan case is encouraging officials to step up their efforts
save the shipwrecks. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy
Lake Superior is home to hundreds of shipwrecks. They’ve been preserved
there for well over a century. And they’re the destination of many
divers, hoping to explore their remains and learn their history.
Now, some of these sunken vessels can be explored without ever getting
wet. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Todd Witter reports:
The story of the sinking of the 200 foot long wooden cargo ship"Lucerne" has the familiar tone of other shipwrecks…caught in a Novemberstorm on Lake Superior, it went down with all hands. But this summer, aface was put to that 19th century wreckage, as the family of the"Lucerne’s" captain came to Wisconsin to dive the site and bid him afinal goodbye. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson hastheir story:
In Michigan’s Upper Peninsula there’s a way to see shipwrecks withoutgetting wet. Grand Island Shipwreck Tours has the only glassbottomedboat operation on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes. The Great LakesRadio Consortium’s Michelle Corum reports:
If you think pirates are a thing of the past, think again. It’s estimated there are more than six-thousand shipwrecks in the Great Lakes…and modern day pirates are preying on them. They strip the ships of anchors, portholes and other underwater souvenirs, and sell them at a huge profit. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Wendy Nelson has more:
A state underwater archeology program is trying a new tactic to preserve Great Lakes shipwrecks from divers. The plan is to make the sites easier for divers to find. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Mike Simonson reports: