Saturday, April 26, 2008

Shipwreck Blog: Moonlight

The Moonlight, a Great Lakes schooner that sank in 1903 in a storm.

ASHLAND, Wis. (AP) — In her day, she was the archetype of the trim, speedy Great Lakes schooner.

Carrying a full set of canvas aloft, with cargos of grain and iron ore, she was a magnificent vision; widely regarded as the biggest, fastest and most beautiful of all the three-masted lakes schooners of the age.

She was the "Moonlight," a wooden ship in an era of iron men and near-mythic triumph and tragedy on the Great lakes. She is renowned in sea-shanties that recall her grace, beauty and speed, her epic sailing duels with other schooners, racing the wind for home, and she is sadly remembered for her ignominious end, foundering in a fall gale near the Apostle Islands in September of 1903.

Fast-forward 102 years.

On July 30, 2004, shipwreck hunter Jerry Eliason is conducting a systematic searching for the legendary bulk freighter Marquette, which had sunk in the area of Michigan Island.

Instead, in some 240 feet of water, he discovered something he hadn't even been looking for: the broken remains of the once majestic Moonlight.

Later that year, Bob Olson, Rick Peters and Ken Merryman, divers for the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society, found the vessel to be an astonishing archaeological treasure trove, amazingly intact after more than a century in the icy, preserving cold waters of Lake Superior. There the divers found the ship's china, lanterns, anchors and the original steering wheel — all items that are commonly quickly looted from the sunken remains of vessels in shallower, more accessible waters.

"One of the best stories about this ship is how well she is preserved," said Tamara Thomsen of the Maritime Preservation and Archaeology Program of the Wisconsin Historical Society, which collaborated with the Shipwreck Preservation Society to get the Moonlight listed on the Wisconsin Register of Historic Places as a preliminary to inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.

The State Historic Preservation Review Board of the Wisconsin Historical Society met last week and voted to include the Moonlight shipwreck on the state registry.

Ships that sink in cold, oxygen-depleted water tend to fare better than other shipwrecks. I remember watching a special on a shipwreck in the Baltic Sea, and that ship (can't recall the name) was in a truly remarkably state of preservation.

No comments: