2nd-oldest confirmed shipwreck found in Great Lakes

Michigan waters littered with lost vessels


DETROIT – After disappearing in 1803, the Sloop Washington has been discovered.

What is believed to be the 2nd oldest commercial shipwreck ever discovered, the sloop Washington, also known as the Lady Washington, set sail from Kingston with five men on board on Nov. 6, 1803, only to sink in a gale on Lake Ontario. 

It was never seen again -- until now.

The National Museum of the Great Lakes announced the discovery of the shipwreck, which was found in June of 2016 by a group of searchers, led by Jim Kennard.

The Washington was built near what is now Erie, PA in 1797. A sloop is a small, single-masted vessel that was used mostly in coastal trading.

It was sold to Canadian merchants in 1800. (Check out search video of the shipwreck below)

The Sinking of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald

The S.S. Edmund Fitzgerald was considered the largest and fastest Great Lakes ship. It set multiple records for the largest season-hauls. Built by the Great Lakes Engineering Works in River Rouge, Mich., the ship launched in 1958. It was the first lake freighter built to the maximum St. Lawrence Seaway size.

The Fitzgerald carried ore between mills in Minnesota and iron works in Detroit, Toledo, and Cleveland. It had a capacity of 26,000 tons.

The Fitzgerald sank on the evening of Nov. 10, 1975 during a particularly rough storm on Lake Superior. There are no survivors or witnesses to the shipwreck.

According to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum, the Fitzgerald's Captain Ernest McSorely reported problems around 3:30 p.m. that afternoon in a radio message to the S.S. Arthur Anderson: "Anderson, this is the Fitzgerald. I have a fence rail down, two vents lost or damaged, and a list. I'm checking down. Will you stay by me till I get to Whitefish?"

The last contact with the Fitzgerald took place at 7:10 p.m. The Fitzgerald crew reported that the ship was "holding our own." Just five minutes later, the Anderson's radar lost the Fitzgerald's signal. Another call to the Fitzgerald at 7:22 p.m. went unanswered. Around 10:00 p.m. the Anderson's crew discovered the Fitzgerald's lifeboats and other wreckage, but no sign of survivors.

A Coast Guard underwater vessel discovered the Fitzgerald's wreckage on May 20, 1976 about 535 feet below Lake Superior's surface. Divers recovered the ship's bell in 1995. The wreckage is considered a grave site by the family members of the crew and, as such, the Canadian government has declared it a heritage site. That status prevents divers from visiting the wreckage without permission.

Shipwrecks in the Great Lakes

More than 6,000 shipwrecks cover the bottom of the Great Lakes, dating back to the late 1600s.

Just more than 20 percent of lost vessels are in Lake Michigan, second only to Lake Huron. Heavy passenger travel and trade between Chicago, combined with dangerous winds, ended the careers of almost 2,000 vessels and the lives of thousands.

To date, only about 300 shipwrecks have been found beyond the surf line in Lake Michigan within state waters of Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana and Michigan.

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