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MSRA Newsletter 22


  • The start of 2013 will mark the launch of a new image after a dozen years in existence since the founding of the organization in 2001. Changes include the adjustment of the name from Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates to Michigan Shipwreck Research Association. Although a subtle change, the switch from Associates to Association reflects that the organization is much larger and more active than just the individuals who make up the board, whom the groups original name referenced. There are so many members, affiliates, and partner organizationsall who contribute to the work of the organizationthat it is truly an association. The new name will headline a new web site which will debut in January. The home page, seen above, reflects MSRAs mission of research, exploration, documentation, and interpretation as seen in the three major headers: Shipwrecks, Virtual Museum, and Mysteries & Histories (the annual outreach event). Under shipwrecks, you can continue to read about all the regions ship (and airplane) wrecks, both lost and still missing, as you could before, but there are new maps and more vessels. Additionally, we will launch a new Virtual Museum where the various exhibits designed by MSRA are on display after their initial run in a bricks and mortar establishment. In this manner, the information will continue to reach those interested. We will also make access to the information about the annual Mysteries & Histories event much easier. You may count on the event lineup to be up and available for perusal each year no later than mid-February. The Explorers banner (above) has changed too. Robert Underhills exquisite image of the profile of the Thomas Hume provides a striking backdrop for the delivery of the latest news from this organization dedicated to exploration. The beam of the divers light serves as a symbol of the light we hope to shed on various aspects of Michigans maritime history through the study of shipwrecks.

    Dear MSRA members, A long time has passed from our last edition of The Explorer, but that does not mean the organization has not been active. In fact, MSRA has spent significant time over the past year on several projects as well as revamping our image and as such this is an expanded version. With this newsletter, we are pleased to announce a new image for the organization as seen in our newsletter header, a slightly new nameMichigan Shipwreck Research Associationto reflect our growth, and a new web site viewable at Since the last newsletter, we have conducted two searches, one with NUMA and one with MSRA, and although difficult to see a bright side of those searches, we have to consider that we know an additional 80 square miles where there are no shipwrecks and airplane wrecks hiding. Thanks to receding water levels, we have however, been involved in surveying several new shipwreck discoveries, as discussed in three articles in this newsletter. Since the last newsletter, MSRA board directors Craig Rich and Valerie van Heest have each had another book published. You can read about them here. And, MSRAs exhibits, Shipwrecks: A Deep Look and Unsolved Mysteries: The Shipwreck Thomas Hume, have moved to a new location for a 2-year run. In April, the organization with host the Annual Mysteries & Histories: Beneath the Inland Seas eventthe 15th annual event. You can read about it here and mark the date.So as you can see, although we have been silent for some time, we have not been inactive. We are looking forward to an exciting 2013 season and continued growth of the organization. Jack van Heest Board of Directors, MSRA

    December 2012 Vol 22

    MSRA to Launch New Image

  • LOST & FOUNDLegendary Lake Michigan Shipwrecks By Valerie van HeestThe many shipwrecks presented in Lost and Found became even more famous after their discoveries than at the time of their losses, gaining notoriety as historic attractions, archaeological sites, and in some cases, over bold salvage attempts or precedent- setting legal battles. Through riveting narrative, the award-winning author and explorer takes the readers back in time to experience the careers and tragic sinkings of these ships, then beneath the lake to participate in the triumphant discovery and exciting exploration of their remains and the circumstances that led to their status as legendary shipwrecks. Most assuredly, the compelling sagas of these important vessels did not end when the waves of Lake Michigan washed over them.

    THROUGH SURF AND STORM: Shipwrecks of Muskegon County Michigan By Craig RichAs Michigans premiere lumbering port during the 19th century, Muskegon served as the eastern terminus for a huge fleet of scows, schooners, side-wheelers, steamers, and propellers for the past 180 years. Fierce Lake Michigan gales, sudden snow squalls, waterspouts, and even a rarely recorded Lake Michigan tidal wave, or seiche, capsized vessels, stranded them on shore, froze their rigging, tore their sails, and tossed their crews into the icy cold water. These vessels and the men and women who served on them are an important part of our history. From the lumber barons and fleet owners of the 1800s to the charter fishing boat captains of the modern era, the men and women who make a living on the lakes paint a colorful maritime history of Muskegon County, Michigan. Please check out these books and others at

    For MSRA, which has grown and evolved from our initial shipwreck discovery of the H.C. Akeley back in 2001, and which has discovered 13 shipwrecks since, it is always difficult to report a year of complete and total absence of any new discoveries, but that is, unfortunately, what we have to do. During two

    consecutive expeditions, one in April and May with Ralph Wilbanks and the team from NUMA, and one in June with David Trotter, the teams covered more territory than ever before, but did not turn anything of substance.

    During the MSRA/Trotter search, an anomaly that could represent something on the bottom at 200 feet showed up on the side scan. We knew immediately that it could not be a shipwreck, but we had to see the target in person to rule out ship or airplane debris. We returned to the site with dive gear, but could not locate anything using a fish finder, which suggested the target may only be hard bottom. We will make another attempt in the summer of 2013 to scan the area again to see if we can obtain a more detailed image, then make a dive

    if the sonar still indicates the presence of something.Such thoroughness resulted in the identification of an anomaly found by

    NUMA in 2011 that we dubbed the double target. We announced the find to our members in the spring of that year and posted the sonar image in the last newsletter. Now we have identified the object, thanks to a dive by Jeff Vos and Bob Underhill, MSRA technical divers. The anomaly is two nun buoys, connected via a chain. A nun buoy is conical in shape, typically red in color, and marks the right side of a channel leading into a harbor. They were likely dropped off a government or contractors boat accidently some time ago, based on the colonization of mussels on the buoys. It

    is always best to know rather than guess what a target is, even when the answer is rather mundane.


    The Publishing Partner of MSRA

    2012 Search Expedition Recaps

    Double Target

    Nun Buoy by Robert Underhill

  • Low lake levels in the fall of 2012 resulted in the exposure of several shipwreck hulks along the edges of Harbor Island in Grand Haven, Michigan. MSRA members Bill and Shirley Martinus called the wrecks to the attention of MSRA and, in turn, MSRA contacted Kenneth Pott, director of the Tri-Cities Historical Museum and a maritime archaeologist. Together the two teams visited the sites to take preliminary photographs and measurements with the hope of identify-ing the vessels. Visits to the site on Friday December 7 revealed the hulks of five vessels. West of the launch ramp are two barges, a 126-foot+/-schooner, and a 120-foot boat of some type yet identified, all partially embedded in the ground that used to be underwater. Another significantly larger wreck measuring forty feet wide is located east of the launch ramp. Only about 12 inches of the lower hull is exposed above the ground and 165 feet of the vessel from amidships to the stern is visible. It appears that another portion of the wreck is buried in shore-line land where records indicated some fill had been added in the past. The remains appear to have been burned down to the waterline of the vessel. The hull is about 18 inches wide, constructed with wooden frames spaced about 20 to 24 inches apart with 5-inch wide iron straps crisscrossing the hull on the outside of the frames under the exterior wood cladding. MSRA affiliate, maritime historian William Lafferty, nar-rowed the possibilities down to two possible wrecks: the 185-foot L.L. Barth abandoned at Grand Haven in 1927 or a significantly larger vessel, the 290-foot Aurora, burned in 1932. Excavation east of the visible portions revealed structure at least 20 feet beyond the length of the L.L. Barth. A later divining-rod survey suggested that the vessel structure ex-tends 110 east under land, for an overall length of about 285 feet. That length is consistent with the water line length of the Aurora. The Aurora was a very significant ship when built in 1887. When launched by Murphy and Miller of Cleveland in late-July that year, the 310-foot, steam-driven propeller was the largest and most powerfully built wooden vessel on the Great Lakes. The 3000-ton vessel was initially owned by John Corrigan of the Aurora Mining Company of Milwaukee which paid $150,000 for its construction. It was used to ship iron ore from the Gogebic Range Ironwood, Michigan, to