Saturday, August 19, 2006

 

Historic Lake Michigan shipwreck found

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Duluth News Time
By James Prichard
August 19, 2006


HOLLAND, Mich. - A group dedicated to finding and documenting shipwrecks in Michigan's waters said Friday it found the well-preserved remains of the historic vessel Hennepin and two other ships at the bottom of LakeMichigan.

The 208-foot-long Hennepin was a steamer built in Milwaukee in 1888. It was later transformed into the Great Lakes' first self-unloader, a transport ship with anA-shaped crane and a series of conveyors that make it faster and easier to unload cargo.

"This is the prototype for about all of the Great Lakes freighters in use today," said Bob Vande Vusse, a member of Michigan ShipwreckResearch Associates.

After being in service for nearly 40 years, the Hennepin was in poor condition and being used as a tow barge when, during a voyage from Chicago to Grand Haven, it sank during a storm on Aug. 18, 1927. The captain and his 13-member worked for about four hours to save the vessel but ended up having to abandon ship and board the tugboat that had been towing it.

Everyone safely escaped the Hennepin.

Members of the Holland-based shipwreck group said they located the ship upright in 230 feet of water off South Haven earlier this year. Before it was found, the vessel had been on the group's "most wanted" list of its sixmost-sought-after shipwrecks.

The group also found a modern barge in 200 feet of water off Port Sheldon in Ottawa County and an unidentified, intact, wooden schooner in more than 250 feet of water off Saugatuck.

Co-founder Valerie van Heest said her group will try to get the Hennepin shipwreck added to the National Register of Historic Places. Only 10 of the many known wrecks in Michigan waters now have that distinction, she said during a news conference at City Hall.

Even though it has a wooden hull, the Hennepin is in "pristine condition," said group member Craig Rich. The cold, fresh water of the Great Lakes helps preserve shipwrecks much longer than wrecks found in warm and salty ocean water.

The all-volunteer group uses research materials to select the most likely locations for wrecks, then employs sonar equipment to scan the lake bottoms. Divers confirm the finds.

When wrecks are located, members promote the locations to divers who might be interested in checking them out. They say the state's west coast is becoming increasingly popular with divers because of the growing number of wrecks just off the coast.

"West Michigan is beginning to become a burgeoning sport diving and technical (deep-water) diving area," van Heest said.

To date, the organization, which was founded in 2001, has covered about 230 square miles of Lake Michigan looking for evidence of wrecks. Other discoveries include the luxury passenger steamer H.C. Akeley, the passenger steamer SS Michigan and the car ferry Ann Arbor No. 5.


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