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Ship that sank in 1881 is found nearly intact in Lake Michigan

In the early morning of May 11, 1881, Captain John Higgins and his eight-man crew rushed to a lifeboat and got one last glimpse of their schooner, Trinidad, as she disappeared into the icy waters of Lake Michigan. .

After 142 years, her wreck has finally been discovered.

In July, wreck hunters Brendon Baillod and Robert Jaeck discovered the impressively intact wreck of the Trinidad lying in about 300 feet of water, about 10 miles off Algoma, Wisconsin. This ended a two-year search for the little-known ship. According to Mr. Baillod, he was “little more than a floating coffin” at the time of his last trip.

The Trinidad was built on Grand Island, New York, in 1867 and was used as a freighter in the lucrative grain trade between Milwaukee, Chicago and Oswego, New York, according to a press release. press.

“A lot of these schooners were built for one purpose,” Baillod said in a phone interview Friday night. “And it was to make millionaires.”

At the time, East Coast towns depended on wheat from the Midwest transported on schooners via the Great Lakes, said Baillod, president of the Wisconsin Underwater Archeology Association and wrote a book listing more than 400 ships and wrecks. of Wisconsin. .

“If you lived in Philadelphia or Boston or New York in the 1860s and 1870s and ate a sandwich, the bread in that sandwich was almost certainly grown in Wisconsin and transported on a schooner,” Baillod said.

The 140-foot-long Trinidad was described in a newspaper article at the time as “one of the most beautiful schooners” ever seen, Baillod added, but it had a problem.

Insurance records show the vessel was poorly maintained by its owners, he said.

“Most schooners of his day lasted two to three times longer than his,” Baillod said.

Trinidad was plagued by constant leaks. In late 1880, Captain Higgins docked the boat in Port Huron, Michigan, in the middle of a voyage because he didn’t believe it would withstand the November gales on the Great Lakes, said Mr Baillod.

Captain Higgins waited for spring to resume his unfortunate journey. Trinidad started taking on water the morning of her sinking. The ship’s water pumps were overwhelmed and Captain Higgins and the crew decided to abandon her.

The men rowed for hours in a lifeboat through cold, shivering waters to reach the shore of Algoma. They were beaten and stricken with hypothermia, but they survived. A Newfoundland dog aboard the Trinidad was less fortunate. He sank with the ship.

Mr. Baillod and Mr. Jaeck began their search for Trinidad two years ago. The ship was an ideal candidate for discovery as Captain Higgins had given a detailed account of where it sank.

In July, the pair embarked on a journey targeting a new search area. On the second day of searching, they spotted something on their sonar.

“We had already seen a lot of wreckage on sonar, but we weren’t sure,” Baillod said. “We almost didn’t turn around.”

The length of the wreck matched that of the Trinidad. They contacted Wisconsin Historical Society underwater archaeologist Tamara Thomsen, who quickly arranged a thorough survey of the site.

“We were amazed to find that not only was the deckhouse still on the ship, but there were still all the cupboards with all the crockery stacked in it and all the crew’s effects,” Mr. Baillod said, adding: “It really is like a ship. in a bottle. It’s a time capsule.

“She’s not the only ship that’s in great shape in Wisconsin waters, but I’d say she’s in the top two or three,” he said.

Baillod said he hopes the wreckage will be added to the National Register of Historic Places next year and plans to release the exact location of the site.

“These are resources that are managed by the public and belong to the public,” he said. “They should be visible to the public.”


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