Researchers find 19th century shipwreck in Lake Superior

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(MARQUETTE, Mich.) — Deep in the rough waters of Lake Superior, researchers have discovered a 19th century ship that had actually sank twice before its final demise.

The 144-foot barquentine named Nucleus was found under 600 feet of water around 40 miles northwest of Vermilion Point Nature Preserve on Lake Superior, according to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.

The ship was carrying a load of iron ore after leaving Marquette, Michigan, when it sank on Sept. 14, 1869, amid a storm, researchers said. Once the Nucleus started to take on water, the crew abandoned the vessel on a lifeboat.

After a few hours on the water, officers aboard the S.S. Union reportedly spotted the crew struggling in the storm but did not rescue them, according to researchers.

“What a bunch of jerks, right?” Corey Adkins, communications director for the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, told ABC News.

After about five hours in rough waters, crew members were picked up by a schooner called Worthington, researchers said.

“Lake Superior is often referred to as a freshwater ocean. It’s one of the biggest lakes on the planet,” Adkins said. “So I’m sure during this storm in September 1869, it was probably not very hospitable — to the crew of the Nucleolus or the ship.”

The Nucleus is nicknamed the “Bad Luck Barquentine” due to its multiple accidents — one of them occurring in 1854 when it rammed and sank a side-wheeler called S.S. Detroit in Lake Huron. In the two previous incidents, the Nucleus was re-floated, repaired and reused, Adkins said.

Researchers first detected the shipwreck in the summer of 2021 using marine sonic technology from the surface of Lake Superior, Adkins said. It was then positively identified as the Nucleus in 2022 after researchers used a remotely operated vehicle to explore the site further.

The ship was one of the oldest to go down along Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast, making it a “significant discovery,” Shipwreck Society Executive Director Bruce Lynn said in a statement.

The wreck site is “littered” with shovels and some dinner plates, which speaks to the crew’s work and shipboard life, Lynn said.

The ship is mostly intact, Darryl Ertel Jr., the historical society’s director of marine operations, said in a statement.

“At first, I thought it was totally in pieces on the bottom,” Ertel said.

Ertel had a “very good year of shipwreck hunting” in 2021, finding 10 in that year alone, Adkins said.

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