In September, a Discovery Channel film crew went to Paradise, Michigan, looking for two French navy ships that went missing in 1918. But on a trip to find them, they came across another shipwreck more than four decades old.
‘Expedition Unknown’ host Josh Gates and a team of researchers instead spotted the Satellite, a tug also missing in Lake Superior that hadn’t been seen in 142 years, Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society announced this week.
« Finding the satellite was extremely exciting and unexpected, » Gates said.
On June 21, 1879, the 15-year-old Satellite was on a routine voyage to Duluth, Minnesota from Detroit, towing four schooner barges when a breach occurred.
“We began bailing and pumping and tried to stop the leak, but it was to no avail,” wrote the ship’s captain, Joshua B. Markee, in a letter dated June 23, 1879. “He gained an inch on us minute,” he wrote, adding that “there were no logs” in “the way we came.”
Mr. Markee and his crew of five managed to keep the Satellite afloat for about two hours before abandoning ship, allowing her to sink in about 300 feet of water.
The ship’s sinking had many witnesses, but its cause is still under debate, said Bruce Lynn, executive director of the historical society museum in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One account suggested the Satellite had a mechanical problem, while another swore it hit a log.
Now, more than a century later, the tugboat has been found on the bottom of Lake Superior. The Great Lake, which borders Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, is the stopping place of about 350 shipsat least half of which remain undiscovered, including the two vessels Mr. Gates hoped to find: the Inkerman and the Cerisoles.
Those ships, which were minesweepers, saw a much darker fate than the Satellite. The naval vessels were built in Michigan for the French military during World War I but disappeared in a storm in 1918 on their maiden voyage to Europe via the Soo Locks, which allow travel between the Great Lakes, he said Gates. The two captains and their crews of dozens of French sailors were never found, making the shipwrecks among the deadliest on Lake Superior.
“Almost nothing has ever been found by them; it’s as if they’ve fallen without a trace,” said Mr. Gates, which meant they were the perfect subjects for his show about puzzling stories and unsolved mysteries. « They just vanished off the face of the earth, » he said.
The minesweepers and the satellite were roughly the same length, Lynn said, raising hopes that researchers could finally locate one of the minesweepers in September after decades of searching. But when Darryl Ertel, the director of maritime operations at the historical society, launched a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, at a promising sonar target, the satellite’s hull gave it away. The minesweepers were made of steel, but the hull of the Satellite was made of wood.
« She was considered a pretty solid vessel, so I think it was a big surprise to everyone when she sank, » said Mr. Lynn, adding that the Satellite sank on a calm, sunny day, so the weather wasn’t likely to be. been a factor. The newspaper wrote that she was a « famous river tug » and the rumor that she had sunk in Lake Superior began at the docks and « spread like wildfire » around Detroit.
Despite being a working tug, however, the Satellite was considered one of the finest vessels on the Great Lakes, the historical society said. « Her cabin and upper works are said to be the most elaborately put on a vessel of her kind, » wrote The Detroit Press and Tribune at the time.
And the video of the Satellite wreck was cinematic, Mr. Gates said. Images from the ROV showed the vessel “sitting perfectly upright; it was almost like looking at a ship in a bottle,” he described. The team could also see a compass in the sand next to it, he said.
As the pursuit of the Inkerman and Cerisoles drags on, the detection of the Satellite may be marked as a incidental victory, although the origin of the tug’s disappearance may never be determined.
As reported by the Detroit Post and Tribune in the days following the sinking of the Satellite: « She was in good shape, and what could have caused her to sink is all speculation. »
That’s what makes shipwrecks so appealing, Mr. Gates said: They’re frozen in time. « It connects us to the past in a really primal way, » he said.