Cargo ship that sank in Lake Superior 120 years ago found

The vessel was carrying iron ore and being towed by a steamer named the Maunaloa when the cargo ship sank during a storm.

Barge 129, pictured here in an unknown year, sank in Lake Superior on Oct. 13, 1902. The Michigan-based Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society recently announced the shipwreck had been discovered in 2021, roughly 35 miles off Vermillion Point in 650 feet of water.
Contributed / Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society
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WHITEFISH POINT, Mich. —A 292-foot steamship that sank a hundred years ago in Lake Superior has been found, officials with a shipwreck museum said Wednesday.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society said a Whaleback vessel named Barge 129 was found in 2021 in 650 feet of the lake's water about 35 miles off Vermilion Point. The society found it along with eight other shipwrecks using sonar technology.

"I've looked for this ship for so long because it was a Whaleback," Darryl Ertel, the historical society's Director of Marine Operations, said in a statement. "I was pretty excited."

A Whaleback has low, rounded hulls, decks, and deckhouses designed to reduce water and wind resistance, according to the Smithsonian. Between 1887 and 1898, 44 whalebacks were produced: 23 were barges and 21 were steamships, including one passenger vessel, it said.

"The whalebacks were pretty unusual ships," Bruce Lynn, the historical society's Executive Director, said. The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society said Barge 129 sank on Oct. 13, 1902.


The vessel was carrying iron ore and being towed by a steamer named the Maunaloa when the cargo ship sank during a storm, according to the museum. The towline snapped and the Maunaloa turned around to reconnect the towline, but wind and waves slammed the two vessels together.

Maunaloa's anchor ripped a hole into Barge 129's side and it began sinking. The cargo ship's crew managed to board its lifeboat and the Maunaloa's crew helped them onto their boat as Barge 129 sank.

Lynn said the society last summer sent a remotely operated underwater vehicle equipped with a camera to get a closer look at Barge 129's wreckage.

"You could clearly see the distinctive bow with a part of the towline still in place...that was an incredible moment," Lynn said.

Ertel added the devastation of the ship was surprising.

"It's totally destroyed on the bottom," he said. "It's nowhere near intact. It's at least 4 to 5 big pieces and thousands of little pieces. It's just disintegrated."

Founded in 1978 and based in Whitefish Point, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society operates the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum in Whitefish Point and the U.S. Weather Bureau Building in Sault Sainte Marie. It also funds the exploration of historic shipwrecks in eastern Lake Superior.


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