In September, a Discovery Channel film crew traveled to Paradise, Mich. , looking for two French naval ships that disappeared in 1918. But during a trip to find them, they found another shipwreck that was four decades older.
Josh Gates, the host of “Expedition Unknown,” and a team of researchers instead spotted the Satellite, a tugboat also lost in Lake Superior that had not been seen for 142 years, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society. announced this week.
“Finding the Satellite was extremely exciting and unexpected,” said Mr Gates.
On June 21, 1879, the 15-year-old Satellite was on a routine trip to Duluth, Minn. , of Detroit, and towing four schooner barges when it sprang a leak.
“We began bailing and pumping and tried to stop the leak, but it was useless,” the ship’s captain, Joshua B. Markee, wrote in a letter dated June 23, 1879. “She was gaining on us an inch a minute,” he wrote, adding that “there were no logs” in “the way we came.”
Mr. Markee and his crew of five were able to keep the Satellite afloat for about two hours before abandoning ship, allowing it to sink in about 300 feet of water.
The sinking of the ship had many witnesses, but its cause is still up for debate, said Bruce Lynn, executive director of the historical society’s museum in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. One report suggested the Satellite had suffered a mechanical problem, while another swore it had struck a log.
Now more than a century later, the tug has been found lying at the bottom of Lake Superior. The Great Lake, which borders Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, is the resting place of about 350 shipsof which at least half remain undiscovered, including the two ships that Mr. Gates hoped to find: the Inkerman and the Cerisoles.
Those ships, which were minesweepers, saw a much worse fate than the Satellite. The naval vessels were built in Michigan for the French military during World War I but disappeared during a storm in 1918 on their maiden voyage to Europe through the Soo Locks, which allow travel between the Great Lakes, Mr. Gates said. The two captains and their crews of dozens of French sailors have never been found, making the wrecks some of Lake Superior’s deadliest.
“Almost nothing was ever found of them; it’s like they went down without a trace,” Mr. Gates said, which meant they were the perfect subjects for his show about puzzling stories and unsolved mysteries. “They just disappeared off the face of the earth,” he said.
The minesweeper and the Satellite were roughly the same length, Mr. Lynn said, fueling hopes that the researchers may have finally located one of the minesweepers in September after decades of searching. But when Darryl Ertel, the director of marine operations at the historical society, dropped a remotely operated vehicle, or ROV, on a promising sonar target, the Satellite’s hull gave it away. The minesweepers were made of steel, but the hull of the Satellite was wooden.
“It was considered a pretty faithful ship, so I think it was a big surprise to everyone when it went down,” Mr Lynn said, adding that the Satellite went down on a calm and sunny day, so weather was unlikely to have been involved. factor The newspaper wrote that it was a “well-known river tow”, and word that it had sunk in Lake Superior started at the harbor and “spread like wildfire” around Detroit.
Despite being a working tugboat, however, the Satellite was considered one of the most beautiful ships on the Great Lakes, the historical society said. “Her cabin and upper works are said to have been the most elaborately put on craft of her kind,” The Detroit Press and Tribune wrote at the time.
And the Satellite video of the wreckage was cinematic, Mr. Gates said. Images from the ROV showed the ship “sitting perfectly upright; it was almost like looking at a ship in a bottle,” he described. The team could even see a compass in the sand next to it, he said.
As the pursuit of the Inkerman and Cerisoles extends, locating the Satellite can be marked as a relief victory, although the source of the tugboat’s demise may never be determined.
As The Detroit Post and Tribune reported in the days that followed the wreck of the Satellite: “She was in good condition, and what could have caused her to sink is all guesswork.”
That’s what makes shipwrecks so attractive, Mr. Gates said: They’re frozen in time. “It connects us to the past in a really primal way,” he said.