Great Lakes Underwater

H. C. Akeley

Sout West Michigan Underwater Preserve

The most notable thing about the AKELEY is that for two years after the shipwreck discovery, it was thought to be the wreck of the long sought CHICORA. The intrigue over this wreck, involving two historical groups, lawyers and a legendary Great Lakes shipwreck hunter seems to prove that people can get just as crazy about their fifteen minutes of fame, as they can over gold.

The H. C. AKELEY was launched in Grand Haven, Michigan in April of 1881. The 245-foot steamer was very similar to the steam barges built in Cleveland, Ohio at the same time and used for transporting iron ore between Upper Lake Superior and the steel mills of Cleveland. Those ships combined the open decks, masts and sails of a cargo schooner with an aft steam engine and boiler. The H. C. AKELEY was designed in the same way with three masts and large open cargo hatches between a small pilothouse in front, and boilers, engine and cabin in the back.

In the late 1800’s two primary cargoes moved on the Great Lakes: iron ore from Lake Superior to the steel mills of Ohio, and grain shipped from the vast agricultural heartland of the Plains states, through Chicago east on the Great Lakes to Buffalo, New York.

The H. C. AKELEY was a grain carrier, and had left Chicago in November of 1883 with a load of 54,000 bushels of corn. Shortly after leaving Chicago the wind shifted from southwest to northwest and the AKELEY was caught in a November gale in the middle of Lake Michigan. After taking the disabled tug PROTECTION in tow and fighting the storm for several hours, they lost rudder control and slipped into the trough between waves. After shifting cargo broke a steam line and waves took away the stack, the ship became completely disabled. The ship drifted across the lake until the anchor was set at midnight about 15 miles from Holland Michigan. The ship lasted until 2 PM the next day, when it foundered, taking half of the crew with it. The other half were rescued by the crew of the schooner DIVER, who had maneuvered in and launched the yawl boat shortly before the AKELEY foundered.

Today the shipwreck lies in 270 feet of cold, dark Lake Michigan water. The lower Lakes do not have the clear water found further north. The attached video clip is from a 20 minute dive on a “good” day.

Story and photos ©2005 J.R. Underhill Communications

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