Schooner that sank in Lake Michigan in 1881 found intact, miles off Wisconsin coastline

The Trinidad, a 140-foot-long vessel that carried grain and coal, sank in May 1881 about 120 miles north of Milwaukee. The crews possessions and deck gear are still present.

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The schooner Trinidad wintering at Sarnia, Ontario, in 1873. The 156-year-old Trinidad was found in July in about 270 feet of water off Algoma, Wisconsin, by maritime historians Brendon Baillod and Robert Jaeck using side-scan sonar.

The schooner Trinidad wintering at Sarnia, Ontario, in 1873. The 156-year-old Trinidad was found in July in about 270 feet of water off Algoma, Wisconsin, by maritime historians Brendon Baillod and Robert Jaeck using side-scan sonar.

Associated Press

ALGOMA, Wis. — Shipwreck hunters have discovered the intact remains of a schooner that sank in Lake Michigan in 1881 and is so well-preserved it still contains the crew’s possessions in its final resting spot miles from Wisconsin’s coastline.

Wisconsin maritime historians Brendon Baillod and Robert Jaeck found the 156-year-old Trinidad in July off Algoma at a depth of about 270 feet. They used side-scan sonar to hone in on its location based on survivor accounts in historical records.

An underwater photo shows the wheel of the Trinidad. The boat was so well preserved that it still contains the crew’s possessions.

An underwater photo shows the wheel of the Trinidad. The boat was so well preserved that it still contains the crew’s possessions.

Associated Press

“The wreck is among the best-preserved shipwrecks in Wisconsin waters with her deck-house still intact, containing the crew’s possessions and her anchors and deck gear still present,” according to a news release announcing the Trinidad’s discovery.

The 140-foot-long schooner was built in Grand Island, New York, in 1867 by shipwright William Keefe, and was used primarily in the grain trade between Milwaukee, Chicago and Oswego, New York.

The deckhouse of the Trinidad. The ship’s captain and eight-man crew survived and reached Algoma, Wisconsin, after rowing eight hours in the ship’s yawl boat.

The deckhouse of the Trinidad. The ship’s captain and eight-man crew survived and reached Algoma, Wisconsin, after rowing eight hours in the ship’s yawl boat.

Associated Press

But it was carrying a load of coal bound for Milwaukee when early on May 13, 1881, it developed a catastrophic leak after passing through the Sturgeon Bay Ship Canal. It sank about 10 miles off the coast of Algoma, “taking all the crew’s possessions and the captain’s pet Newfoundland dog with her,” the news release states.

Captain John Higgins and his crew of eight survived and reached Algoma, about 120 miles north of Milwaukee, after rowing for eight hours in the ship’s yawl boat. Higgins believed the Trinidad’s hull was damaged a few days before the sinking as it passed through ice fields in the Straits of Mackinac.

Brendon Baillod, Bob Jaeck and Tom Crossmon survey the Trinidad off Algoma, Wisconsin. Baillod and Jaeck found the 156-year-old Trinidad in July.

Brendon Baillod, Bob Jaeck and Tom Crossmon survey the Trinidad off Algoma, Wisconsin. Baillod and Jaeck found the 156-year-old Trinidad in July.

Associated Press

After discovering the Trinidad in July, Baillod and Jaeck reported their finding to an underwater archaeologist with the Wisconsin Historical Society who arranged for the site to be surveyed with an underwater vehicle that verified the vessel’s identity and documented historic artifacts, according to the news release.

A three-dimensional model of the ship has been created to allow people to explore the site virtually. Baillod and Jaeck plan to work with the Wisconsin Historical Society to nominate the site to the National Register of Historic Places.

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