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Divers believe they've discovered schooner missing 138 years

Kyle Moroney • Jul 21, 2015 at 11:28 AM

The latest schooner discovery was made while the group set out for an excursion last summer in search of the 240-foot Andaste, a steel-hauled ship that disappeared shortly after leaving the Grand Haven harbor on its way to Chicago in 1929. The Holland-based nonprofit group did not announce their schooner discovery until just recently since research took several months and the group narrowed their findings down to the St. Peter about two months ago, according to Craig Rich of MRSA.

Images of the sunken ship shot by side-scan operator David Trotter show that it closely resembles that of a schooner, according to MRSA Director Valerie van Heest. But there were very few schooners that sank near Grand Haven, and virtually none that were reported missing.

“We could tell it was a schooner,” van Heest said, “but we were really stymied as to what’s a schooner doing out there.”

The ship lies 350 feet under Lake Michigan’s waves about 20 miles from the Grand Haven shore. Divers had only about 15 minutes to examine the ship because of the depth’s associated dangers and the two and a half hours needed to decompress while floating up to the water’s surface.

The divers discovered the two-masted, 90-foot schooner remains intact with a scroll adorning the ship’s bow — a characteristic of schooners built in the early- to mid-19th century, van Heest said. A substance found below deck is believed to have been soft cargo — such as grain — the ship was carrying before it sank. All three of these descriptions match that of the St. Peter, which was carrying wheat from Chicago to Buffalo, N.Y.

Van Heest said crewmembers aboard the St. Peter schooner reported it has been taking on water about 35 miles from Milwaukee. At that point, the entire crew rowed safely to the Milwaukee shore, abandoning the still-sailing ship.

“If this is the wreck of the St. Peter, then it drifted east for some time, coming to rest on the opposite side of Lake Michigan — significantly farther east than the crew reported,” said Rich, author of two local shipwreck books.

Of the group’s 14 discovered shipwrecks, a majority of them have been found between 200 and 275 feet under water, according to Rich. The group’s latest discovery is the deepest they’ve found thus far.

“We believe that, in Lake Michigan, this is the deepest schooner that has been found,” Rich said.

It is also the second shipwreck to have been found off the Grand Haven coast. The Cleveland-based Ironsides — a 218-foot wood-hull passenger steamer — sank about 3 miles from Grand Haven in September 1873, according to MRSA.

MRSA will present the story of their new discovery during its fundraising event on April 21. The event, “Mysteries and Histories: An Evening Beneath the Inland Seas,” is at 7 p.m. at the Knickerbocker Theater, 86 E. Eighth St. in Holland. Tickets are $15.

The group is also planning to acquire a state permit in order to retrieve cargo from the found schooner for testing. They hope to do that this spring, van Heest said.

“There are more shipwrecks ready to be found,” she said. “There are many, many ports along Lake Michigan — and they were busy ports with lots of traffic. And when there is traffic, there are accidents. As we continue our search efforts, there is a potential for more discoveries.”

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To see a video of the MSRA's discovery believed to be the St. Peter schooner, click here.

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