One of deepest Lake Michigan wrecks found
by Philip Reynolds
One of the deepest wrecks ever discovered in Lake Michigan has been located off the shores of the city of Muskegon.
The wreck is that of the 65.2 metre steamship John V Moran, which was lost on the night of 9 February 1899, after being holed by ice.
The John V Moran was delivering a consignment of flour and packaged goods from Milwaukee on the western shore of the great lake to Muskegon, which lies nearly 90 miles away on the eastern shore.
Lake Michigan is a renowned ship graveyard with, according to many maritime historians, at least a 2,000 wrecks resting on the lakebed. Most have been broken up by the passage of time but the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association say the John V Moran is still largely intact.
At the time it sank the John V Moran, owned by the Union Transit Company, had been in service 11 years. Despite being built with an iron-reinforced hull, designed specially for winter work, the ship was overcome by the extreme conditions she encountered over 116 years ago.
The ship’s captain, John McLeod, dumped much of her cargo to try to keep her afloat but as water began pouring in through the hole a torn open by ice, the John V Moran began to sink.
Captain McLeod and his 24-man crew faced a potentially deadly decision: stay on their ship and await rescue or take to the ice and try to reach the safety of steamer Naomi, which was three miles away.
They chose to walk on the ice in what was reported at the time to be -30C degree temperatures and blew their distress whistle to alert Naomi.
Dragging a lifeboat across the ice, three crewmen started walking toward Naomi with only beams from their lanterns to light their path. They managed to get the attention of Naomi, which then began ploughing through the frozen lake to reach the crew of the John V Moran. As Naomi drew near the remaining 22 men carefully crossed the ice and climbed aboard. Fortunately, everyone survived.
According to newspaper accounts of the time, early the next morning, the John V Moran was still afloat. The Naomi then tried to tow the stricken vessel toward Muskegon, but it became clear that it would not make the 15 miles to shore and she was left to her fate - until now.
Last month, a team with the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association located the John V Moran during a sonar search. Because the shipwreck sits 365ft under the lake, the group decided to wait for the water to warm before diving to it.
With help from the Michigan State Police Underwater Recovery Unit, the team was able to reach the wreck on 8 July, just over 116 years after the ship sank.
Craig Rich, a co-director of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, said the John V Moran is one of the best preserved wrecks in the Great Lakes. “Not a railing is missing. The mast is standing. The lights are standing. The anchors are in position. There's even glass still in the windows. The only thing missing from this wreck is the smokestack.”
Experts have said it is one of the deepest wrecks ever discovered in the lake. Valerie van Heest, author, maritime historian and co-director of the MSRA, said: “Each year we define a goal and a ship we'd like to find.”
Van Heest said the MSRA was able to narrow down the search area for the John V Moran to just a few square miles. “It was 3:30 in the morning on June 5 when several of our crew members were asleep. All of the sudden, the boat operator saw something on side-scan and woke everybody up in the dark of night.”
This month, the group dropped a remotely operated underwater vehicle into the lake's murky depths and the John V Moran was seen for the first time in 116 years.