Thursday, August 29, 2013


The Bermuda in happier days
On October 14, 1870 the 134 foot, two masted schooner Bermuda left Marquette, Michigan loaded with 488 tons of high grade iron ore. The Bermuda was a typical lake schooner launched in 1860 and after 10 years of work on the Great Lakes was becoming somewhat leaky… it was said that she already had 2 feet of water in her hold when she left Marquette which was not a good sign. She was quickly overtaken by a storm whose waves, combined with the weight of her cargo, widened her seams and worsened the leaking. Her captain sought refuge in Munising Bay where he managed to get off most of his crew and moor her to some trees near the mouth of the Anna River. However, as the leakage continued the weight of the ship tore the trees out by their roots and she drifted out into the middle of the bay and sank in about 100 feet of water.
The bow of the Bermuda

This was too deep for the salvage technology of that era, but 13 years later a salvage crew was able to partially raise the Bermuda and tow her to Murray Bay near Grand Island where they let her settle again in 25 feet of water, which was a workable depth. They recovered as much of her iron ore cargo as they could and then left her there with what was left of her main deck only 12 feet below the surface and her wooden structure largely intact. These days the ship is a favorite site for divers to explore, but how are the rest of the population to satisfy their morbid curiosity? In the early 1990s Captain Pete
Tourists gaze into the viewing well.
Lindquist started taking tourists out to view the Bermuda and a half-dozen other shallow wrecked vessels in Munising Bay (Lake Superior alone has over 350 wrecked ships scattered around her bottom). The first year the customers just leaned out over the sides of the boat with polarized sunglasses but the reflection and irregularities of the water surface made the viewing less than ideal, so Capt. Lindquist acquired a tour boat and installed two 4′ x 10′ Lexan viewing wells in the bottom, which greatly improved the viewing experience.

Remains of an unidentified cargo skow.
On Monday, we succumbed to our own morbid curiosity and took the two hour tour viewing three wrecked vessels through the Lexan. They would bring the boat over a wreck site and then slowly drift along pointing out the salient features of the sunken ships. You could get a pretty good idea of a wreck's structure this way, but at any given moment you're only looking at a few square feet so it's hard to get a photograph that makes much sense. I should have tried to take a cell phone video, but I didn't think about it. The cold water and minimal wave action below the surface of the lake has kept these wrecks remarkably well preserved. They figure they will be there largely unchanged for a few thousand years. Trees that grew at the end of the last Ice Age when the water level in the lake was much lower now stand at the bottom of Lake Superior completely intact. These have carbon dates of about 7900 years old.
We passed the east bay lighthouse again

Whitefish Point lighthouse
Two days later we were staying in Sault Ste. Marie at a campground right along the St. Mary's River where Lake Superior empties into Lake Huron. About 30 miles east of Sault Ste. Marie is Whitefish Point, home of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society and their Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum where we spent another educational shipwreck afternoon. The museum tells the stories of another dozen wrecks in the local area. It was surprising how many of them involved collisions between ships. I assumed it was mostly storms that took the ships down but I guess you should always allow for the consequences of human incompetence. The society does a lot of research on these wrecked ships both through deep diving and with robotic submersibles. In 1995 they brought up the ship's bell from the Edmund Fitzgerald which sank in Lake Superior in 1975 and was the subject of Gordon Lightfoot's hit song in 1976. The families of the survivors requested some sort of memorial be placed, so they actually cast a
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum
new bell and inscribed it with the names of the 29 crew members, then placed it on the deck of the bow in place of the bell they had removed. Given that remains of the ship are sitting in over 530 feet of ice cold water, it's unlikely that very many tourists are ever going to see the memorial bell, but the families were apparently happy about it. The original bell was cleaned and polished and now sits in the Shipwreck Museum as the first thing you bump into when you walk through the door. I thought the bell was nice but I particularly liked the two large lighthouse lenses they had on display.
Fresnel lighthouse lens
The bell

While in Sault Ste. Marie we also took a boat tour of the Soo Locks. This was a two hour trip through the American lock going
The Soo Locks, American side
upstream and then back down through the small Canadian lock on the north side. In the process, you pass under the international bridge and pass the various segments of the railroad bridge. The latter is interesting because it's composed of three segments that all operate differently. On the American side there is a drawbridge where the two segments pivot upward, and also an elevator bridge where the entire roadbed lifts straight up about 100 feet. Then on the Canadian side is a rotating bridge where the railroad bed pivots on a central turntable. Why they did not make all three of the bridge segments operate the same way I have no idea.
Railroad drawbridge and elevator bridge over the St. Marys River

The Sault in Sault Ste. Marie, by the way, is an archaic French word for rapids. The water level drops 21 feet from Lake Superior down to Lake Huron through the sault and this is what the locks are designed to go around. Prior to their construction in 1855, a ship destined for service in Lake
Border marker
Superior had to actually be hauled out of the water and portaged over land for about 3 miles, a process which could take 2-3 months. Cargo was generally unloaded from Lake Huron and then loaded back onto different boats in Lake Superior, a time-consuming and expensive pain in the tush.

On the way back to the dock, the captain of the tour boat pointed out a pile of boulders sitting out in the middle of the St. Mary River. This marked the border between the United States and Canada. And if you look closely, there sits
the symbol of our country, vigilantly guarding us against the never-ending onslaught of wet-back Canucks who are constantly trying to invade our native land.

While in the area, we also visited Tahquamenon Falls, a 200 foot wide waterfall near Paradise, Michigan. This is the third largest waterfall east of the Mississippi River, passing as much is 50,000 gallons per second. The water displays an extreme version of the brown discoloration we first ran into in Minnesota. It is attributed to tannic acid leaching out of the cedar swamps that feed the Tahquamenon River, so basically what you're seeing go over the falls is iced tea. Almost unique in our journeys so far, dogs were allowed on the trail to the falls, so the schnoodles got a pleasant walk along the way. Other than the headwaters of the Mississippi, this is probably the most crowded place we have been so far. We could hardly believe the number of people that came to look at this waterfall. I mean, it was nice but not THAT nice. Ah well, Labor Day is coming soon and hopefully the tourists will be thinning out.

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