Since moving to Michigan 27 years ago, I have been intrigued by the history and lore of the Great Lakes. This includes the lighthouses, sand dunes, ore docks, freighters, bridges, geology, and many other facets of this vast waterborne network. Among them are the numerous shipwrecks that dot the Michigan coastline. My interest grew more when we saw the haunting remains of the Francisco Morazan off South Manitou Island in 2015.
Now, as residents of the Northwest Lower Peninsula, opportunities abound to seek out and enjoy the many aspects of residing here. Combine this with more free time since retirement and the opportunities are no longer limited to just weekends and holidays. Given Michigan’s rather fickle weather, the added time is most welcome.
As a previous post from June 10th indicates, several hiking trips were made to Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore to see segments of shipwrecks that washed ashore during the winter months or which were uncovered by wave action. Once you learn of these through the media or grapevine, it is imperative to go as soon as possible, as the lakes are a living organism and often retrieve them shortly after they appear.
As our interest has grown, we purchased a fishing sea kayak so that we can paddle out to shallower wrecks to see them from atop the blue waters. Our first attempt at such an endeavor occurred earlier this week, as we decided to seek out the wreck of the Metropolis. What better named shipwreck could there possibly be for a retired urban planner?
The Metropolis was a 125-foot long, two-masted schooner that was constructed by the Peck & Masters Shipyard in Cleveland, Ohio. It was launched in April of 1857.
“But in the year the Soo opened, Eli Peck and Irvine U. Masters entered into a partnership that bore their names. Peck & Masters was small among the Cuyahoga shipyards which turned out 84,000 tons of shipping, 500 vessels, between 1849 and 1869. Peck & Masters built 50. But it tells you something about them to note that these 50 added up to 27,000 tons, roughly a third of all Cuyahoga construction.”
Over the next three decades, the Metropolis suffered its share of mishaps, but none as severe as what happened on November 26, 1886. Sailing in late November is always risky, and it was on that fateful night that Metropolis sailed from Elk Rapids with a load of pig iron and lumber bound for Chicago.
Other names : none
Official no. : 16414
Type at loss : schooner, wood, 2-mast
Build info : 1857, Peck & Masters, Cleveland
Specs : 126x28x11, 246g 234n
Date of loss : 1886, Nov 26
Place of loss : 3 mi S of Old Mission,MI, Gd Traverse Bay – [note – Old Mission Point, not the village of Old Mission]
Lake : Michigan
Type of loss : storm
Loss of life : none
Carrying : iron fittings,lumber
Detail : She was driven ashore in a storm and scuttled to keep her from pounding to pieces, but was later wrecked by wave action. Bound for Chicago.
A snow squall forced the ship aground at 3:00 a.m. approximate a mile north of Old Mission Harbor, along the far northeast shoreline of Old Mission Peninsula. Fortunately, the crew was able to make it to shore safely, but the Metropolis succumbed to the frigid waters, later splitting into two debris fields – one-half in shallow waters (6-10 feet deep) and the other half dropping off the nearby underwater cliff to a depth of approximately 120 feet.
Our goal was to seek out and find the shallow segment of the ship as part of our first shipwreck search on one of the Great Lakes. Our quest began on a sparkling sunny Tuesday afternoon (August 18th) from Haserot Park Beach in Old Mission, Michigan. We had chosen this spot to launch our kayak quest as it was well protected from the northerly 10-15 mph winds that were sweeping the coastline that day. The test would be if the peninsula would protect us all the way to the wreck site.
Our new 12-foot long Brooklyn Fishing Tandem Kayak has a carrying capacity of up to 770 pounds. On Tuesday, we tested its buoyancy with three of us totaling about 445 pounds riding her across the harbor and into the open waters of East Bay, an arm of Grand Traverse Bay. Though movement was rather slow with two paddlers, we made good progress including into the larger bay itself. As we trekked northward approximately 100 yards offshore (estimated distance the shallow wreck is from the coastline), the wind and waves slowed our progress and hindered visibility of the lake bottom. After pulling ashore at Leffingwell Point to assess our chances of finding Metropolis in these conditions, we decided to head back to the harbor and attempt such a voyage in more favorable conditions.
On Wednesday (August 19th), we were greeted with nearly ideal conditions for a shipwreck search – calm winds and pleasant temperatures. We decided to make a second attempt, but instead of using the kayak and paddling some four miles roundtrip, we used my brother-in-law’s inflatable SG-124 Achilles zodiac (see similar boat image below) with a 1972, twenty-five horsepower Evinrude outboard motor, and departed for the shipwreck from the Winters Road launch site, which is nearly directly across East Bay from the shipwreck’s posted coordinates. This would mean a six mile roundtrip, but would be motorized and the zodiac would allow us to cover more search area. While we had the posted coordinates, they were not jiving with our cellphones and apps very well.
After completing the laborious process of loading, transporting, unloading, and assembling the zodiac, we were on our way around 3:00 p.m. Fortunately, the viewing conditions had improved even further as their was a light-medium layer of clouds overhead which cut down on glare.
Once arriving at the general area of the shipwreck site we ventured back and forth about 100 yards out from the shoreline trying to locate the shipwreck, unfortunately without much luck. For better part of an hour were scanned the depths hoping to find something other than sand, rocks, and occasional tree log. The only highlight had been an approximate three-foot long fish swimming merrily along beneath the waves. Oh for the want of a fishing pole or an easy-to-understand explanation of how you translate decimal coordinates into traditional ones!
After taking a short break to refresh ourselves in the pleasing waters of Old Mission Harbor, we decided to use the coordinates that I had come up with by playing around with the GPS app I had downloaded onto my phone. We needed to venture just over a mile to the north and scan some of the same areas we had just passed over. Following the compass on the GPS app, we slowly moved north/northeastward just off the shoreline of Old Mission Peninsula. I would count off each tenth of a mile as they passed as we approached the wreck location. Throughout, we scanned the waters in hopes of finding Metropolis even if the calculated numbers entered into the phone were incorrect.
A nearby motorboat with 5-6 people on board was obviously trying to find the shipwreck as well. Shortly after announcing we were 2/10ths of a mile from the expected location, I saw the ribbed wreckage pass right under us. SUCCESS! We came around and slowly passed over the remains of Metropolis several times taking photos and videos from onboard our small inflatable dinghy. High-fives all around! Had it not taken so long to locate her, we might of thought of going into the water and swimming down to the remains, as they were in just 8-10 feet of water, but that will have to wait for a future return trip.
We notified the nearby motorboat that we had found Metropolis, and gave way so they could also enjoy this legendary aspect of Great Lakes lore, as well. All-in-all it was a very satisfying experience.
FYI – As a result of this trip and other more recent ones, we have found it beneficial to have as clear of an understanding of the geographic coordinates before departing as possible, instead of trying to figure them out while floating about in a boat or kayak. Multiple resources are useful, so you can double-check and/or confirm the data in the field. All part of a new shipwreck hunter’s learning process.
If you find Great Lakes maritime history interesting too, here are visual links to a couple of resources that are available on Amazon.com*
*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using these links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.