NOAA maritime archaeologists and partners have located and identified two previously undiscovered historic shipwrecks in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The shipwrecks discovered are the wooden steamer Ohio (1873-1894) and the steel-hulled steamer Choctaw (1892-1915).
Ohio, a wooden bulk carrier, left from Duluth, Minnesota bound for New York in September 1894, loaded with grain. The ship crossed Lake Superior and then traversed Lake Huron. There, it encountered rough seas 10 miles north of Presque Isle, Michigan. Meanwhile, a steamer was towing two schooners in the same area when they encountered the Ohio. As the vessels were about to pass each other, one of the towlines broke. The Ironton schooner collided with Ohio, causing both ships to sink within 30 minutes. The crew of the Ohio survived, while five crew from the Ironton, including the captain, perished in the accident.
The steel-hulled steamer Choctaw went down in 1915, also off Presque Isle. Stuck in a dense fog with a hold full of coal, the Choctaw was hit by a Canadian steamship, the Wahcondah. Although it sank in only seven minutes, the captain and his entire crew of 21 men were rescued and taken aboard Wahcondah.
Finding the wrecks
In May 2017, a sanctuary-led expedition used high-resolution sonars to map the bottom of Lake Huron, during which they located the two ships. At the time, researchers were confident they had discovered the 202-foot Ohio and the 266-foot Choctaw. The team recently confirmed the vessels’ identities using underwater robots to collect photos and video of the shipwrecks.
The sanctuary is planning future expeditions to better understand, manage and interpret Ohio and Choctaw. Sanctuary staff also plan to develop exhibits and public outreach materials to enable divers and the public to access and learn more about these shipwrecks. Preserved by Lake Huron’s cold, freshwater, NOAA will nominate the shipwrecks for listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Funded by a grant from NOAA’s Office of Ocean Exploration and Research, the project was made possible through research partnerships with NOAA’s Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory, University of Delaware, Michigan Technological University, Northwest Michigan College, and the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.
By Jeff Gray, Superintendent, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary
For additional information about Ohio and Choctaw (including video and images) and more details about the expedition, please see Pushing the Boundaries: Technology-driven Exploration of ThunderBay National Marine Sanctuary.