Mystery Beneath the Waves: Exploring the Shipwrecks Defiance and Audubon
|Messenger (1866-1890; 190 foot depth)|
A NOAA-led research expedition this week in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is attempting to unravel the mystery surrounding the collision and sinking of two Great Lakes commercial schoonersOn Oct. 20, 1854, the John J. Audubon sailed north to Chicago with a load of iron railroad tracks. At 1:30 a.m., the southbound Defiance emerged from the darkness and fog, striking the Audubon’s mid-section. The collision reportedly opened a deep gash in the Audubon’s hull, severely damaging the Defiance. in Lake Huron more than 150 years ago.
The Audubon sank quickly, though the Defiance struggled on, finally sinking just a few miles away. Miraculously, both crews survived. Today, the Defiance and Audubon rest mostly intact in more than 180 feet of water.
A team of archaeologists, historians and divers is hoping to determine what happened that ill-fated morning, a period when the press for speed and profit encouraged shipping companies to take greater risks on the Great Lakes.
The team will document the sites with carefully drawn survey maps, individual and panoramic photographs, and video. The research will not only reveal the stories preserved in these nationally-significant shipwrecks, but will be critical in their long term preservation. The sanctuary will use this “baseline” to monitor future changes to the shipwrecks.
The data also will help the sanctuary nominate the wrecks to the National Register of Historic Places and interpret these exciting shipwrecks through exhibits and programs at the sanctuary’s visitor center, the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center.
“The wrecks of the Defiance and Audubon capture a dramatic moment during a century that transformed America,” said Russ Green, deputy superintendent, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. “The research conducted during this expedition will help us better understand and preserve these and other shipwrecks for future generations of divers and non-divers. Like all historic shipwrecks, they are irreplaceable. Protecting them requires a team effort between archaeologists, historians, divers and public.”
The team will also evaluate several other historic shipwrecks in the region, including the steamer Messenger, which the sanctuary discovered in 190 feet of water off Rogers City, Mich. in 2008.
Expedition partners include Thunder Bay and Monitor National Marine Sanctuaries, the Cooperative Institute for Ocean Exploration, Research and Technology, and the University of Connecticut’s Marine Sciences Diving Program.
Located in northwestern Lake Huron, Thunder Bay is adjacent to one of the most treacherous stretches of water within the Great Lakes system. Unpredictable weather, murky fog banks, sudden gales, and rocky shoals earned the area the name “Shipwreck Alley.” Today, the 448-square-mile Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary protects one of America’s best-preserved and nationally significant collections of shipwrecks.
|300-foot long steamer Norman|
|Schooner Defiance (1848-1854; 185 foot depth)|
"We assessed the wrecks of the schooner Defiance (1848-1854; 185 foot depth), brig Audubon (1854-1854; 170 foot depth), steamer Messenger (1866-1890; 190 foot depth), and steamer Norman (1890-1895; 210 foot depth). All are in the potential expanded sanctuary boundaries and possess a significant degree of archeological, historical and/or recreational significance. Each has something different going for it: Defiance is a pretty early schooner for these parts, Audubon is a brig and collided with Defiance under somewhat mysterious circumstances; the Messenger is a target we found in 2008 during a side scan sonar cruise, and the 300-foot long steamer Norman is a sistership to the Grecian (within the sanctuary) and the Northern Light (down in the Keys). A bulk freighter, the Norman represents a type of vessel that made possible the explosive industrial growth of the United States just before the turn of the twentieth century. Her east-bound cargoes of iron ore made possible the fortune of J.P. Morgan, and made his U.S. Steel Corp. America’s first billion dollar company.
Given it’s early date of build, we focused a bit more on schooner Defiance, created profile and plan view site maps and mosaics, and took comprehensive video and stills. We also confirmed the indentify of the Messenger and produced a mosaic. With less time to spend at the other sites, we produced mosaics, stills, and video of the Audubon and Norman. In short, we attempted to assess these sites through a common “resource management” lens
Prior to this expedition, we had limited or fragmented data on each of the sites. Given their remarkable states of preservation, popularity among the tech diving community, historical/archeological significance, and the potential for sanctuary expansion, the timing was excellent to start getting a handle on these amazing and complex resources that we may soon be responsible for managing. The results, methodologies, recommendations will be covered in forthcoming report."
Enjoy some of the images produced by the team: Russ Green, Tane Casserley, Joe Hoyt, Wayne Lusardi, Pat Labadie, Doug Kesling (CIOERT), Scott Fowler (CIOERT), Mike Abbot (NOAA, Woods Hole), Joe Mangiafico (University of Connecticut).
~Russ Green, Deputy Superintendent Thunder Bay NMS
On the Web:Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary: http://thunderbay.noaa.gov