Shipwreck group seeks information about schooner

Wreck was found at bottom of Lake Michigan 5 miles out from South Haven

By Rosemary Parker
MLive.com

SOUTH HAVEN, Mich. (AP) — What happened to the two-masted schooner that caused it to sink off the shores of South Haven more than 100 years ago? Which vessel might it be, of the many that sunk during those dangerous times?

Ken Fagerman, vice president of the Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve, said those are among the questions his group hopes to answer over the coming months as it examines artifacts and remains of the 80-by-20-foot wooden ship found covered in the sands at the bottom of Lake Michigan about 5 miles out from South Haven in the protected waters of the preserve.

In 2011, the Michigan Underwater Divers club announced that an 1800s shipwreck had been located; the preserve has completed an initial inventory and surveyed the wreck site, Fagerman said.

Right now the investigation is focusing on two possibilities — a vessel that went down in 1863 with seven crewmen lost, or another, earlier, wreck in which all on board were lost, he said.
The Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve has partnered with the South Haven Maritime Museum in the effort to identify and preserve the wreck, he said.

“Preservation is part of our ethic,” Fagerman said.

It’s also the law.

The Abandoned Shipwreck Act — and the state’s Aboriginal Records and Antiquities law — make abandoned shipwrecks and artifacts the property of the state of Michigan and provide criminal penalties for the removal of artifacts. Looters could lose their boats and equipment, Fagerman said.

But at a depth of 70 feet the wreck is unlikely to attract casual visitors.

Fagerman said if funding can be found the ship could be unburied so more of its remains are visible, similar to the long and costly effort that turned the Rockaway into a popular dive destination, he said. That 106-foot-long schooner was lost in a storm off South Haven on Nov. 19, 1891, while sailing from Ludington to Benton Harbor.

The group supports this conservation effort and the development and exploration of newly discovered shipwrecks and will act as a conservator of this site, he added.

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