Lake Michigan So Clear Right Now Shipwrecks Visible From Air

This 133-foot long wooden steamer, the Rising Sun, is in 6 to 12 feet of water just north of Pyramid Point, where she stranded on October 29, 1917. All 32 people on board were saved. (U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Traverse City )

Although our winter this past year was actually the hottest on record, it was cold enough throughout the northeast to send the water cleansing sheets of ice across the Great Lakes.  Now that spring has sprung, the water in Lake Michigan is so clear, shipwrecks lying on its bottom can be seen from the air.

Reports from the U.S. Coast Guard Air Station in Traverse City noted the conditions as well as the lost ships during routine patrols across the massive inland lake, posting a handful of interesting photos on their Facebook page.  The images are from a location near Sleeping Bear Point known as the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve, one of Michigan’s best areas for shipwreck diving.  The North and South Manitou Islands which are just north of the point, provided a sheltered area for ships to “ride out” the savage storms that these great lakes are known for.



Susan Cosier, a writer with On Earth tells us more about this area and the wrecks that lie still in their watery graves:

Not much is known about most of the wrecks, but they do include one doomed vessel, the James McBride, which was thought to be the first to carry cargo from the Atlantic Ocean to Lake Michigan in 1848. Facebook commenters helped fill in some of the blanks, but most the historic details are still, well, watery. 

The Air Station added descriptions to each of their photos, listing as much information as people could find on the shipwreck images, but three of the five wrecks photographed have yet to be identified.

Bill Chappell, reporting for tells us that spotting shipwrecks from the air is fairly common.  Most pilots will see a few during their patrols, but as Lieutenant Commander Charlie Wilson adds; “but not in the numbers we saw on that flight.”  It is noted that an estimated 6,000 ships have been lost on the Great Lakes, but only about 1,500 have been located in the Michigan waterways.

Wrecks that have been identified in the Manitou Passage include the “Francisco Morazan”; an ocean-going freighter that was driven aground on Nov. 29, 1960 which sank on top of the remains of the Walter L. Frost, a wooden steamer lost Nov. 4th, 1903.  Both are in shallow water a few hundred yards from the shore.

As heard in the song “Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald” by Gordon Lightfoot (1976 Reprise Records) about the ship of the same name that sank in a November 1975 storm on Michigan’s Lake Superior, November is the month known for storms of “epic” proportions on the Greatest Inland lakes in the world.



About the Author

Patrick James
Patrick James
Patrick James has worked as a firefighter/EMT for several services throughout the years, as well as a custom metal fabricator, certified personal trainer and chef. Growing up in the rural suburbs of Detroit, it was during his frequent trips to Northern Michigan where he learned of his love for hunting and fishing. Spending several of his adult years in upstate South Carolina, his love of extreme sports took root in the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains as he learned to rock climb and kayak. "Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman, before which difficulties disappear and vanish into air." ~ John Quincy Adams