In 1906, a Canadian schooner sailed Lake Ontario carrying 480 tons of coal. Unfortunately for the Queen of the Lakes, she would soon sink to the bottom, unseen for 105 years …until now.
Using side-scan sonar and a remote controlled submersible, underwater explorers were able to locate the Queen of the Lakes sitting completely upright at the bottom of Lake Ontario, preserved by the cold waters.
In November of 1906, the then 53-year-old schooner sprung a leak during inclement weather, which caused her to sink ten miles off the shore of Sodus.
“I’ve read the most important item on such ships was the bilge pump,” underwater explorer Jim Kennard said.
“A vessel that old was pushing its limits. In a Northeast storm, things are really getting jostled around and, all of a sudden, the bottom fell out. The crewmen were only within 50 feet of the boat when it sank. It went down really quickly.”
The explorers were ecstatic to see that the ship’s wood is still preserved thanks to the frigid lake water despite an invasive population of mussels that help to degrade wrecks faster.
“When you have a temperature of, like, 39 degrees and you’re at a depth where there’s no wave action or current, the only thing that can damage the wood would be zebra or quagga mussels as they collect and grow in big clumps and fall off,” Kennard explained.
Although the rigging and sails have already disintegrated, the anchor and steering wheel are still there (despite being covered in mussels). Cables that held the mast in place are also aboard, along with a steam-powered winch in the bow section.
Since 1970, Jim Kennard has helped locate more than 20 shipwrecks in and around the Great Lakes and 180 others in Lake Champlain, New York’s Finger Lakes, the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.
Probably his most famous find was the HMS Ontario, an American Revolution era British warship and the oldest shipwreck discovered in the Great Lakes.