Great Lakes shipwrecks like '1,000-piece puzzle'

Jun 30, 2016

A schooner that sank off the shores of New York in Lake Ontario almost a century and a half ago has been discovered.

Underwater explorer Jim Kennard says he and his colleagues Roger Pawlowski and Roland Stevens were canvassing miles of lake bottom with a remote control video camera when it happened.

The recently discovered Royal Albert.
Credit Jim Kennard

"All of a sudden you see something and the adrenaline kicks in."

What they found was a mid-nineteenth century Canadian schooner called the Royal Albert. In 1868, the ship was carrying hundreds of tons of railroad iron. But the water was rough, and the iron shifted, it's weight splitting the ship open at the seams. The crew survived by escaping into a small boat, but the ship was never seen again -- until now.
 The National Museum of the Great Lakes in Toledo, Ohio funded the June expedition. Executive Director Christopher Gillcrist says these shipwrecks help people understand the history of the region.
 "You have to think of it like a big thousand piece puzzle, every shipwreck is a little piece of the puzzle."
 It is estimated that between 5,000 and 8,000 ships sank in the Great Lakes in the last three centuries. Hundreds have been found, well-preserved by the cold fresh water, but at the bottom of deeper lakes, like Lake Ontario and Lake Superior, hundreds more remain undiscovered.