Explorers looking for WWI minesweepers in lake find 1879 shipwreck
Researchers searching for a pair of World War I-era minesweepers that mysteriously vanished in Lake Superior over a century ago instead found a long-missing ship that sank to the bottom of the lake nearly four decades earlier, in 1879.
The tug boat called Satellite, which sank on June 21, 1879, was located by a crew last June, the Michigan-based Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society announced this week.
The story behind the discovery unfolded in June 2022, when Josh Gates of Discovery Channel's "Expedition Unknown" traveled to Michigan to search for two French minesweepers that disappeared in 1918. The twin vessels — Inkerman and Cerisoles — were en route to Europe when the ships vanished in a storm, killing 78 crewmembers.
Last June, Gates joined the Shipwreck Society's crew aboard the 47-foot R/V David Boyd and the ship's sonar identified a submerged wreck. A remotely operated vehicle (ROV) was deployed to reach the target nearly 300 feet below the surface and the images revealed a surprise — the shipwreck was not a steel minesweeper, but the wooden-hulled Satellite.
The Shipwreck Society posted eerie video of the wreck, showing various angles of the ship with shattered wooden planks inside.
It is with great pride that the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) announces the discovery of the long missing tug boat Satellite, that sank on June 21st, 1879, in just under 300 feet of water. June 21st,1879 was a calm summer day on Lake Superior. The Satellite had four barges in tow when she ran into difficulties. One account suggests that she suffered a mechanical problem, while another says that she struck a floating log and started taking on water. Regardless of what happened, the Satellite went to the bottom of Lake Superior and has not been seen for 142 years. There was no loss of life. Fast forward to the summer of 2022. Josh Gates of Discovery Channel’s Expedition Unknown traveled to the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum (Whitefish Point) to do a show on the missing 1918 French Minesweepers. Gates joined the Shipwreck Society’s crew aboard the R/V David Boyd to identify a submerged wreck. GLSHS Director of Marine Operations, Darryl Ertel, put the Society’s ROV (remotely operated vehicle) down on the target, and ascertained that it was not a minesweeper, but the Satellite. The minesweepers are made of steel while the Satellite was a wooden hulled vessel. We thank Josh and his crew for featuring the Shipwreck Society on Expedition Unknown. Unfortunately, there are no known pictures of the Satellite. She was considered one of the most beautiful vessels on the Great Lakes at the time of her loss. The Detroit Press and Tribune wrote, “It is said that her cabin and upper works were the most elaborate put upon a craft of her kind”. If the Satellite looked anything like her sistership, the Sweepstakes (pictured below), that would have been a sight to see! Check out our website for pictures. https://shipwreckmuseum.com/great-lakes-shipwreck-historical-society-discovers-the-tug-satellite/ Look for more news coming from the GLSHS soon!
According to the Shipwreck Society, the Satellite had four barges in tow when she ran into problems. It's unclear whether the ship had a mechanical issue or if it struck something in the lake and started taking on water.
"Regardless of what happened, the Satellite went to the bottom of Lake Superior and has not been seen for 142 years," the group wrote, noting that no one on board died in the sinking.
There are no known photos of the Satellite, but the ship's appearance was touted in the press over a century ago. According to the Shipwreck Society, the Detroit Press and Tribune wrote: "It is said that her cabin and upper works were the most elaborate put upon a craft of her kind."
There are roughly 10,000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, but only about 350 of them are located in Lake Superior, according to the Minnesota Historical Society. One stretch of the lake where ships have routinely met their demise has been dubbed the "graveyard of the Great Lakes."
In April, researchers found the wreckage of two ships that disappeared in Lake Superior in 1914. In March, a ship carrying a load of coal when it sank in a storm in 1891 was discovered in the lake.
And in February, a 144-foot shipwreck that searchers called a "Bad Luck Barquentine" was found in Lake Superior more than 150 years after it sank.
Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com.