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The Gales of November in Shipwreck Alley

Posted on November 24th, 2020
November is shipwreck month here in Alpena: Sanctuary of the Great Lakes.

Alpena is home to Thunder Bay, which is known as “shipwreck alley.” It is the resting spot for over 200 shipwrecks, many of them which sunk during the month of November. In fact, it is quite common that most shipwrecks along the Great Lakes sunk in the late fall season. November is one of the coldest and most treacherous times to sail, since most of the shipping ends during the winter months. In Northern Michigan, temperatures can vary, but oftentimes are 32 degrees or below along with increasingly high gale winds. For sailors, being away from family for 6+ months out of the year can be tough, especially during the cold months with important holidays such as Thanksgiving, right around the corner.

The Harvey Bissell and Bay City

Two of the ships lying in the shallow waters of Thunder Bay sank many years ago around this time. The Harvey Bissell and Bay City are amongst Thunder Bay’s “boneyard” wrecks, meaning the ships were stripped of all their valuable cargo and purposely abandoned in the shallow water.  On November 24, 1905, the Bissell was wrecked between Thunder Bay Island and Presque Isle, and it wasn’t until three years later, the ship’s remains were salvaged and brought to Thunder Bay.

The Harvey Bissell. Circa 1866. Photo Courtesy: Thunder Bay Sanctuary Research Collection.

The Bay City sank on November 29, 1902. The wooden two-masted schooner barge was first launched in Saginaw, Michigan in 1857 and definitely took a few punches during its long life on the Great Lakes. The final gale wind tossed it into Alpena shores. Luckily, all off the passengers from both ships survived, giving family and friends a reason to be thankful those years.

If you have sailed aboard the Lady Michigan glass bottom boat in Alpena, some of these shipwrecks may sound familiar to you. The Monohansett is one of the favored shipwrecks as she is the most photogenic and appears on most advertisements for the Lady Michigan and NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. It is also a shallow dive near Thunder Bay Island, where the water is crystal clear and best location to take underwater photos.

Monohansett

The Monohansett shipwreck. Photo Courtesy: NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

The Monohansett was a 167 ft. wooden steamer that sailed the Great Lakes. She was built in Gibralter, Michigan in 1872 and was designed to carry iron ore from mining towns in the Keweenau Peninsula to Detroit.

The ship was traveling south on a cold November night in 1907, carrying a cargo of 900 tons of coal, when a terrible storm hit. The Monohansett took shelter behind Thunder Bay Island. Unfortunately, there was an accident with a lantern, and the engine room immediately caught fire. The twelve crewmen escaped safely, with help from the members of the Thunder Bay Life Saving Station.

Today, seventeen feet of the Monohansett rests on the bottom of Lake Huron, off the shore of Thunder Bay Island. Remnants of the ship include the lower hull, iron boiler, tail shaft, and propeller.

Nordmeer

The Nordmeer is the most recent shipwreck in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. It was a motor vessel

The Nordmeer Shipwreck. Photo Courtesy: NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

built in 1954 by Flensburger Schiffs Gesellshaft in Flensburg, Germany. On November 19, 1966, approximately seven miles northeast of Thunder Bay Island, the Nordmeer fell off its course and ran aground onto a limestone reef. She was carrying a cargo of rolled steel. A few days later, a storm hit and caused the bottom of the ship to slice open. The ship’s crew survived and the cargo was removed. Part of the Nordmeer stood out of the water for quite some time, but years of storms and ice have broken the ship and scattered the pieces across the bottom of Lake Huron.

Several artifacts from the Nordmeer remain in the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center museum. Today, you can still see the Nordmeer’s deck vent, along the Thunder Bay River. It is currently located inside the Thomas Stafford Dog Park, behind the Alpena Post Office.

Albany

Remnants of the Albany shipwreck. Photo Courtesy: NOAA Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.

The Albany shipwreck is a popular dive site off of Albany Point in Presque Isle. It was a steamer and was built in Detroit, Michigan in 1846. It was carrying about 200 passengers when it ran aground during a storm on November 26, 1853. All passengers survived, but definitely did not have a pleasant night. The Albany met the fate of many shallow shipwrecks, and was relieved of all its cargo and was abandoned. This wreck is 202 feet long.

If you are interested in learning more about November shipwrecks in the Alpena area, make sure to visit the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena, or visit https://thunderbay.noaa.gov/.

You can also download our Shallow Shipwreck Adventure Guide here: Shallow Shipwrecks – Kayak, Snorkel, Free-Dive

Featured Photo: The Monohansett. Courtesy: Thunder Bay Sanctuary Research Collection.

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