People knew the Manasoo steamship sank somewhere in Georgian Bay over 90 years ago, but its wreck has only just recently been discovered by divers who are amazed at how preserved it is.
During the summer, Windsor, Ont. shipwreck researcher Cris Kohl and a crew of U.S. shipwreck hunters uncovered the steamer, 60 metres underwater, just off of Griffith Island, Ont. in Georgian Bay.
Frigid waters can dramatically decrease decomposition and likely helped to preserve it in “excellent condition” after it sank on Sept. 15, 1928.
“We have the best preserved shipwrecks in the world in the cold fresh waters of The Great Lakes,” he told CTV News Channel, explaining it also likely remains intact because of its sturdy frame. The ship was built in Scotland in 1888.
Because the stern of the steel ship sank first, the front end is still sticking up at the bottom of the lake, which Kohl said made it a fairly special shipwreck.
When divers found the ship on June 30, Kohl’s team also uncovered a 1927 Chevrolet Coupe still parked inside.
“I know of no other shipwreck in Lake Huron that has this,” Kohl said.
He explained the rare find had belonged to one of the ship’s passengers who ended up surviving the shipwreck.
Kohl says that in the middle of the night on Sept. 15, 1927, the crew had noticed the stern was slowly sinking while the ship was in high waters. Kohl speculates that there was an open door or hatch in the stern, which allowed the water to rush in.
That’s when the ship’s captain, John McKay, attempted to steer the ship to a nearby island. It sank before it could make it to shore.
Only five of the 21 passengers survived that night, CTV London reported. Around 100 cattle onboard also went down with the ship.
“Another unique thing about this shipwreck is that the pilot house is intact,” Kohl said, explaining that the cabin is typically destroyed as a ship sinks.
“A huge wooden ship’s wheel remains in place,” Kohl added.
The ship’s name was changed several months before it sank when it switched owners. This likely fueled old sailor superstition, which suggests it’s bad luck for anyone to change the name of a vessel.
“For the first 39 of its 40 years, this ship was named the Macassa,” Kohl said, explaining that after the name change it “didn’t even make it through the first season.”
“So I guess there is some truth to that superstition,” he joked.
He explained the name “Manasoo” was a mix of “man” taken from Manitoulin Island in Northern Ontario and “Soo” from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont. — both would have been the ports it would have served.
The past several summers have proven quite successful for Kohl and his team.
The group of shipwreck hunters not only found the shipwreck of the J.H. Jones the day after finding the Manasoo, but in the previous year, they also found the wreckage of the Jane Miller.
“We’ve been very busy but we got very lucky. You don’t normally find shipwrecks on back-to-back days,” Kohl told CTV London.
That’s because Kohl suspects there are 7,000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, but said only about 2,000 have been found.
With a report from CTV London
(Photos courtesy of Ken Merryman, Jerry Eliason and Cris Kohl)