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1800s ship that sank on 'Shipwreck Coast' in Great Lakes found in 'surprisingly good condition'

A drawing done by Bob McGreevy shows the Nucleus, a ship that sank in Lake Superior, but was found by the the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society in Paradise.
A drawing done by Bob McGreevy shows the Nucleus, a ship that sank in Lake Superior, but was found by the the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society in Paradise.

DETROIT – Caught in a terrible 1869 storm and taking on water, the crew of the 144-foot schooner, the Nucleus, did everything they could to save the ship, but couldn't keep it afloat any longer and realized they had just one option left: abandon ship.

The sailors survived, but the Nucleus sank, slipping into Lake Superior’s icy waters, unseen until now.

"This is a pretty significant shipwreck," Shipwreck Society Executive Director Bruce Lynn said Wednesday. "Considering its age, the fact that it is a barquentine and we can’t overlook the vessel’s checkered past. The wreck site is littered with shovels too, and a few dinner plates, which speaks to their work and shipboard life.”

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The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, which looks for shipwrecks, said it found the wreck in 2021 under 600 feet of water, calling it "one of the oldest ships to go down along Lake Superior’s Shipwreck Coast." The group positively identified identified it as the Nucleus in 2022.

An anchor from the Nucleus, a ship that sank in Lake Superior, but was found by the the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society in Paradise.
An anchor from the Nucleus, a ship that sank in Lake Superior, but was found by the the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society in Paradise.

The Nucleus was found, as other wrecks have, by the shipwreck society using the same sonar as underwater surveyors, archeologists and treasure hunters, and then a remotely operated vehicle to explore it. The ship, society the director of marine operations said, is in "surprisingly good condition."

The stern, the back, and the port side were intact.

Last year, after searching more than 2,500 miles of the bottom of Lake Superior, the Atlanta – a 172-foot schooner-barge that also sank during a terrible storm – was found, preserved in the lake just as it was when it went down more than 130 years ago.

Even the gold letters of the ship's nameplate were still visible.

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The shipwrecks are useful to researchers and historians for what they reveal about our past.

The Nucleus, which sank on Sept. 14, 1869, and had a reputation for bad luck, was bound from Marquette carrying a load of iron ore. The ship had already sunk twice, and in 1854, it also sank the S.S. Detroit, having rammed it into Lake Huron.

The port bow and anchor chain from the Nucleus, a ship that sank in Lake Superior, but was found by the the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society in Paradise.
The port bow and anchor chain from the Nucleus, a ship that sank in Lake Superior, but was found by the the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society in Paradise.

The Nucleus crew, which escaped in a lifeboat, spotted and hailed the S.S. Union. But it keep on steaming, leaving them behind. Eventually, the sailors were all rescued by the Worthington, a schooner.

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The shipwreck society estimates there are more than 6,000 Great Lakes shipwrecks, which have taken the lives of 30,000 mariners. Of those, there are about 550 wrecks in Lake Superior, and while most of them are undiscovered, one more, at least, has been found.

This article originally appeared on Detroit Free Press: Shipwreck found after 150 years: See the Nucleus in Lake Superior