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Satellite tug discovered at 90m in Lake Superior

Sonar image of the Satellite (GLSHS)
Sonar image of the Satellite (GLSHS)

A Lake Superior tugboat called Satellite, missing since it sank 144 years ago, is the latest discovery for the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) – which identified the well-preserved timber vessel lying at a depth of almost 90m.

Also read: Trinidad shines even among Great Lakes wrecks

The Satellite had four barges in tow on 21 June, 1879 – a calm summer day – when it ran into difficulties. It remains unclear whether the tug experienced a mechanical problem or was holed after striking a floating log, but it started taking on water and sank. All those onboard were rescued.

Possible drawing of the Satellite (GLSHS)
Contemporary illustration of one of the Lake Superior tugs (GLSHS)

In the summer of 2022 the GLSHS team went out from the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum at Whitefish Point in Michigan aboard the research vessel David Boyd in an attempt to to find wrecks from the WW1 era.

With them was a film crew for a Discovery Channel TV series called Expedition Unknown, with its presenter Josh Gates. They were visiting to look into a story about WW1 French minesweepers that had gone missing in Lake Superior. 

GLSHS director of marine operations Darryl Ertel put the society’s ROV on an unidentified mark and the team could soon see that it was not a steel minesweeper but a timber-hulled vessel that was identified as the missing Satellite. Video released by the society shows the ship’s timbers perfectly preserved in the lake’s cold fresh waters.

Video showing the well-preserved Satellite that sank in 1879 (GLSHS)

There are no known pictures of the tugboat from the time, though there are images are of its sister-vessel Sweepstakes. According to the society, the ornate Satellite was considered “one of the most beautiful vessels on the Great Lakes at the time of her loss”. 

Sister-ship Sweepstakes (GLSHS)
Sister-vessel Sweepstakes (GLSHS)

An episode of Expedition Unknown featuring the Satellite wreck has now been aired. Josh Gates revealed last month that he had previously dived in the Titan submersible with owner Stockton Rush as pilot in hopes of capturing footage of the Titanic – but had declined a second descent because it “did not perform well on my dive”.

Also on Divernet: Atlanta wreck identified in cold Lake Superior, Tech-divers' dream: 150-year-old masts-up schooner, Lake divers find 19th-century Canadian wreck, Diver Tamara's double discoveries honour Native Americans

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