What do you get when you combine a limestone-filled schooner, almost 300 feet of water and an underwater remote operated vehicle? Nothing less than the oldest documented commercial shipwreck ever discovered in the Great Lakes.
According to the Associated Press, the remains of the Atlas, a double-masted, 52-foot schooner that sank in a storm in May 1839, have been located beneath Lake Ontario near the port of Oswego, N.Y. The discovery was made by Jim Kennard, Roger Pawlowski and Roland “Chip” Stevens, three shipwreck enthusiasts from the Rochester, N.Y. region.
Built in 1838 to ferry limestone from the Black River quarries near Chaumont, N.Y, the Atlas was carrying a load meant for the U.S. government harbor in Oswego on the day of its fateful 1839 journey, The Morning Journal notes.
That very limestone doomed the Atlas, according to Kennard. Only two miles from Oswego, a gale force wind caused the heavy load to shift.
“It went down like the stone it was carrying,” he told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “With a strong northwest gale, the buildup of the waves can get pretty fierce. A boat like that gets hit by a strong wave and that’s all it takes.”
Based on the "mess" of wreckage they found, Kennard and his team believe the Atlas collided forcefully with the bottom of Lake Ontario. All five passengers perished with the ship, including its owner, Asa Davis.
The wreck, The Morning Journal reports, was first discovered in late June using a "high resolution DeepVision sonar system." The Rochester-area team then deployed an underwater remote operated vehicle to document the wreck at a depth of 300 meters.
Kennard was also behind the discovery of the oldest documented shipwreck in Great Lakes history. According to The Toronto Star, in 2008, Kennard and Dan Scoville discovered the HMS Ontario, a Revolutionary War-era British warship that sank in a storm on Lake Ontario in 1780.