Diving Deep to Discover the L.R. DOTY

The Discovery of the L.R. DOTY

Last week a group of divers descended over 300 feet into the 40F cold waters of southwestern Lake Michigan becoming the first people to visit the quagga mussel-encrusted grave of the shipwreck L.R. Doty.  Led by renowned Great Lakes maritime historian, Brendon Baillod, a team of technical divers made history when their video footage of the behemoth wreck came to light after 112 years. Until last week, it was the largest wooden ship that had been unaccounted for in Lake Michigan.

In a recent interview with Meg Jones of Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Brendon Baillod stated that the Doty “vanished with no real explanation. She was a pretty new ship. We wanted to solve that mystery – why she disappeared in a Lake Michigan storm that she should have been able to handle.” Technical divers breathing a special blend of mixed gas (helium and oxygen) with and with equipment necessary to dive so deep recorded high definition video and photographs of the wreck site, which may provide clues as to how and why the Doty sank in a storm so fierce it damaged part of the Milwaukee break wall and destroyed the boardwalk in Chicago. One of these divers, Jitka Hanakova who captained the dive expedition, descended to the shipwreck which appeared at around 200 feet below the surface. “It just suddenly shows up like a ghost ship and the more murky it is, the spookier it is…it’s very exciting to be on a new wreck that nobody has ever seen – it’s like a diver’s holy grail.” http://www.jsonline.com/news/milwaukee/97008779.html

History of the LR Doty


Launched in May of 1893 at West Bay City, Michigan by F.W. Wheeler & Co. for the Cuyahoga Transit Company of Cleveland, Ohio, the L.R. Doty was named after Mr. Lucius Ramsey Doty, the general manager of the Cuyahoga Transit Company. She was and enrolled at the Cleveland, Ohio customs house on June 5, 1893 where she was awarded official number 141272

The Doty was built of white oak with a hull length of 291 ft., a beam of 41 ft. and a depth of 19.8 ft., with a capacity of 2056.34 gross tons. The Doty was built with steel arches embedded in her hull, providing additional stability for a wooden vessel of her size. She had nine deck hatches and was built with a tall fore-mast, on which she could set sail, but also had a large triple expansion coal fired engine for primary steam power. Fortunately, she was one of seven nearly identical sister ships built at this time, which included the: William F. Sauber, C.F. Bielman, Tampa, Iosco and Uganda. http://www.baillod.com/shipwreck/doty

Loaded with 107,000 bushels of corn, the L.R. Doty was pulling the four-masted schooner, the Olive Jeanette when the tow line broke in a gale as the ships passed Milwaukee heading north. As waves reached 30 feet, the Doty‘s captain, Christopher Smith, swung his large ship around to search for large schooner.  Ironically the schooner survived the storm, but the L.R. Doty was never seen again.

Condition of Shipwreck


As the divers illuminated the stern of the enormous wooden vessel, it failed to yield the ships definitive identity due to the entire surface being covered in a thick carpet of invasive mussels introduced to the Great Lakes within the past 20 years, suspected to have proliferated via ballast water offloaded from ocean going ships.

Despite not being able to make out the official name,  the vessels dimensions, unique characteristics, onboard cargo and geographical location (ca. 20miles off of south Milwaukee), pinpoint her as being the grave of none other than the L.R. Doty.  Both deckhouses were gone, likely due to her violent and tragic end in 1898. As the Doty began to sink, the incoming water displacing the air in the cabins would have caused them to blow off as witnessed on many other shipwrecks before and after this nautical tragedy. Moreover, her two masts and smokestack were tipped over, while a wheelbarrow used to move cargo still lays on the deck of the ship, holding nothing now but water and encrusted mussels.

Like all shipwrecks in Wisconsin waters, this wreck belongs to the state and is protected under federal legislation.  This means that no artifacts can be removed from the wreck site without permission of the DNR and State Historical Society.

In Memorandum


The 19 victims of this deadly storm were as follows: Christopher Smith (Captain, from Port Huron, MI), Henry Sharp (First Mate of Detroit), W.J. Bossie (Second Mate of Detroit), Thomas Abernathie (Engineer of Port Huron), C.W. Odette (Second Engineer), George Wadkin, (Oiler), L. Goss (Steward of Bay City, MI), W.J. Scott (Cook), Charles Bornie (Watchman), Peter G. Peterson (Wheelsman), Albert Nelson (Assistant Wheelsman), Joseph Fitzsimmons (Fireman), J. Howe (Deckhand), F. Parmuth (Deckhand), C. Curtis (Deckhand), William Ebert (Deckhand), Pat Ryan ( Deckhand), including the ships two cats Dewy and Watson.

Public Program

All are welcome to participate in an upcoming public presentation on this shipwreck discovery at DISCOVERY WORLD on Sunday July 11th at 4pm.  This public forum will bring the expedition team members together to talk about their personal accounts of the discovery, while viewing a sample of the high definition video footage recorded during the first dive to the shipwreck.  In addition to this exciting public presentation on ships history and loss, guests of honor attending will include several living descendants of the LR Doty, including family members of Captain Christopher Smith.

This event is free and open to the public.

Also, stay tuned for more programs on this and other shipwrecks at Discovery World. http://discoveryworld.org

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