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The Eli Wait Letter, Survivor of the Atlanta Shipwreck

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The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) announced the discovery of a well-preserved wreck in March 2022. The 172-foot schooner-barge Atlanta was found in 650 feet of water, approximately 35 miles off the coast of Deer Park, which is located between Grand Marais and Whitefish Point.

After the Soo Locks opened in 1855 and ship traffic on Lake Superior increased, Whitefish Bay became the site of numerous shipwrecks, many of which were caused by bad weather. The Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve was established to protect many of Whitefish Bay’s shipwrecks for future generations of sports divers.

Sea to Sky

Sailor Eli Wait had written the harrowing details of his rescue, as well as a heartfelt thank-you to those who had saved him from the violent storm. Two days after being rescued from the sea, he wrote the note.

A northwest gale was whipping across Lake Superior on May 4, 1891. The steamer Wilhelm was towing the upbound Atlanta, which was loaded with coal. The towline that connected the two ships snapped. With no sails to provide some control, the Atlanta’s crew decided to take their chances in the lifeboat rather than stay with the the schooner-barge. Crew members rowed for several hours before their small boat capsized in the surf near the Crisp Point Life-Saving Station. Eli Wait was one of the survivors.

The entire crew of the lifeboat was thrown overboard. Three of the men in the lifeboat, according to Eli, never surfaced and drowned in the bitterly cold water. Eli believes they were dragged down and out into the lake by the undertow.

Eli Wait

Last summer, a season of relentless wreck-hunting led to the discovery of the Atlanta. Marine Sonic Technology, in collaboration with Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society GLSHS, used side-scan sonar to map more than 2,500 miles of Lake Superior’s bottom. The Atlanta was one of the rewards, and appears to be in good shape lying beneath the cold water at 650 feet.

Video by The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

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About Author

Kathy is the owner of Kirk Scuba Gear, a passionate Scuba Diver, Ocean Advocate and Managing Editor of The Scuba News Canada

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