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A Look Back: The SS John V Moran

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The SS John V. Moran, a wooden-hulled American package freighter in service between 1888 and 1899, was destroyed by the dreaded winter ice on the Great Lakes.

F.W. Wheeler & Company built the Moran in West Bay City, Michigan, in 1888, and operated her as part of his Detroit & Lake Superior Line. The John V. Moran was the third and final sister ship built between 1886 and 1888. Her sisters were the William H. Stevens (1886) and the Eber Ward (1888). Her wooden hull measured 214 feet (65 metres) long, 37 feet (11 metres) wide, and 22.16 feet (6.75 metres) deep. Her gross tonnage was 1350.38 tonnes and her net tonnage was 1035.26 tonnes. John V. Moran was designed to transport both bulk and package freight. As such, she had cargo hatches in her deck, and her sides. Her hull was reinforced with iron plates for winter transit. She ran between Buffalo, New York, and Duluth, Minnesota, during the shipping season.

Sea to Sky

SS John V Moran’s Last Voyage

On February 9, 1899, at 1:00 p.m., the John V. Moran left Milwaukee for Muskegon, loaded with barrels of flour and miscellaneous cargo. A piece of ice punctured her hull around midnight while travelling through an ice field, causing a serious leak. Captain John McLeod ordered that a significant amount of her cargo to be jettisoned in an attempt to keep John V. Moran afloat. The crew of the John V. Moran used her whistle to alert the nearby steamer Naomi. Three members of John V. Moran’s crew started walking towards Naomi. Naomi’s crew noticed the three crewmen’s lights and picked them up. She then went over to John V. Moran to pick up the rest of her crew. On the morning of February 10, Naomi took John V. Moran in tow, as she was still afloat. Although Naomi managed to tow John V. Moran a few miles closer to Muskegon, she was eventually abandoned as the crew realised she would not be able to survive the entire journey. John V. Moran’s crew walked back over the ice to her, in order to retrieve their belongings.

Photo Credit :: Public Domain Wikipedia

Uncovering of the SS John V. Moran

The Michigan Shipwreck Research Association of Holland, Michigan, launched a search for John V. Moran in early June 2015. Despite patchy newspaper reports from 1899, they were able to narrow the search area down to a 10 square mile (25.9 km2) grid system. On June 5, at 3:30 a.m., the side-scan sonar detected a shipwreck. Initially, the shipwreck hunters were unsure whether the wreck was that of the John V. Moran. Sending a diver down to investigate the wreck would have been extremely difficult due to its extreme depth. The team invited the Michigan State Police Underwater Recovery Unit to investigate the wreck on July 8. They dispatched a remotely operated vehicle to collect footage in order to identify the wreck. When the team arrived at the wreck, they quickly identified it as John V. Moran by comparing the fully intact wreck seen on the footage captured by the remotely operated vehicle to a historic image of John V. Moran.

About the John V. Moran Now

The wreck of the John V. Moran is upright and remarkably intact in 365 feet (111.3 m) of water. Her pilothouse is intact, her mast with rigging is still in place, and glass remains in her windows. Her anchors and railings are still in place. The only missing piece of her wreck appears to be her funnel. The remotely operated vehicle also discovered a hole in the starboard side of the hull of the John V. Moran, as well as some minor damage at her port bow.

Her discoverers referred to her as “the most intact steamship wreck on the bottom of Lake Michigan, if not the entire Great Lakes.”

Eber Ward, her sister ship, was also sunk by ice on Lake Michigan ten years after the John V. Moran.


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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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