For many years, the story of the Cornelia B. Windiate remained a Great Lakes mystery. The ship was known to have been on the lakes during a rough storm and was never seen passing through the Straits of Mackinaw, so it was assumed she went down somewhere in Lake Michigan. Her builder was Windiate and Butler, and she had a successful first sailing season after its launch in April 1874. The schooner was designed specifically to transport wheat, and its owners got greedy and wanted even more profits in 1875. As winter, 1875, approached, cargo prices and profits rose. November rolled around and with it comes undesirable weather which can make sailing on the Great Lakes deadly. Economic pressure from the owners wanted one last trip to boost their bottom line.
She went down in Lake Huron near Thunder Bay, Ontario, and the Straits of Mackinac in 1875, with all hands lost, not Lake Michigan as originally thought. She was sailing east from Milwaukee to Buffalo. The cause of her sinking is unknown, but she left late in the season in November and she was carrying an excessive amount of grain. Weather records from that day reported snow, high winds, and waves on Lake Huron during the hours the Windiate was lost. According to legend, she was caught in this weather and her crew was swept overboard by ice and waves as she continued to sail across Lake Huron. No remains were ever found of the crew. Archaeologists believe that ice formed on the deck and rigging of the already overloaded schooner, causing her to sink due to the weight.
Divers discovered The Windiate in Lake Huron, near Alpena, Michigan, in 1986, at a depth of 185 feet (56 m), further east than expected. Her masts and rigging are still standing as well as her holds full of grain. She is remarkably preserved making her a delight for divers. As shown in the video, the crew’s lifeboat rests silently alongside the starboard stern quarter.
The Windiate stands as a testimonial to the many crews and countless ships that perished on Great Lakes voyages in November.