Thunder Bay is close to one of the most dangerous stretches of water in the Great Lakes system and is situated in northwest Lake Huron. “Shipwreck Alley” is the name given to the region because of its unpredictable weather, dense fog banks, jarring gales, and rocky shoals. Shipwreck Alley’s, Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve safeguards approximately 200 historically significant shipwrecks, ranging from wooden sidewheelers from the nineteenth century to steel-hulled steamers from the twentieth century. The sanctuary is home to a large number of wrecks, and national policymakers are concerned about preserving and protecting them. The sanctuary’s landward boundary stretches from Alcona County’s southern border to Presque Isle County’s western border. The largest city in the region is Alpena.
In March 2019, researchers from NOAA, Michigan, and Ocean Exploration Trust discovered a brand-new, intact shipwreck beneath Lake Huron that will also be protected by The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The Great Lakes’ frigid waters, where the sailing ship Ironton sank, did a stellar job of preserving her. The 191-foot Ironton has been lying upright for more than a century with all three of its masts and the anchor still in place. It was also noted that a lifeboat was still attached.
Due to NOAA’s desire for more time to investigate the shipwreck, the discovery of the Ironton was only announced in March 2023.
In September, 1894, the Ironton and another ship, the Moonlight, were heading toward the port city of Marquette, Michigan. Both boats were being towed by a steamer. Strong winds nearly forced the two barges into their guide after the steamer broke down. The crew of the Moonlight cut the tow line, leaving the Ironton drifting a few miles north of Shipwreck Alley. The Ohio, a freighter carrying 1,000 tons of flour, reportedly veered off course and struck the Ironton. The Ironton quickly started to take on water after suffering a hole in its bow and made an attempt to launch its lifeboat.
The Ironton and another ship, the Moonlight, were sailing in the direction of Marquette, Michigan, a port city, in September of that year. A steamer was towing both vessels. The steamer broke down, and the two barges were almost pushed into their guide by strong winds. The Ironton was left drifting a few miles north of Shipwreck Alley after the crew of the Moonlight severed the tow line. According to reports, the Ohio, a freighter carrying 1,000 tons of flour, veered off course and collided with the Ironton. After suffering a hole in its bow, the Ironton quickly began to take on water and made an attempt to launch its lifeboat. The rope that connected the lifeboat to the ship, known as the painter, could not be cut, though. Two crew members managed to survive by staying afloat and clinging to floating debris until a passing boat could rescue them. The other five crew members perished. The Ohio sank even though all 16 of its crew members survived the collision. But the painter, the rope that bound the lifeboat to the ship, could not be severed. By remaining afloat and clinging to floating debris until a passing boat could rescue them, two crew members were able to survive. The five additional crew members died. All 16 members of the crew of the Ohio survived the collision, but the ship sank.
According to NOAA, the sanctuary will put up a buoy to mark the shipwreck’s location and help divers visit the wreck site safely. The precise location of the Ironton is not known at this time.