WRECK: E B ALLEN
N45° 00.976’ W 83° 09.899
MAX DEPTH: 100ft / 30.5m
LENGTH: 134ft / 40m
On its last voyage, the schooner E.B. Allen was bound for Buffalo, New York, carrying a cargo of grain. When it was about two miles southeast of Thunder Bay Island, it met the bark Newsboy in heavy fog. The two ships collided, and the Newsboy tore a large hole in the Allen’s portside. As the ship began to sink, the Allen's crew was taken on board the other vessel.
Today, the E.B. Allen sits 100 feet below the surface of Lake Huron on an even keel, its hull largely intact. Although the masts are broken and most of the decking is gone, the windlass, anchor chains, and rudder are still in place.
Tens of thousands of farmers settled the Midwest after the Erie Canal opened in 1825. By the 1840s, they had transformed the frontier into America’s breadbasket. Moving grain to national and worldwide markets took a huge number of specialized ships—many like the E.B. Allen.
Built to barely squeeze through the locks and canals Great Lakes vessels had to navigate, the schooner E.B. Allen maximized the payload on every trip. In 1871, the Great Lakes had two thousand similar sailing craft, most carrying grain eastward and coal westward. These boxy-hulled schooners, dubbed 'canalers', were purposely built slightly shorter and narrower than the locks and canals that they had to navigate. They could squeeze through the canal with much more cargo than vessels with traditional hull forms. Every inch of hull length and width meant more bushels of grain and more profit for owners. Innovative features like folding bowsprits ensured that canal-sized schooners did not waste valuable space while transiting locks.
Heavy ship traffic, compounded by darkness or fog, often made for a deadly combination near Thunder Bay in northwestern Lake Huron. Vessels that transited the Great Lakes, whether up- or downbound, regularly passed through these treacherous waters. The E.B. Allen is one of over 200 wrecks in and around this infamous area known as “Shipwreck Alley”.
Resting upright in 100 feet of water and seasonally marked with a NOAA sanctuary mooring, the E.B. Allen is a popular dive site. With much of its deck planking missing, the wreck allows for easy penetration below decks and a view of the massive centerboard trunk. Folding catheads (used to secure the anchor once it was raised) can be seen at the bow, and at the stern divers can spot the vessel’s rudder post and glimpse construction features exposed by the missing cabin. Amidships on the port side is dramatic evidence of the Allen’s 1871 collision with the sailing vessel Newsboy.
Just forward of the main mast is the winch used to raise and lower the vessel’s massive centerboard. Due to their flat bottoms, the wind that drove Great Lakes schooners forward also pushed them sideways, making it difficult to keep on course. Housed in a watertight box, called the centerboard trunk, the centerboard hung deep into the water and slowed the sideways movement.
Like all Great Lakes shipwrecks the E. B. Allen is unique and irreplaceable: a tangible link to our nation's past well preserved by Lake Huron’s cold, freshwater. Together, we must ensure that our actions do not diminish this extraordinary underwater legacy. Enjoy diving Great Lakes shipwrecks but always respect the past and dive responsibly.