N45° 01.996 W83° 11.988
MAX DEPTH: 18ft / 5.4m
LENGTH: 160ft / 49m
In late 1907, the wooden bulk freighter Monohansett sought refuge from Lake Huron’s nasty November weather in the lee of Thunder Bay Island. The crew and vessel were protected from the storm, but not from an engine room fire that quickly spread through the cargo vessel’s old wooden timbers.
The Monohansett burned to the waterline and today is one of the most popular sites in the sanctuary. Readily accessible by kayakers, snorkelers, and divers of all abilities, a visit to the Monohansett often provides sanctuary users with their first shipwreck experience. In June 2011 a glass bottom boat will begin taking a new type of adventurer out for their first shipwreck encounter.
With 900 tons of coal onboard, the 165-foot Monohansett burned within minutes. The crew of 12 was rescued quickly, likely due to the disaster’s proximity to Thunder Bay Island’s life saving station. The frequency of shipwrecks in the vicinity of Thunder Bay led to the establishment of U.S. Life-Saving Service Stations at Thunder Bay Island in 1876, and at nearby Middle Island in the 1880s. Crews that trained extensively in the use of rescue boats and other lifesaving equipment manned these remote facilities, and they were among the busiest stations on Lake Huron.
For 35 years, the Monohansett thrived off the shipping demands of growing Great Lakes industries. The single-screw steamer hauled bulk cargoes of raw materials, particularly iron ore from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The construction of the Monohansett, with the boiler and engine machinery aft, and the technological advancement from sidewheelers to screw propellers, reflects Great Lakes’ freighters answer to demands for more and more cargo space. Even the heavy framing structure of the vessel, with oak keelsons on top of evenly spaced frames, accommodates heavy bulk cargoes of iron ore, coal, and lumber.
Just 500 feet west of Thunder Bay lighthouse, and in only 18 feet of water, the Monohansett is exposed to immutable forces of waves and ice. The bow is missing and the remaining wreckage is broken into three large pieces. The 4-foot diameter boiler reaches to within ten feet of the water’s surface with the openings to its steel drums exposed and the once-powerful steel propeller sits upright on the limestone lake bottom.
The Monohansett is one of approximately twenty-five sanctuary shipwrecks with a seasonal mooring buoy. To provide better access to Thunder Bay’s historic shipwrecks, the sanctuary maintains seasonal moorings at many popular shipwreck sites. The moorings make the sites easier to locate and provide a safe means of ascent and descent for divers. The moorings also eliminate anchor damage to these unique and irreplaceable historic sites.
Thunder Bay's shipwrecks are magnificent, yet vulnerable. Natural processes and human impacts threaten the long-term sustainability of our underwater maritime heritage. Through research, education, and community involvement, the sanctuary works to protect the Monohansett for future generations. Protecting Thunder Bay's underwater treasures is a responsibility shared by the sanctuary, its many partners, and the public.
The Monohansett’s four-blade, steel propeller sits upright on the limestone bottom. This 14-foot prop has fixed blades, unlike larger Great Lakes vessels that had removable blades that would be replaced due to frequent ice damage. The rudder attachment, with bent gudgeons still attached, lies to port.
Located just off the stern of the wreck, the Monohansett’s firebox boiler rises to within ten feet of the surface. The 4-foot diameter boiler rests on its side with the openings to the steam drum exposed. By the 1870s, coal-fired boilers had mostly replaced earlier wood-fired types.
Thunder Bay Island fills the background of this image that illustrates the accessibility of the wreck site. The shallow depth and clear water make it an ideal excursion for divers, snorkelers, and kayakers.
The life-saving team that rescued the crew of the Monohansett was stationed on Thunder Bay Island, only 500 feet away, and was able to reach the burning vessel quickly.
This crystal clear image shows the Monohansett’s compound steeple engine still attached to the drive shaft. It is here, in the engine room, that the fire started that ultimately sent the wooden freighter to the bottom of Lake Huron. According to the second engineer, a torch tipped over and flames quickly consumed the wooden vessel and its coal cargo. The fire was so bright it could be seen from the city of Alpena, eight miles away.
This vantage gives the impression that the boiler just toppled off the stern of the vessel moments before the shot was taken. The placement of the boiler and other machinery aft, and the technological advancement from sidewheelers to screw propellers, provided bulk freighters with what the growing industries of the Great Lakes demanded: more cargo space.
From the beautiful blues and greens of Lake Huron waters, the heavy framing structure of the Monohansett emerges. Oak keelsons rest on top of evenly spaced frames, a configuration designed to accommodate heavy bulk cargoes of iron ore, lumber, and the wooden propeller’s final cargo, 900 tons of coal.
To provide better access to Thunder Bay’s historic shipwrecks, the sanctuary maintains seasonal moorings at many popular shipwreck sites. The moorings make the sites easier to locate and provide a safe means of ascent and descent for divers. The moorings also eliminate anchor damage to these unique and irreplaceable historic sites.