Discovery of Scow Schooner Shannon

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On June 20th 1874 the two masted scow schooner Shannon let loose her lines from the coal dock at the port of Oswego.  Around 4:00pm the Shannon passed Oswego light and headed out into the lake.  She had just taken on 100 tons of anthracite coal owned by Beyers, Penn & Beyers. Fair seas greeted her as Captain Acton and his crew went about their familiar business of setting sail and managing the ship.  Some eighty miles to the north lay the Port of Gananoque, Ontario where the Shannon planned to offload her heavy cargo.

However, about 20 miles after passing Oswego light the crew discovered that the Shannon was rapidly taking on water.   Captain Acton ordered the crew to man the pumps but it had little effect.  The leak was too great and seemed to extend from the keel to the plankshire along the stem of the boat.   Realizing that the pumps could not keep the boat clear and that the ship would soon go down, Captain Acton ordered the jib top sail cut down so it could be used to jacket the hull and thereby slow the leak, allowing the boat to limp back to port.   However, once in position, the flow of water into the schooner was so great that the jib was sucked into the into the hole and disappeared.  All hope was now lost for saving the scow schooner.   The crew hurried to lower the yawl taking only a few items on deck and their personal sea bags.  

 An attempt was made to save the mainsail but before it could be cut down the Shannon lurched signaling that the end was near and all efforts must be abandoned.    Each man quickly got into the yawl and it was pushed off just in time to avoid a one way trip to the bottom of the lake.   With the schooner gone the crew took turns rowing with the single ore that they had in the yawl.   This made for a long 20 mile journey back to the port of Oswego.  The yawl passed Oswego light for the 2nd time that day around 9:00pm with an exhausted crew onboard. 

Discovery

On June 24th 2011 Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein sat at the Wright’s Marina in Oswego, NY watching the weather on the lake.  Both men were hesitant to venture out onto the fickle lake in less than optimal conditions and that day the weather was rainy and the waves were 3-4 feet.

Earlier that week Chris and Dan were about 25 miles offshore with the sonar fish steadily mapping the bottom of the lake.  Looking to the west Dan noticed that the horizon looked dark.  However, above the search boat the sky was clear and below it the lake was flat.  Dan convinced Chris that they should finish the run and then reevaluate the weather.  Thirty or forty minutes went by and the dark western horizon moved closer and looked more ominous.  Suddenly a single bolt of lightning flashed from the low hanging cloud and struck the water about a ½ mile from the search boats location. 

On any day a lightning bolt that close to the boat would have been cause for concern but on this day Dan and Chris were towing the sonar fish with 2000ft of steel cable, making the small search boat a good target for a lightning strike.  Immediately the search was called off and the half hour process of brining in the cable was started.  As soon as the cable was in and the sonar was secured Chris brought the boat on plane and a course was made for the port of Oswego.  By now the waves had picked up and the wind was blowing.  Skirting the storm to the east, Chris crashed though the waves in an effort to beat the storm.  However with 5 miles left to safe harbor, the clear sky above the boat closed and they were overtaken by the storm.   Lightning flashed all around the boat and visibility was reduced to a few feet by black sky and what appeared to be a wall of water all around the boat.  Chris kept the boat slowly moving in the direction of Oswego.  After 15 minutes the boat came out of the storm on the other side.  Chris docked the boat and both were relieved to be back on shore without any damage to the equipment or worse.

Around 6:00pm on the 24th the waves had come down and the sky was clearing.  Chris and Dan decided to try to salvage what they could of the day and headed out on the lake for the evening.  The decision to search an area closer to port than had previously been planned was reached so as not to be so far out in the lake if the weather suddenly changed. 

At 10:25pm, after just finishing an uneventful southerly run, Chris turned the boat to starboard for a slow turn when the sonar recorded the unmistakable image of a shipwreck.  Dan quickly calculated a course for another run and Chris brought the boat about on the new heading.  A short time later the sonar captured a fantastic image showing a ship with both masts still standing, an intact bow sprit, cabin and wheel.  With that the boat was pointed back towards Oswego.  Exploration of the wreck with the remotely operated vehicle (ROV) would be a job for the next day, right now sleep was the 1st order of business. 

The next day the lake was rough again.  The team waited all day but the weather did not improve.  Even more disappointing was that this was the last day of the 2011 search season in Oswego, NY.  This meant that the documenting the wreck would have to wait until next year.

The ROV Dives the Wreck

After a year of waiting, July 2012 saw Chris and Dan back at the lake with the ROV ready explore the shipwreck.  The pair kept busy searching for new wrecks until July 5th when the lake was flat calm, perfect for a deep dive with the ROV.  After a long anchoring process Chris put the ROV over the side of the boat while Dan took to the controls.  A few minutes later the lights on the ROV illuminated the deck of the schooner for the 1st time in over 100 years.

The schooner is sitting upright on the bottom in very good condition.  The both masts are standing proud and a large amount of cable and rigging hangs from them.  On the bow there is a cable that runs from the bow sprit up to the crow’s nest of the foremast.  Moving amidships the forward hold is found still filled to the top with coal.  A small hand winch is located just ahead of the aft hold.  There is some damage on the deck of the schooner in this area where the planks have sprung, probably the result of the hitting the bottom of the lake after its long fall through the water.  Behind the aft mast we find the perfectly intact cabin with its hatch open.  A small dish can be seen in the open cupboard door at the bottom of the hatchway.  The ship’s wheel is intact, ready for the next command to port or starboard.  Finally on the stern of the ship the life boat davits stand empty, a testament to Captain Acton and his crew’s hasty escape from the sinking ship.  One of the ship’s most prominent features is the shape of its bow.  The bow is flat looking much like the front of an unexciting scow barge. 

Identifying the Wreck

The ships flat bow told Dan and Chris that they had found a scow schooner.  Research into scow schooners that sunk off Oswego, NY turned up only one candidate that would also fit the length and beam of the recently found ship, the Shannon.  Additional features of this wreck that corroborated this conclusion are the hold filled with coal, the number of masts, the missing yawl and the wrecks location off Oswego, NY.

Ships Specs – Shannon – Scow Schooner

 Name  SHANNON
 Type  Scow/Schooner
 When built  1867
 Where built  Battersea, County of Frontenac
 Builders name & date of certificate  Robt. Davis Oct. 7, 1867

Description of vessel:

 
 Length  78 ft.
 Breadth  18 ft.
 Depth of hold  6 ft.
 Masts  Two

 Stern

 Square
 Bowsprit  Standing
 Figurehead  None
 How rigged  Schooner
 Decks  One

 

The Discovery Team

Dan Scoville is an experienced cave and technical diver. In 2005, Dan led the development of an underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV) with a team of college seniors from the Rochester Institute of Technology. He is currently a project manager and electrical engineer for Oceaneering International in Houston, TX.

Chris Koberstein is an experienced cave, technical and rebreather diver. Chris uses sophisticated rebreather diving equipment to explore depths to over 300 feet. Chris works as an aviation maintenance technician with Air Canada

 

 



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