Mid-Nineteenth Century Canadian Schooner Ocean Wave Discovered by Shipwreck Explorers


Rochester, New York – The battered remains of the Canadian schooner Ocean Wave, which capsized and eventually sank from a sudden and violent squall, has been found in the depths of Lake Ontario.   Shipwreck explorers Jim Kennard, Roger Pawlowski and Roland Stevens located the schooner off Oswego, NY while surveying an area of the lake for historic ships.

Capsized in the Lake

In early November 1890 the schooner Ocean Wave, heavily laden with a cargo of hemlock lumber and lath, was bound for Oswego from Trenton, Ontario.  When the schooner was within 15 miles of its destination it encountered a sudden and violent squall from the south. A tug boat captain reported he was forced to run with his barge tow to a port on the St. Lawrence River, “It lashed the lake into a raging torrent that no vessel could have lived through it”.  The winds at Oswego were recorded as high as 34 mph, however in the middle of the lake they could have been over 45 mph.  The waves created by these high winds may have exceeded 12 feet in height.   The following day there were several reports from ships coming into port that they had passed what appeared to be the schooner Ocean Wave now bottom up and floating in the lake. A section of the stern with lath was seen floating northward.   A tugboat was sent out from Oswego to rescue any survivors and possibly retrieve the sinking ship.  The schooner was observed to be on its port side with just a portion of the starboard rail above the water and her spars floating nearby.  The stern had been washed away and only a small portion of the lumber cargo remained in the hold.  The yawl was still attached to the schooner but there were no survivors.  The squall must have come very fast and hit hard, not giving the crew any time to reach the yawl and possible safety.  Because the Ocean Wave was so badly broken up and the cargo of lumber nearly gone it was not worth towing back to Oswego.

Schooner that would not sink

After the squall the winds subsided for the next week and the Ocean Wave continued to float around Lake Ontario at the mercy of the wind and lake currents becoming a hazard to other ships.  Ten days later some of the debris from the schooner reached Mexico Bay at the eastern end of Lake Ontario. However, the Ocean Wave was not with these pieces of flotsam, the ship had finally sunk along the way.

Canadian schooner built in1868

The Ocean Wave, a two-masted schooner, was built in Picton, Ontario, Canada in 1868 and was owned by Captains Thomas Brokenshire (57) and William Martin, both of Port Hope.  The schooner had a length of 81 feet, a beam of 20 feet, and a carrying capacity of nearly 100 tons.  The cargo of lumber belonged to George McChesney of Syracuse and William McChesney of Oswego.

Crew lost on the Ocean Wave

The wife of the late Captain Brokenshire said that there were five persons on the Ocean Wave, her husband Capt. Brokenshire and William Martin of Port Hope; Mr. Smith of Port Hope; Mr. Joseph Wells of Belleville, and an unknown man.  Captain Brokenshire left eleven children. Three of whom were still at home the oldest being twelve and the youngest six years old. 

Great grandson of Captain Brokenshire provides additional details

The great grandson of Captain Brokenshire is currently living in Geneseo south of Rochester, NY.  Some years ago Richard Nereau received a letter from one of his Canadian relatives that provided additional details of the captain’s family and the events just prior to the departure of the Ocean Wave on its final voyage.

The late Captain Nelson Palmatier, veteran mariner of Cherry Valley, was probably the last person ashore to see and talk to Captain Brokenshire.   Captain Palmatier was in Trenton at the time that the Ocean Wave was being loaded to the hatches with lumber for Oswego.    He borrowed the yawl boat and upon returning remarked that it was leaking and needed repairs.  Captain Brokenshire replied that “she will do our turn, this is the last trip we are going to make.  We have good freight on this lumber and we’ll pick up a load of coal in Oswego and go home with it to Cobourg and settle down ashore for the rest of our lives.”

The Brokenshires’ had a number of relatives living in the Rochester, NY area.  The wife of Captain Brokenshire eventually moved to this area as did two of his daughters Faney and Catherine all settling in East Rochester.  They are buried in a nearby cemetery in Penfield, NY.  Catherine was the youngest of the Brokenshire’s children and was the grandmother of Mr. Nereau.

Discovery, Survey, and Identification of the Wrecked Schooner

The shattered remains of a sunken wreck were initially located in 2012 using a high resolution DeepVision side scan sonar system during a search for shipwrecks in Lake Ontario. This summer the team returned to the wreck site three times deploying a VideoRay remote operated vehicle (ROV) to obtain video recordings and sonar measurements of the shipwreck in an effort to identify the sunken ship. The wreck was that of the remains of an old schooner. The deck, much of the stern and the cabin are missing. The masts are gone except for a small stub about 3 or 4 feet of the foremast.  Both sides of the ship have fallen away and lay next to the hull.  Except for the area around the bow, most of the schooner lies flat as a pancake on the bottom.  The anchors that would have hung on the bow rail and the windless used to hoist them are also gone.  The scene of the wreck site is most characteristic of a ship that capsized with its parts and pieces torn or fallen away while upside down during a violent storm.  Sonar measurements were made by both the ROV and the side scan sonar.  We now believe that this ship is the Ocean Wave after determining that this it is the correct length and width and is the only known schooner to have capsized and then sunk in this area of Lake Ontario. 

Dangerous routes for the waterway truckers of over 100 years ago. 

Over 100 years ago much of the heavy commodities that are carried by trucks today were transported whenever possible by sailing ships.  We have heard stories about the dangerous Alaskan ice roads and the Bolivian and Himalayan death roads but they can’t compare to the conditions the waterway truckers of over 100 year ago faced each time they ventured out of port into the unforgiving waters of the Great Lakes.  What started out as a calm peaceful sail could end up a complete disaster as was the situation with the destruction of the schooner Ocean Wave.

                                        Historic Shipwrecks in New York State waters

Historic shipwrecks abandoned and embedded in New York State underwater lands belong to the people of the State of New York and are protected by state and federal law from unauthorized disturbance.

Historic Shipwrecks of Lake Ontario Project

The survey of historic shipwrecks in Lake Ontario was funded by a grant from The National Museum of the Great Lakes/Great Lakes Historical Society of Vermillion, Ohio.

Shipwreck Discovery Team

Jim Kennard has been diving and exploring the lakes in the northeast since 1970. He has found over 200 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, NY Finger Lakes and in the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers over the past 35 years. In 1983 he discovered a unique horse powered ferryboat in Lake Champlain.  National Geographic featured the ferryboat in their October 1989 issue.  In May 2008 Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville discovered the 233 year old British warship HMS Ontario, the oldest shipwreck ever found in the Great Lakes, and in September 2008 a rare 200 year old "dagger-board" schooner.  Both discoveries received worldwide attention in the news.  Kennard is a Fellow member of The Explorers Club.

Roger Pawlowski has been diving on shipwrecks in the northeast and Florida for the past 12 years.  He is a retired Air Force Reserve pilot and flew missions in Desert Storm.  In 1980 while flying a practice mission over Lake Ontario he witnessed a small aircraft plunge into the lake.  His details of the incident and location helped Kennard locate the aircraft which was several miles from shore and in over 100 feet underwater.  Pawlowski is an electrical engineer and runs his own engineering consulting business.

Roland ‘Chip’ Stevens is a retired architect and working artist whose watercolors, many of which have been accepted into national exhibitions, are well known in the Rochester area.  A sailor for over 60 years, Stevens has a love of the sea as reflected in his seascapes.  A number of his paintings of shipwrecks discovered by the team have appeared in news stories and publications.  Stevens created a sketch of the schooner Ocean Wave as it appears today on the bottom of Lake Ontario based on the ROV video recording and side scan sonar imaging.



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