Rare Sailing Craft Found in Lake Ontario


Oswego, New York – A rare sailing craft identified as a scow-sloop has been located in deep water off Oswego, NY.  In August 1872 the scow-sloop Black Duck was enroute from Oswego to Sackets Harbor when it foundered in a northwest gale.  Only a small number of these shallow draft blunt bow sailing craft existed around the Great Lakes and were typically utilized on rivers or for short lake crossings.  They were not constructed to withstand the high winds and waves on the open lake. The Black Duck may be the only fully intact scow-sloop to exist in the Great Lakes.  Shipwreck explorers Jim Kennard and Roger Pawlowski made the identification in September after their initial visit to the wreck over three years ago which failed to identify the ship.

Caught in a northwest gale on Lake Ontario

The Black Duck loaded with a cargo of coal and general merchandise left Oswego, New York for Sackets Harbor on August 8, 1872.  A strong wind was blowing during the departure of the ship but Captain Barney Everleigh believed that he could make the trip of a little over 40 miles by midnight.   Within a few hours the winds changed and the little scow-sloop was sailing broadside to the gale force winds from the northwest.  The captain changed course to steer up the lake to prevent the waves from coming over the side of the ship just as it sprung a severe leak.  The Black Duck began to rapidly take on water. The pumps were manned but could not handle the flow of the incoming water.  Captain Everleigh, his wife, and crew member Willie Decker prepared to leave the sinking ship.  A small punt (a boat propelled by a pole) was cut loose prematurely and began to float away.  Decker dove into the water and swam to the punt securing it before it was blown out of reach.  Captain Everleigh and his wife jumped from the sinking ship and swam to the punt arriving almost completely exhausted.  For the next eight hours the three of them lay in the bottom of the punt while the wind blew them to shore about two miles north of Port Ontario, New York.

Scow-Sloop Black Duck Built in 1859

The Black Duck was built on Wellesley Island in the St. Lawrence River in 1859.  In 1870 Sackets Harbor merchants Barney Everleigh and John Jackson became the new owners.  The scow-sloop was a small shallow draft vessel with a length of 51 feet, beam of 13 feet, and depth of only 4 feet.  The Black Duck had a rated carrying capacity of a little over 21 tons.

The Scow-Sloop

This most unusual sailing vessel began to appear on the Great Lakes around 1825.  The scow-sloop was a shallow draft sailing ship having a single mast, flat bottom, and a squared off bow and stern.  The combination of the scow shaped hull and the sail plan of the sloop is what made this ship very unusual.  Hence the name Black Duck!  The width of the bow being slightly smaller than the stern.  Scow-sloops were a very simple design and cheaply built and their length ranged from around 22 feet to over 95 feet.  Typically the scow-sloop was utilized on rivers or short lake crossings for the transportation of lumber, sand, hay, and coal to ports that did not have a deep harbor.  They could easily be run up on a beach to off load their cargos.  There were a few scow-sloops that were used in the upper Great Lakes but most were found working on the eastern end of Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence River.  There are references to scow-sloops transporting goods on Lake Champlain, the Connecticut and Hudson Rivers and to ports along the Atlantic Coast.  There were also some scow-schooners operating on the Great Lakes and in use on the west coast near the port of San Francisco.


Black Duck – A shipwreck discovery journey

In May 2013 while searching for shipwrecks in deep water north of Oswego, explorers Jim Kennard and Roger Pawlowski, ran right over the top of what appeared to be the mast of a shipwreck with a high resolution DeepVison DE-340 side scan sonar.  In early July they deployed a small remote operated vehicle to survey the ship.  The ROV reached one side of the ship but the extreme depth compressed the neutrally buoyant cable causing it act as a weight.  This situation restricted movement of the ROV and only the rail and mast were able to be seen.  For the next 3 years the team concentrated on other areas of Lake Ontario making a number of significant historic shipwreck discoveries. In September (2016) with a VideoRay Pro IV and an improved cable tether the team decided to go back to the unknown shipwreck that they had found. This time the team was able to survey the shipwreck and make the identification as the scow-sloop Black Duck.  Subsequently, it was learned that the shipwreck search team of Scoville and Koberstein had also visited the shipwreck with their ROV in July 2013.

Surveying the Shipwreck

The wreck of the Black Duck lies in a depth of nearly 350 feet of water.  To illuminate the shipwreck a 25,000 lumen light was lowered just above the shipwreck.  This allows video imaging with a minimum of back scatter from particles in the water when using just the lights on the remote operated vehicle.    The Black Duck has a single mast which is still standing. Behind the mast is a single large hold with a center board trunk in its middle.  This holds a pivoted center board that could be extended through the keel to provide greater stability when sailing in the open lake.   The bow is squared off being only a few feet less in width than the squared off stern.  A short bow sprit extends from the bow that would have held ropes that were used to hold a jib sail.  An anchor extends from the bow.   The cabin of the Black Duck rises up from the deck by a few feet and is just about as wide as the ship.  A tiller arm can be seen lying across the cabin roof.   Many of the sides of the cabin have fallen away.  The davits that held the ship’s punt extend beyond the end of the stern and below them the rudder can be seen mostly buried in the lake bottom.

Video of shipwreck scow-sloop Black Duck




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. Military equipment remains the property of the service branch unless explicitly abandoned.

Historic Shipwrecks of Lake Ontario Project - Sponsor

The survey of historic shipwrecks in Lake Ontario is funded by a grant from The National Museum of the Great Lakes of Toledo, 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 40 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 236 year old British warship HMS Ontario, the oldest shipwreck ever found in the Great Lakes. Kennard is a Fellow member of The Explorers Club and the sonar owner / operator.

Roger Pawlowski has been diving on shipwrecks in the northeast and Pacific for the past 15 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. He is the owner / operator of the ROV and survey boat.




anonymous by Andy on 11/25/2016

The work you guys are doing is absolutely amazing

anonymous by J Keene on 11/26/2016

How deep?

"The wreck of the Black Duck lies in a depth of nearly 350 feet of water."
anonymous by Glen Betzoldt on 11/26/2016

I have a replica of a Butt Head Scow Schooner that I enjoy sailing, but wouldn't want to get to far offshore.

anonymous by Connor on 2/22/2017

Absolutely amazing! Love what you do.

anonymous by Connor on 2/22/2017

Always fascinates me. Something I've always wanted to do. Love it.

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