Shipwreck Explorers Discover 1850's Schooner in Lake Ontario


Rochester, New York - A mid 1800's schooner has been discovered in deep water off the southern shore of Lake Ontario near Oak Orchard, New York.  Shipwreck enthusiasts Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville finally located the old schooner after a search effort that took them more than 5 years.

Schooners collide at night during a blinding snow storm

During the evening of November 22, 1862, the schooner C. Reeve travelling east to Oswego, New York was run into by the schooner Exchange.  The Enchange was headed west for the Welland Canal.  The Reeve had departed Chicago with a cargo of 13,500 bushels of corn destined for Oswego.  The Exchange had cleared the port of Oswego the previous day with a full load of 2,000 barrels of Onondaga salt bound for ports on Lake Erie.  In the early evening hours a blinding snow storm set in with a strong wind coming out of the north.   Visibility was almost nonexistent and neither crew could see ahead of them.  Within a short time the schooner Exchange collided with the Reeve and stove in her starboard side just aft of the foremast.  The accident occurred approximately 3 to 4 miles off the port of Oak Orchard, New York.

The Exchange had plowed right into the rigging that secured the Reeve's foremast to the starboard side of the ship.  This caused the foremost to lose any support and it immediately toppled over the side of the ship.  The collision also created a large gap in the side of the Reeve's hull allowing water to pour into the schooner. Within a few minutes the Reeve sank out of sight into the depths of Lake Ontario.   The Exchange was not without significant damage too, as she lost her bowsprit which became tangled in the foremast rigging.  She also sustained severe damage to her cutwater, the forward portion of the stem of the vessel which cuts through the water.  Leaking but still afloat the Exchange was able to take on board the crew of the Reeve, then turned about and headed back for the port of Rochester.  The crew of the Reeve only had enough time to save themselves and consequently lost all their personal effects.  A reporter for the Rochester Union and Advertiser describing the condition of the Exchange after returning to port said "She bears the marks of a collision and reminds one of a bully with his nose badly broken."

Schooner C. Reeve built in 1853 at Buffalo New York

 The Reeve is a two masted gaff rigged schooner built in 1853 by the firm of J.B. & N. Jones in Buffalo for Christopher Reeve & Brother of Detroit.  In 1855 the Reeve was sold to William Goodenow.  During the nine years that the schooner was operating on the Great Lakes she only sustained a few minor collisions, lost her masts once in 1853, and was driven ashore in a storm at Mackinac Michigan.  In July of 1858 the Reeve made a trans-Atlantic crossing as she sailed from Detroit, Michigan to Liverpool, England with a cargo of black walnut lumber.  In October of that same year the Reeve returned with a full load of crockery.    

The Lucky Discovery

The initial discovery of the schooner was not made by the conventional search methods used before by the team to discover many of Lake Ontario's shipwrecks.  After searching for many hours with sophisticated sonar technology and precise positioning equipment and not finding any potential targets to check out, the shipwreck searchers were in the process of packing up their equipment for the day and took a few minutes to eat before heading back to port.  Meanwhile the boat was being pushed along the lake by a light breeze.  Dan Scoville glanced over at the depth recorder just as the wind was taking their boat for a ride right over the top of a shipwreck.  The position was quickly noted for a return trip.  In August the explorers returned to the wreck site and deployed a remote operated vehicle (ROV) developed by Scoville to do the actual underwater exploration and to try to confirm the identity of the shipwreck that they had discovered by chance.  The ship was lying nearly 400 feet beneath the surface and at a depth beyond the limits (135 feet) for recreational SCUBA divers and for most technical divers utilizing mixed gases.

Exploring the Shipwreck

In the deep depth where this shipwreck lies there is no natural light to illuminate the ship.  A remote operated vehicle with on board cameras and high intensity lighting was deployed to bring back images of the sunken shipwreck.  The schooner was found sitting upright on the bottom and entirely encrusted with quagga mussels.  The main mast was still standing but the foremast was snapped at its base and lays off to the port side of the ship with only a few feet of the mast resting on the port railing.  It is obvious that this ship sustained significant damage to the starboard side of the hull approximately 35 feet from the bow and near the general location adjacent to where the foremast was located.  There are many booms and spars lying at various angles across the deck of the ship as well as numerous deadeyes and block and tackles.  There are many large pieces of what appear to be thick rope lying about the deck.  Both of the anchors have fallen from the ship and lay half buried in the soft bottom. The hatches of the cargo holds are still closed up tightly.   The cabin is fairly large and stretches completely across one side of the ship rail to the other.  The main boom is lying right across the cabin entrance and on top of the roof.   At the stern of the schooner there is an open area in the cabin where the ship's wheel and steering mechanism are located.  In this area a partially open door from the main cabin can be seen half buried in silt built up over the years. This steering arrangement is quite different from schooners observed before.   On the port side of the stern a long boat is seen resting on the bottom.  Once secured to the ship davits it was pulled down along with the sinking ship.

Shipwreck Detectives

To search for and identify a potential shipwreck, more time is actually spent on land reviewing old newspapers and conferring with shipwreck historians than on the lake searching. Ships that get caught in a storm are very broken up, the nameplate may become lost in the wreckage or the painted name on a ship can disappear over time.  It is very important to do the research prior to conducting a shipwreck search, which can become very expensive, especially when chasing after a ship that may have actually been saved or salvaged later on. Once a ship is found all efforts are made to confirm its name and history.

The schooner that Kennard and Scoville located did not have an observable name painted on the stern of the ship, but other clues were available to identify the vessel.  This shipwreck had two masts and the starboard side of the hull had received extensive damage confirming the fact that it had been in a collision.  The general location of this shipwreck was consistent with the accident report of the collision between the two vessels off Oak Orchard.   Measurements made by a sector scanning sonar mounted on the underwater remote operated vehicle confirmed the dimensions as those of the schooner, with a length of 119 ft and a beam of 26 ft.   A search through a number of shipwreck databases provided only one possible candidate in the same general area of Lake Ontario that had the same measurements and was wrecked by collision.  This was the schooner C. Reeve. 

Lake Ontario Shipwrecks

There are estimated to have been over 5000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. Many of these ships were wrecked in a harbor or were driven on shore where they were pounded to pieces. There are approximately 200 actual shipwrecks that currently remain in the depths of Lake Ontario. There have only been a few notable shipwreck discoveries off the southern shore of the lake as the depths often exceed several hundred feet just a few miles from the southern shoreline. Shipwrecks that are located in these depths are beyond the range of recreational divers and require costly search and support equipment to find them.   The schooner C. Reeve is one of the older commercial vessels to have been found off the southern shore of Lake Ontario that has not been salvaged or wrecked near shore. For additional information, images, and a short video of the shipwreck, visit our website:

Shipwreck Discovery Team

Jim Kennard has been diving and exploring the lakes in the northeast since 1970. He 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. Using his background as an electrical engineer, he built the side scan sonar system that located these shipwrecks.   In 1983 he discovered a unique horse powered ferryboat in Lake Champlain.  National Geographic featured the ferryboat in their October 1989 issue.  Several other of his shipwreck discoveries have been reported in various publications including Skin Diver, Wreck Diver, Inland Seas, and Sea Technology.

Dan Scoville is an experienced cave and technical diver. He utilizes custom gas mixtures of oxygen, helium, and nitrogen to dive to depths of over 300 feet. In 2005, Dan led the development of an Underwater Remote Operated Vehicle 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 May 2008 Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville discovered the British warship HMS Ontario, the oldest shipwreck ever found in the Great Lakes and in late September 2008 a rare 200 year old "dagger-board" schooner both of which received worldwide attention in the news.

Kennard and Scoville will be telling the story of their adventure and presenting the video Discovery of HMS Ontario at the Rochester Museum & Science Center on Wednesday, December 16th.  For details go to the RMSC website: 

Contact information:

Jim Kennard                                            Dan Scoville        

Email:             Email:   



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