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Wreck of the beautiful 1879 tugboat Satellite discovered in the waters of Lake Superior

Published: July 26, 2023 - 09:00
Updated: September 12, 2023 - 12:27
Wreck of the beautiful 1879 tugboat Satellite discovered in the waters of Lake Superior
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During the filming of the reality show series ‘Expedition Unknown’, the GLSHS team and Discovery Channel filmmakers found the wreck of the 1879 tugboat Satellite.

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) has announced that while doing some filming for the popular Discovery Channel series ‘Expedition Unknown’, the wreck of the tugboat Satellite, which sank on 21 June 1879, has been found. Measuring 44 metres in length, the wooden ship rests at a depth of just over 90 metres in Lake Superior.

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tugboat Satellite
Sonarscan of the shipwreck Photo: GLSHS

Wreck of the tugboat Satellite

Typically, stories of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes are linked with heavy storms. The huge bodies of water, although beautiful, can be extremely dangerous and are notorious for rapid weather changes. In this case, the cause of the sinking was not bad weather at all.

The 21st of June 1879 was a calm, beautiful summer day. The tugboat Satellite was traversing the surface of Lake Superior, leading four barges. At some point, the ship encountered unexpected difficulties.

According to one report, the vessel was experiencing mechanical problems. In another relation, it is suggested that it hit a floating log and began to take on water. Fortunately, no one died, but the wooden ship was lost in the depths of the lake for the next 142 years.

Accidental discovery

Interestingly, the wreck of the tugboat Satellite was discovered entirely by accident by GLSHS researchers and Discovery filmmakers. The target of the search, which the team conducted in 2022 from aboard the research vessel R/V David Boyd, were the wrecks of two minesweepers dating back to 1918. The ships belonged to the French Navy and were supposed to have taken part in the World War I. However, the treacherous weather prevailing indivisibly in the Great Lakes kept them here indefinitely.

After reaching the position, GLSHS Director of Marine Operations Darryl Ertel guided the remotely operated underwater vehicle (ROV) to the intended destination. However, it turned out that it was not a steel minesweeper from 1918, but the slightly older wooden wreck of the tugboat Satellite.

Illustration of the tugboat
Illustration of the tugboat Photo: GLSHS

French minesweepers

One day, Josh Gates from the Discovery Channel’s ‘Expedition Unknown’ show visited the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. He was going to do footage of the two French minesweepers that sank in Lake Superior in 1918. The French built the vessels in Canada because their shipbuilders were too overloaded. The Germans, on the other hand, had mined the English Channel with tens of thousands of mines and the minesweepers were essential for naval operations.

The Inkerman and Cerisoles were two of three French Navy warships that were built in Thundery Bay. Together, the minesweepers were to take a route across the Great Lakes to the Atlantic and then to Europe. Unfortunately, instead of fighting against the Germans in the World War I, the two minesweepers sank during a massive storm in which nearly 80 sailors perished.

Picture of the sister unit Sweepstakes
Picture of the sister unit Sweepstakes Photo: GLSHS

A beautiful tugboat

Although it may seem a little strange, this is exactly the reputation Satellite had. Unfortunately, no photographs of the ship taken before it sank are known to confirm this. However, information from the press back then has survived which suggests that the vessel was widely regarded as one of the most beautiful ships of her type in the Great Lakes.

It is said that her cabin and upper works were the most elaborate put upon a craft of her kind”, – wrote the Detroit Press and Tribune about the tug.

Another clue to her visual aspect may be a photo of her sister ship, Sweepstakes. As you can see, the vessel looks very impressive and leads us to believe that Satellite also looked incredibly beautiful.

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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