ROCHESTER, New York -- After 105 years, the three masts of the Queen of the Lakes still stand erect -- all the more remarkable because the 19th-century Canadian schooner has sat in the dark depths of Lake Ontario since it wrecked in 1906.
"We think it hit bow first because the bowsprit is broken off, but the rest of the ship looks pretty nice," undersea explorer Jim Kennard said Friday.
Kennard and fellow shipwreck enthusiasts Dan Scoville and Roland Stevens located the 129-foot (40-meter)-long vessel using side-scan sonar in 2009. They confirmed the find and captured images of it in early July using a remotely operated submersible.
Loaded with 480 tons of coal, the 53-year-old ship ran into a stiff gale in November 1906, sprung a leak and sank rapidly some 10 miles (16 kilometers) off Sodus Bay on the lake's southern shore. The crew of six clambered aboard a yawl and rowed to safety.
The ship sits on the lake bed at a depth of 200 to 300 feet. Its masts extend as much as 100 feet (30 meters) upward in calm, frigid waters deprived of oxygen, conditions that account for how well it's preserved.
"When you have a temperature of, like, 39 degrees (4 Celsius) and you're at a depth where there's no wave action or current, the only thing that can damage the wood would be zebra or quagga mussels as they collect and grow in big clumps and fall off," Kennard said.
The invasive mussels were not introduced to the lake system until the past 15 years or so, he said. "Years ago, all you would see on the ship was just a dusting of silt," he added.
Its rigging and sails have long since disintegrated and the large, tapered spar extending forward from the bow is gone.
But both anchors and the mussel-coated wheel are firmly in place. Cables that held the masts in place lie in coils on the deck and a steam-powered winch that might have been added in the early 1900s is visible in the bow section.
The ship was sailing from Rochester to Kingston, Canada, when it began taking on water.
"I've read the most important item on such ships was the bilge pump," Kennard said. "A vessel that old was pushing its limits.
In a Northeast storm, things are really getting jostled around and, all of a sudden, the bottom fell out. The crewmen were only within 50 feet (15 meters) of the boat when it sank. It went down really quickly."
In 2008 in Lake Ontario, Kennard's team located the wreck of the HMS Ontario, the oldest shipwreck ever found in the Great Lakes. During the American Revolution in 1780, the 22-gun British warship was lost in a gale with barely a trace and as many as 130 people aboard.
Since 1970, Kennard has helped find more than 20 wrecks in the Great Lakes and about 180 others in Lake Champlain, New York's Finger Lakes and the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.