Mystery Schooner - Lake Ontario - Oswego NY
Found by: Dan Scoville & Chris Koberstein - Summer 2012
Location: Off Oswego, NY
Lost and Forgotten - Summer 2012
The 2012 shipwreck search season was off to a good start, winds were calm and the lake was flat. Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein were on Lake Ontario miles off Oswego, NY in Chris Koberstein's boat. On deck, 2000ft of cable had been paid out into the cold depths with a heavily weighted sonar fish on the end of it. Data from the fish streamed up the cable and onto the computer screen where Dan and Chris scrutinized every blotch hoping that they could scare up a shipwreck out of the random patterns that slowly scrolled down the screen. The target of our search was the steamer Roberval that sunk in a storm on the evening of September 25th 1916. This was the 2nd year of searching for the missing steamer and confidence was high that success was close at hand.
Early in the trip Chris steered the boat directly over a large target that was standing about 20ft tall on the bottom of the lake. The size of this target gave us high hopes that we may have found the Roberval. However, after subsequent passes with the sonar set on high frequency no superstructure was seen and hopes of the target being the Roberval sank quickly. Over the days that followed some small targets scrolled slowly down the sonar screen. "Its airplane parts", Chris would say jokingly, making reference to the still missing B24 bomber lost in Lake Ontario back in February 18th 1944 and as yet never found. These targets were far too small to be the ship of interest but they broke the monotony and we passed the time with endless speculation.
A few days later another target rolled down the computer screen. This target was too small to be the Roberval, too big to be airplane parts and to the experienced eye it had the unmistakable pattern of two standing masts. We had found a small schooner!
Spirits were high, Chris swung the boat around and we slowly vectored in to make a high frequency sonar run on the target. In order to get a high frequency image the sonar must be towed to within about 65 ft of the shipwreck. This is no trivial matter when you consider that the sonar is some 500 feet below and well over 1500ft behind the boat. Factor in the boat is never still, the wind and current are constantly pushing you off course and that if you hit the wreck with the sonar fish you are likely to lose tens of thousands of dollars in equipment, one can imagine the tense moments as you stare at the sonar screen in the run up to the wrecks position.
After a few hours we had our image clearly showing an intact schooner with two standing masts. We decided that we would come back later with the ROV, for now our mission was to cover as much lake bottom as we could in hopes that the Roberval might be a close neighbor of our new schooner.
A few nights later we took a break from searching to explore the new schooner. After a short boat ride Chris pulled the throttle back into neutral and the boat drifted quietly over the exact spot that the schooner disappeared some unknown years before.
The ROV was already on the back deck nearly ready for its decent into history and the 1st step of unlocking the mystery ships identity. After several minutes of decent a muddy bottom dotted with quagga mussels greeted the ROV. The ROV’s sector scanning sonar acoustically lit up the wreck a few hundred feet away and Dan steered the ROV towards the ship.
As the ROV approached the 1st thing that came into view was one of the booms lying perpendicular to the deck and extending off the starboard side until it disappeared into the mud. As Dan turned the ROV in the direction of the boom, the ROV lights reflected off the starboard bow revealing a small but beautifully preserved schooner. Immediately noticeable on the bow were the starboard anchor slung over the rail, the ship’s windlass and the bow sprit chains connecting it back to the ship’s bow. Under the bow sprit is an understated bow stem that reaches out as if to point the way.
Swinging the ROV over the deck several pulley blocks lie about just proud of the mud and quagga mussels. The forward mast stands about a foot behind the windlass with its lower boom still attached. The hatch for the forward hold sits just behind the mast. The forward hatch cover is gone likely blown off by the air inside the hold rushing out as the ship sank. Flying the ROV over to the hatch and looking in revealed an uncommon site for a ship of this age.
The forward hold is not completely filled with mud. The top 3 or 4 feet of the hold is empty, then the mud starts but some cargo can be seen sticking though the mud. It is difficult to make out what the cargo is but it does not appear a bulk cargo such as corn, coal, or feldspar so commonly found in lost schooners. This cargo appears to have some shape to it and looks like it is possibly stacked rather than indiscriminately shoveled into the hold.
Continuing aft we find that the long since rotted away rigging has the left spars across the deck in random fashion. The aft mast still stands despite the rows of empty deadeyes on the adjacent rails. Behind the aft mast stands the ship’s bilge pump and the rear hold. The rear hatch cover is still in place but some of its boards were blown off during the sinking. Flying the ROV up to the rear hatch and peering in though one of the missing boards reveals two wooden barrels sticking out of the mud in the hold.
Just behind the aft hatch cover is a small cabin. The cabin’s companion way is open but looking inside reveals nothing but a cabin filled with silt. The only thing that is noteworthy is a small window in the back of the cabin wall that looks out towards the stern. Between the cabin and the stern rail sits the ships tiller hard over to starboard and a spare mast lies along the starboard rail. The life boat davits hang empty off the stern leaving us to wonder if the ship’s crew made a hasty escaped in the dingy before their ship succumbed to the lake.
Oswego Mystery Schooner - Deck Aft Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012
Oswego - Mystery Schooner - Mast Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012
Oswego - Mystery Schooner - Stern Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012
Oswego - Mystery Schooner - Stern Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012
Oswego - Mystery Schooner - Forward Hatch Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012
Oswego - Mystery Schooner - Deck Aft - Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012
Oswego - Mystery Schooner - Bow - Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012
Oswego Mystery Wreck - Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein
Oswego - Mystery Schooner Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012. Palladium Times article
Oswego Mystery Schooner - Port Bow Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012
Oswego Mystery Schooner - Windlass Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012
Oswego Mystery Schooner - Tiller Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012
Oswego Mystery Schooner - Bow Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012
Oswego Mystery Schooner - Deck aft Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012
Oswego Mystery Schooner - Tiller Hold Found by Dan Scoville and Chris Koberstein - 2012
Dan Scoville w/ ROV
Chris Koberstein wth ROV
ROV at night coming up from the wreck
Identifying the Wreck
The characteristics of this wreck place its construction in the early 1800s era. Unfortunately during this time period there is a lack of shipping information and a positive identification of this wreck has yet to be made. It is our hope that releasing this wreck may bring some long lost data to light and point us to correctly identifying this ship. Below is a list containing the information we have about this shipwreck based on observation and measurements made by the ROV.
Name - Unknown
Length - ~60 feet
Width - ~15.5 feet
Construction Material - Wood
Masts - 2
Steering - Tiller
Cargo Aft Hatch - Barrels (unknown contents)
Forward Hatch - Half empty (unknown contents mostly covered in mud, does not appear to be a bulk cargo like coal, corn etc.)
Cabin - Small
Location - Off Oswego NY in deep water
Yawl - Davits empty - yawl missing
Windows - None in Hull – one in cabin
Rigging Lines - None present – assuming rope which has rotted away
Rear Rail - Somewhat unique in shape – identical to the Milan
Possible Identities for the Wreck
In researching this shipwreck we have come up with a few ships that are possible candidates for the mystery schooner. The difficulty with each of these ships is that their histories have been somewhat lost to time. This make it difficult to make a definitive judgment regarding the name of the mystery schooner.
The Discovery Team
Dan Scoville is an experienced cave and technical diver. In 2005, Dan led the development of an underwater remote operated vehicle (ROV) 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 Houston, TX
Chris Koberstein is an experienced cave, technical and rebreather diver. Chris uses sophisticated rebreather diving equipment to explore depths to over 300 feet. Chris works as an aviation maintenance technician with Air Canada.
Dan Scoville - cell 1-832-423-6318
Chris Koberstein – home 1-450-458-3590 cell 1-514-236-0824