"Bad Luck Barquentine" shipwreck from 1869 discovered in Lake Superior

"Bad Luck Barquentine" shipwreck from 1869 discovered in Lake Superior

The 144-foot barquentine named Nucleus, which has been discovered 600ft below the surface of Lake Superior, more than 150 years after it sank, is one of the oldest ships to have been recovered from the lake.


The 144-foot Nucleus had a “checkered past” after previously sinking twice, and once rammed and sank another boat on Lake Huron, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum said in a news release announcing the discovery.

A barquentine is a sailing vessel with three or more masts, with a square-rigged foremast and fore-and-aft rigged main, mizzen and other masts that were common in the 19th century.

The wooden ship is well-preserved and in good condition, with an intact stern and port side. The wood is free of invasive zebra mussels, which have not been disbursed through the frigid depths of Lake Superior as they have in other lakes.

The Nucleus sank on 14 September 1869, when it was downbound from Marquette, carrying a load of iron ore. It got caught in a bad storm on Lake Superior and started to take on water. The leak became so bad that the crew had to abandon the ship and get into the lifeboat.

Checkered history

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society dubbed the Nucleus the “Bad Luck Barquentine” based on the vessel’s checkered history of accidents and sinkings before its last one. During its life service, the Nucleus sank twice, ran aground twice and had its cargo damaged. In 1854, it rammed and sank the side-wheeler S.S. Detroit in Lake Huron.

Researchers first found the remains of the Nucleus in the summer of 2021, using the same type of surface-operated marine sonic equipment used by underwater surveyors and archaeologists. It was positively identified as the Nucleus in 2022 when researchers examined it underwater with a remotely operated vehicle.

This is a pretty significant shipwreck…considering its age, the fact that it is a barquentine and we can’t overlook the vessel’s checkered past. The wreck site is littered with shovels too…and a few dinner plates, which speaks to their work and shipboard life.

Shipwreck Society Executive Director, Bruce Lynn

The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society

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