Tall and wooden ships

Lake Zurich: Deep Cold-Water Wreck Diving in Switzerland

Ship's wheel on the second wreck recently found in Lake Zurich, Switzerland. Photo by Jens O. Meissner and Helmut Spangler.

Why travel far when good things lie right at your doorstep? In our case, the “good thing” was Lake Zurich, a midsized lake in the German-speaking part of Switzerland. The city of Zurich is located on the northern end of the 40km-long lake, which still holds some secrets in its depths. In this article, we present two wrecks recently found in the lake and the journey of their exploration.

Shipworm: The Scourge of Wooden Wrecks is Really a Mussel

A specimen of shipworm (USGS / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain)

Have you ever wondered why some bodies of water, such as the Baltic, have so many wooden wrecks in great condition while other areas have almost no wooden wrecks at all? It has something to do with salinity; however, it is not the salt in seawater that consumes the wrecks but a mussel, which somewhat confusingly is called a worm—and it only lives in saltwater.

Great Lakes: Lake Michigan Shipwreck Mysteries

Explorer Capt. Jitka Hanakova at stern of EMBA wreck, Lake Michigan. Photo by Becky Kagan Schott.

My first dive in the Great Lakes was 20 years ago. I remember descending into dark green water and limited visibility. My joke for years was, “Do you know why they call it Lake Erie? Because it’s just that—it’s Erie.” Soon after that, I moved to Florida with my family and forgot all about the Great Lakes because I had warm, tropical reefs in my backyard. Fast-forward to five years ago and I had my next experience diving in Lake Superior.

Great Lakes: Shipwrecks of Presque Isle

The year is 1880, and you are working on a wooden schooner, one of the most dangerous jobs during the time. It is late November and it is the last run of the season. The ship is overloaded with coal and the seas start to pick up. It is now dark and the icy waves are crashing over the sides, and all you can do is work to keep the ship afloat. Ice is now forming on the rigging, and out of the fog, the bow of another ship suddenly appears.

The Ertuğrul was sent by Ottoman Sultan Abdülhamid II to give gifts to the Japanese emperor but sank on Sept. 16, 1890, after encountering a typhoon off the coast of Wakayama Prefecture in the Pacific Ocean. The accident resulted in the loss of 533 sailors.

Ertuğrul exhibition now open in Istanbul

The ship experienced some problems during her long journey. On 26 July 1889, she entered the Suez Canal and ran ashore in Great Bitter Lake, destroyed the stern post and lost the rudder. After repairs, Ertuğrul set sail again on 23 September.

While sailing in western Indian Ocean, the ship took on water from the bow. The crew was unable to conduct the necessary repairs until they reached Singapore.

Ertuğrul was repaired in Singapore and departed on 22 March 1890. After a ten-day stop in Saigon, she arrived in Yokohoma on 7 June 1890.