Finding a Century-Old Shipwreck
president of the Wisconsin Underwater Archeology Association and
director-at-large of the Association of Great Lakes Maritime History, hosted a
fascinating lecture about the Doty and
her discovery on Sunday, July 11, at Discovery World. According to Baillod, the
L.R. Doty was one of six sister ships
built in Bay City, Mich.,
by F.W. Wheeler, a famous shipbuilder on the Great Lakes.
All were 291 feet long, 41 feet wide and about 20 feet deep. Roughly 50 acres
of white oak trees were cut down to build the Doty in 1893, and her hull was reinforced by an iron lattice and
two huge steel arches. Two enormous boilers fed a triple expansion 3-cylinder
steam engine that generated 1,000 horsepower for the ship’s massive propeller.
It was built for the Cuyahoga Transit Co. of Ohio, and was named for the
company’s general manager, Lucius Ramsey Doty.
By the 1890s schooners
were no longer economical to operate compared to steam-powered vessels.
Shipping companies realized they could double their cargo capacity for little
extra cost by cutting the masts off of schooners and towing them behind a steam
ship. From the beginning of its career, the L.R.
Doty always towed a 242-foot-long schooner called the Olive Jeanette.
The Doty, with the Jeanette
in tow, left South Chicago bound for Midland,
Ontario, at 2 p.m. on Oct. 24,
1898, loaded with bushels of corn. Fall 1898 was an active hurricane season,
and remnants of a storm system that nearly destroyed Brunswick,
Ga., created a phenomenon on Lake
Michigan. An extremely intense localized storm struck the pair of
ships when they were just off Milwaukee
at about 1 p.m. on Oct. 25. By 4 p.m., sleet and snow began to obscure
visibility, and the waves were well over 20 feet. Several miles north of Milwaukee, at about 5
p.m., the towline between the two vessels broke. The only reason we know what
happened to the Doty is because the
schooner it was towing miraculously survived. The cook of the Olive Jeanette, Mrs. Frances Browne,
reported that the Doty steamed ahead
and disappeared into the mist. Forty hours later, her wreckage was found 25
miles off of Kenosha.
Leaving a schooner
stranded alone in that kind of storm was a death sentence for its crew, so
Baillod contends with relative certainty that the captain of the L.R. Doty, Christopher Smith, chose to
turn around. “A vessel that’s 20 feet high and loaded, she may have been
showing 5 to 10 feet above the water,” Baillod explained in his lecture. “When
she turned, she was exposed to what we call the trough of the seas, where she
has one wave on her right and one wave on her left, and she’s in the trough.
It’s very difficult to turn out of that… even with a very powerful engine. In a
case like this, it’s easy for the rudder, or the rudder chains, to break.”
The Doty was a long, straight-decked vessel with wooden hatch covers
that could not have withstood thousands and thousands of gallons of water
standing over the decks. It’s likely that water breached those hatches, and
caused her to flounder catastrophically. All hands were lost, a total of 17
On June 16, 2010, a
group of explorers led by Baillod and charter captain Jitka Hanakova located
the L.R. Doty, which had been snagged
by a commercial fish tug in 1991, nearly 20 miles off Oak Creek. Video reveals the ship is upright
and in an amazing state of preservation due to the cold, fresh water and
For more information about the discovery, the dive team and photos of the ship and the wreck site, visit Baillod’s site at www.ship-wreck.com/shipwreck/doty/.