It’s a remote island that’s barely remembered by history but below the surface of Lake Michigan, however, it’s a different story.
Skillagalee is tiny island less than a quarter mile long and about as wide as a football field’s length and has been an end to many ships. It’s surrounded by undiscovered shipwrecks. Shipwreck hunter Ross Richardson was hoping to find one of these shipwrecks this past summer. Instead, he possibly discovered five clusters of shipwrecks.
Richardson, a Lake Ann, Mich., resident, has spent years researching the lonely island’s history. While recovering from knee surgery, he planned to do a sonar survey of Skillagalee reef, discover shipwrecks there, dive them and film them, completely by himself. He nicknamed his project: “SOLO”.
“I spent many hours planning the logistics of this expedition,” Richardson said, “I needed to be totally self-reliant, especially during the diving operations.”
The primary shipwreck that caught the Richardson’s eye was the A.D. Patchin, an enormous steam powered sidewheel passenger ship which grounded on the Skillagalee reef in 1850.
Richardson also discovered four other wreck sites:
Wreck Site B is largest area of all the wreck sites and has the most artifacts present. The site consists of three major pieces of hull wreckage and the area is strewn with artifacts such as mast hoops, chain and shackles. Richardson believes the wreckage is consistent with the 150-foot brig, Julia Dean, which stranded at Skillagalee on October 6, 1855.
Wreck Site C had the keel of sailing vessel, measuring 63 feet in length with a beam of 22 feet. A couple artifacts were present at this site, which is in 30 feet of water.
Wreck Site D is a 95 foot long, 12 foot high side of a ship’s hull in 35 feet of water.
Wreck Site E is the shallowest of the wreck sites, which appears to be the side of a very old sailing vessel, with hanging knees present. The nails and spikes used in building this wreck all appear to be hand forged.
Richardson is best known for discovering the wreck location of the treasure ship Westmoreland in 2010. The Westmoreland was a 200’ passenger ship that sunk during a December gale in 1854. Legend has it the Westmoreland was carrying $10,000 in gold coins in her safe and 180 barrels of whisky in her hold when she disappeared.
Filming the wrecks, he said, “… is a way to add historical record and share information about the history of these wrecks in a way most people find interesting. That’s the great thing about technology, I can share this information via my website, or at presentations I give at local libraries and historical societies, and somebody with a different researching skill set can add to that information and give us all a clearer view of our history.”