For the last 30-plus years, 74-year-old shipwreck hunter David Trotter has been in pursuit of his white whale, a missing vessel called Hydrus.
In early July, Trotter and his crew were out scanning the clear summer waters of Lake Huron when a large outline appeared on his LCD screen. The sonar trailing behind his boat was imaging something detailed enough to register individual cargo hatches, and they knew almost immediately that the hunt for Hydrus was over.Earlier this month, after several dives down to the wreck to confirm its identity, the crew announced that
Hydrus likely went down on November 9, 1913, during the worst storm ever recorded on the Great Lakes. The Great Storm of 1913 claimed 250 lives and 19 ships, and is referred to as the "Big Blow," the "Freshwater Fury," or the "White Hurricane." The blizzard-like conditions led to 90 mph winds and waves up to 35 feet.
The 436-foot steamship was carrying iron ore when it sunk, and had successfully made its way through Lake Superior—the largest of the lakes—before it started its journey south on Lake Huron. With a barometer as their only instrument, the crew had no idea what they were in for. The ship soon started to take on water as waves crashed over the stern, and eventually lost power, succumbing to the violent November waters.
All 22 members on board Hydrus died. Some quite incredibly managed to make it onto lifeboats, but the small vessels were ill-equipped to handle the conditions. One of those boats eventually made it to shore on the Canadian side of the lake with five crew members sitting upright, frozen to death. Among them were a pair of brothers, Kernol and Leslie Christy.
Today, 102 years after the tragedy, Hydrus is in remarkable condition. A sign covered in zebra mussels helped confirm what Trotter and his crew already knew: that this was the ship they’d been looking for. It’s sitting upright on the floor of the lake, and while there is damage, the cold water conditions have preserved much of it. Divers can even swim through the ship.
It’s an incredible conclusion to a decades-long hunt. Trotter told the Detroit Free Press that he’s logged about 2500 square miles in all, scrolling back and forth on a massive grid. For now, he and the other shipwreck hunters are keeping the location of the Hydrus to themselves as they continue to explore the site. After 30 years, finders keepers seems only fair.