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Shipwrecks Of Muskegon County Michigan

By Craig Rich

“We’re always ready for the call,
We place our trust in Thee.
Through surf and storm and howling gale,
High shall our purpose be.”

The words of the United States Coast Guard hymn bring to mind the dedication of those who always have been prepared to risk their own lives to save those whose lives are in peril on the Great Lakes. Whether the U.S. Life Saving Service, the U.S. Coast Guard or, at times, Keepers of the U.S. Lighthouse Service, mariners on the Great Lakes knew there were good men and women dedicated to coming to their assistance in times of emergency.

As Michigan’s premiere lumbering port during the 19th century, Muskegon served as the eastern terminus for a huge fleet of scows, schooners, side-wheelers, steamers, and propellers for the past 180 years. From humble beginning in the 1830s until the lumber trade was replaced by stone, aggregate, and other commodities in the early 20th century, the ports of Muskegon and White Lake—and to a lesser extent Duck Lake and Mona Lake—saw dozens of vessel arriving and departing daily. And often, those departing never arrived at their destinations; and those expected never made port. Fierce Lake Michigan gales, sudden snow squalls, waterspouts, and even a rarely recorded Lake Michigan tidal wave, or seiche, capsized vessels, stranded them on shore, froze their rigging, tore their sails, and tossed their crews into the icy cold water.

Small schooners carrying lumber eventually gave way to huge car ferries transporting railroad cars full of packaged goods across the lake to points west, as well as luxurious passengers steamers bearing businessmen and families to and from Chicago, Milwaukee, and other Great Lakes port cities. While vessel capacity and comfort were increased, the size of the losses were as well. Many of these vessels sank in deep water while others washed ashore to be broken up by wind, waves, and ice. Some exploded or burned at the dock while others simply rotted away after plying the lakes for decades. Modern man may catch glimpses of these historic vessels as shifting sands uncover and recover beach wrecks or the bones of abandoned schooners in shallow waters. Scuba divers visit other wrecks—many in surprisingly good condition—while the search continues for dozens of others still hidden under fathoms of cold, dark water.

These vessels and the men and women who served on them are an important part of our history. From the lumber barons and fleet owners of the 1800s to the charter fishing boat captains of the modern era, the men and women who make a living on the lakes paint a colorful maritime history of Muskegon County, Michigan.

Regional Studies ISBN:978-0-98017504-6 |Soft cover| 6 x 9 |144 Pages | 60 photographs | $17.95 Free U.S. Shipping

Craig Rich is a veteran Great Lakes master scuba diver who began diving as a teen after taking lessons through the local YMCA in 1971. He is a certified Master Diver through Scuba Schools International with specialties in Wreck Diving, Search & Recovery, Stress & Rescue, Dry Suit Diving and Enriched Air Nitrox diving. He began researching shipwrecks in the late 1980s and actively diving them in 1988 with local diver Doug Welsch. Since then, he has completed 500 dives, mostly on Great Lakes shipwrecks.

Rich joined the Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve Committee in 1996 helping see that organization through to official state designation as Michigan’s tenth underwater preserve in 1999. With fellow SWMUP members Valerie van Heest and Jack van Heest, and new members Ross Richardson and Geoffrey Reynolds, he co-founded Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates in 2001. In addition to his shipwreck research for the organization, he designed the MSRA web site and serves as webmaster. A regular speaker for local and regional groups and historical societies, he is also a frequent guest on local radio talk shows on the topics of diving and shipwrecks. He has provided professional narration and voice work for MSRA’s documentary films as well as radio and TV commercials.

Rich and his father started radio station WZND in Zeeland, Michigan, in 1971 and ran the radio station as a family business until the end of 1986. At WZND he was the morning deejay, news director and program director. From 1982 until 2009, Rich served as an elected city council member in Holland, Michigan, and for the last two decades, he has been an advertising consultant for the Grand Rapids Business Journal. Craig holds a business management degree from Davenport College and is married to Vickie. They have two daughters, Allison and Catherine.

Contact the author at: oldpirate@comcast.net