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Amateur adventurers find sunken schooner

The vessel, believed to be the 93-foot Milan, is in “great condition” on the bottom of LakeOntario

The vessel, believed to be the 93-foot Milan, is in “great condition” on the bottom of LakeOntario

Two divers have discovered a 93-foot commercial schooner from the 19th century resting nearly intact on the bottom of LakeOntario.

“She’s in such good shape it looks like she could just be floated away,” says Dan Scoville, of Rochester, N.Y. Scoville and Jim Kennard, also of Rochester, have been searching for shipwrecks for more than five years, and say they have found five that were previously undiscovered. Although Scoville won’t pinpoint the exact location, he says the sunken schooner is in more than 200 feet of water about 20 to 30 miles west of Rochester.

“The framing is all there,” says Scoville, who is 32. “The rudder is in place, the bowsprit is intact, and the anchors are still hanging where they should be. She’s in great condition.”

Kennard and Scoville believe the wreck is the Milan, a commercial schooner from the mid-1800s that transported such cargo as corn, flour, wheat, salt and lumber. “After exploring the ship and taking many photos, we spent months doing research, sifting through shipwreck databases, and contacting shipwreck historians,” says Scoville. “The ship doesn’t have a name written on its stern, so we had to use a number of other indicating factors — like checking her cargo, measuring her length, and looking over the original enrollment papers — to determine which ship she is. We wanted to make sure, to the best of our abilities, that we had our information right before going public with this.”

The divers, both electrical engineers, say they found the schooner in the summer of 2005 using side-scan sonar aboard Scoville’s Dusky 233 FAC. “The angle the boat is at — she rests evenly on the bottom with her masts stretching 70 feet above the deck — and the angle our boat was at, we just happened to get a beautiful image of her on our first try,” Scoville says. “After searching and searching and searching, we had been coming off extreme boredom. When we saw that first image we were so excited. It was possibly the best moment of the whole deal.”

The team returned to the site last summer with an underwater remote-operated vehicle that Scoville designed and built with help from seven engineering students from the Rochester Institute of Technology. “I wanted to dive down there myself, but because of an injury to my arm we decided to wait until the ROV was done,” says Scoville. “We used the ROV to take photos of the ship that we then used to help identify her.”

Scoville says historical records show Milan was built in 1845 and serviced ports on LakeOntario and Lake Erie. In October 1849 the schooner set sail with a crew of nine from Oswego, N.Y., carrying 1,000 barrels of salt, bound for Cleveland. On the morning the schooner went down, the crew discovered she was taking on water. The men attempted to pump the schooner and run her aground but were unsuccessful. They boarded a lifeboat, and Milan sank slowly to the lake bottom. The men were rescued by a passing vessel and taken to shore.

“[Milan] is one of, if not the oldest, commercial vessels found in LakeOntario,” Scoville says. “She’s a piece of the lake’s and of Rochester’s rich maritime history.”

It’s unusual for a ship to sink and come to rest so easily on the bottom, according to Scoville. “Ships usually get broken up if they go down in a storm or if they hit the bottom hard,” he says. “That wasn’t the case here. The boat is also in good condition because of how deep, dark and cold it is down there. There’s not much oxygen in the water, which helps preserve the wood.”

Scoville says he and Kennard are looking forward to speaking to people and organizations about their discovery, and will continue researching two other shipwrecks they have found but have yet to announce.

“This is definitely a hobby for us. It surely doesn’t pay the bills,” says Scoville. “We do it for the adventure of finding ships.”