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VIDEO: Historic discovery

A three-man team has found the remains of the Washington — a 53-foot sloop that is believed to be the earliest commercial sailing ship in the Great Lakes — in Lake Ontario off Oswego, New York.

The Washington had a carrying capacity of 36 tons. Built and launched in 1798 in Lake Erie in Pennsylvania, it was sold in 1801 to Canadian merchants who portaged the ship from Chippawa to Queenston, Ontario, and relaunched the sloop in Lake Ontario.

The Canadians used the sloop to transport people and goods among western New York, Pennsylvania and Ontario. The Washington was homeward-bound to Niagara, Ontario, on Nov. 6, 1803, when she was caught in a storm and sank. All aboard died, including the captain and two crewmembers as well as at least two merchants.

Jim Kennard, Roger Pawlowski and Roland “Chip” Stevens comprise the team that found the Washington. Experienced shipwreck finders, they have found more than 200 wrecks combined, including the propeller steamer Bay State, which sank in 1862, and the Royal Albert, which sank in 1868.

More than 6,000 shipwrecks have occurred in the Great Lakes. The lakes are several hundred feet deep, which requires searchers to use specialized equipment. Kennard’s team found the Washington during a survey while using high-resolution Deepvision side-scan sonar.

They later identified the sloop by using a VideoRay ProIVunderwater remotely operated vehicle. The Washington is mostly intact and sitting upright with its mast still standing.

Kennard is a member of The Explorers Club and has been hunting for wrecks for more than 40 years. One of his top finds is the 236-year-old British warship HMS Ontario. You can keep up with Kennard and his team on his website, ShipwreckWorld.