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Divers discover mid-1800s shipwreck near Cape Vincent

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CAPE VINCENT — Two veteran divers discovered a rare mid-19th century shipwreck on the northeast end of Lake Ontario in the upper St. Lawrence River near Cape Vincent.

Dennis R. McCarthy, who discovered the wreck by pure coincidence with fellow diver Raymond I. “Skip” Couch, said the ship appears to be a Great Lakes sloop used for short-distance cargo transportation in shallow waters that sank sometime between 1850 and 1870.

“We were getting new side scans of known shipwrecks for another book we are working on,” said Mr. McCarthy, Cape Vincent. “We found this wreck by accident in a location you would never expect to find a sunken ship. Skip forgot to turn the equipment off and kept the side-scan sonar running. We later identified the outlines of a shipwreck with the side scans from that day.”

After their discovery in August, the divers went back to the site in September and videotaped the 50-foot-long and 14-foot-wide wreck so that the state Historic Preservation Office in Albany could review and confirm that it was indeed a new find.

The Historic Preservation Office confirmed in November that the wreck had not been registered with the state.

At this point, little is known about the ship and the circumstance of its sinking.

Based on the video images of the wreck, underwater archaeologists determined it is similar to Hudson River sloops but with a unique centerboard and triangular rudder design not seen before on the Great Lakes.

“Discoveries like this, they are few and far between. The state doesn’t have any records of these kinds of vessels being used in the Great Lakes,” said Mr. Couch, Clayton.

Before sloops were replaced by steamships in the 1880s, these small vessels — which were less than 60 feet long and rigged with a fore-and-aft sail and a single mast — would transport goods from one port to another by navigating through small rivers, bays and harbors where water was shallow.

The ship’s sinking was likely a sudden and violent event, Mr. Couch said. If the ship had been abandoned on purpose, the owners would have salvaged the box stove — a common but rather valuable cast-iron wood stove — inside the hull before leaving the vessel, he said.

Until its real name and origin are determined through further research, the divers and state Historic Preservation Office have decided to call it the “Box Stove Wreck.”

“Without a more organized and in-depth survey, we wouldn’t know certain details,” Mr. McCarthy said, adding that he and Mr. Couch will revisit the wreck next spring and summer for a more thorough examination.

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