Buoy on Lake Erie Marks 148-Year-Old Shipwreck Near Cleveland

A mournful headline in the Daily Cleveland Herald marked the passing of the Sultan during a storm in 1864, a few miles offshore from what is now the Collinwood neighborhood.

The 148-year-old wreck got a marker of a different sort Saturday, when 15 divers placed a white-and-blue buoy over the site, then made multiple dives to view the ship, which still lies in 45 feet of water in Lake Erie.

The buoy will make it easier for recreational divers to explore the ship and will protect a significant historical artifact for future generations.

The most dramatic sight "was all the grindstones still on the deck," part of the vessel's cargo, said Chris Kraska of the private nonprofit Maritime Survey Team, or MAST. "One appeared to be 6 feet across."

The sunken vessel, which perished as it sailed from Cleveland, was discovered in the 1980s but went unreported. It was found a second time last year by the Cleveland Underwater Explorers, or CLUE, said David VanZandt, that group's chief archaeologist.

A CLUE PowerPoint presentation said the Sultan was launched in 1848 in Chicago. It would spend 16 years hauling passengers and cargo on the Great Lakes and along the East Coast.

Members of CLUE and MAST made the dive together Saturday from the charter boat Holiday. Both groups are based in Greater Cleveland, have similar interests and receive some support from the Great Lakes Historical Society.

They said the Sultan was a brigantine, a 127-foot, two-masted vessel with a square-rigged foremast.

Members of both groups said the Sultan was identified through extensive research that included gathering news accounts of the day. The cargo of grindstones and barrel staves was recorded, and many of the stones, sometimes called millstones, still littered the deck. VanZandt said intact barrel staves were found in the hull.

The stubs of both masts also were visible.

Only one sailor survived the 1864 disaster, while the captain and six other crew members perished, some clinging to the masts until their strength ebbed or the masts failed.

VanZandt estimates there are 300 to 400 identified wrecks in Lake Erie and some that cannot be identified.

Kraska said the sites of most have not been marked with buoys.

The coordinates for Sultan's watery grave are 41 35.685 N, 81 36.936 W, which is about two miles offshore from Wildwood State Park and eight miles from the mouth of the Cuyahoga River.

Kraska said the coordinates were not released until the mooring buoy was in place. "We didn't want people dragging their anchors over the wreck," he said. Now, if recreational divers want to explore the wreck, "they can moor to the buoy."

He said people cannot just decide to put up such a buoy. It has to be approved by the Coast Guard, Army Corps of Engineers and Ohio Department of Natural Resources.

The Sultan was the 11th Lake Erie wreck that MAST has marked since 2007.

For more information, go to ohiomast.org and clueshipwrecks.org.