Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society Discovers Barge 129

By GLSR Staff  |  History, Latest News
The Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society (GLSHS) has announced the discovery of the 292-foot whaleback vessel, Barge 129. Barge 129 was found in Lake Superior, 35 miles off Vermilion Point in 650 feet of water.

Barge 129 loading coal. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.

Barge 129 was found along with eight other wrecks in 2021 by the GLSHS in partnership with Marine Sonic Technology using Side Scan Sonar.

Barge 129 sank 120 years ago on October 13th, 1902. Barge 129 was in tow of the steamer Maunaloa, downbound with a load of iron ore, when they ran into a powerful October storm. The heavy seas strained, and eventually snapped the towline connecting the two ships. Maunaloa turned around in an attempt to reconnect the towline, but the wind and waves slammed the two ships together, with Maunaloa’s port side anchor ripping into Barge 129’s starboard side. The crew of Maunaloa helped rescue Barge 129 Captain Josiah Bailey and his crew just as the whaleback sank to the bottom of Lake Superior.

Sonar of Barge 129 bow. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.

Darryl Ertel Jr., director of marine operations at GLSHS, reflected on the discovery. “I’ve looked for this ship for so long because it was a whaleback. I was pretty excited. I couldn’t wait to get the cameras on it,” he said.

Capstan and Hawser line of Barge 129. Photo courtesy of Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society.

When the Shipwreck Society put their ROV down on the wreck-site this past summer, they were surprised by the devastation of the ship. “It’s totally destroyed on the bottom. It’s nowhere near intact. It’s at least four to five big pieces and thousands of little pieces. It’s just disintegrated,” Ertel said.

“The whalebacks were pretty unusual ships.” stated Bruce Lynn, executive director of the Shipwreck Society. “When we had the ROV on it, you could clearly see the distinctive bow with a part of the towline still in place…that was an incredible moment!

View video of the discovery here.

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