Left: Still attached to the foremast nearly 80 feet above the Windiate’s deck is the yardarm that supported the vessel’s triangular “raffe” topsail.
Right, a typical Great Lake schooner with raffe sails unfurled. (credit: Thunder Bay Sanctuary Research Collection)
Gathered at the base of the Windiate’s mainmast are several mast hoops that were once attached to the mainsail, allowing it to ride easily up and down the mast. Just forward of the mast is the winch used to raise and lower the vessel’s huge centerboard. Due to their flat bottoms, the wind that drove Great Lakes schooners forward also pushed them sideways, making it difficult to keep on course. Housed in a watertight box, called the centerboard trunk, the centerboard hung deep into the water and slowed the sideways movement.
A schooner’s capstan made easier work of raising heavy sails or anchors, an important consideration when the profit margin demanded sailing with as few crew as possible. Here you can see one of several holes that would have received a “capstan bar.” Each sailor would insert a bar and then push against it while walking around and thus rotating the capstan.
Well preserved by Lake Huron’s cold, fresh water, much of the Windiate’s fine detail is still intact. Taken in 2003, this photo captures several interesting features. Round wooden “dead eyes” are still attached to the iron “chainplates” that secured them to the hull and supported the vessel’s standing rigging. Note also the paint, sliding window shutter, hand rail, and decorative molding on the cabin side. Today, as seen in this 2005 photo, some of this detail is obscured by invasive quagga mussels that cover much of the wreck.
(photo credit: Rod Maxon, 2003 and NOAA Thunder Bay NMS, 2005)
Probably dislodged during an illegal salvage attempt, the Windiate’s iconic wheel is a reminder of how vulnerable and fragile Great Lakes shipwrecks are. To safeguard the recreational, archeological and historical value of historic shipwrecks, Michigan state law prohibits altering the wreck or removing artifacts. Shipwrecks within the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary are also protected by federal regulations.
Graceful and functional curved stairs lead from the Windiate’s aft deck to the cabin below.
Resting silently alongside the wreck, the presence of the Windiate’s yawl boat begs many questions. Did the crew get into the yawl boat only to capsize alongside the vessel? Or did the yawl boat remain unused and in the stern davits only to swing alongside as the vessel sank?
Used to keep food fresh, the Windiate’s icebox remains intact and on deck.Used to keep food fresh, the Windiate’s icebox remains intact and on deck.
Missing only its two handles, the Windiate’s bilge pump is a dramatic reminder of the perils of voyaging on the Great Lakes. The bilge is the lowest point in the ship, where water naturally collects. During storms, or on old leaky schooners, crews would pump around the clock as they struggled to get the water out faster than it came in. The pump on deck lifted the water to deck level where it spilled overboard. This simple hand pump was essential equipment that saved many lives.
This 2003 image captured by the Institute for Exploration’s remotely operated vehicle Little Hercules, reveals the Cornelia B. Windiate’s amazing state of preservation.