The Michigan Shipwreck Research Association says its mission is to preserve and interpret Michigan’s submerged maritime history.
The Holland-based non-profit organization has certainly done that, since its inception in 2001.
The MSRA has found 18 Great Lakes shipwrecks, and annually look for more.
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The organization’s most recent discovery was last July when they found the John V. Moran ship, which sank off the coast of Muskegon, Michigan, in 1899. Finding the Moran was on the MSRA’s bucket list for 2015.
They found the lost vessel four days after their expedition began.
It is now 2016, and spring is about to begin, which means the MSRA has already determined which lost wrecks they plan to hunt for - and hopefully discover - over the course of the next six months.
The shipwreck they hope to find this year has been one of the Great Lakes’ greatest mysteries since it was lost 87 years ago and, if ever found, is considered to be one of Lake Michigan’s “Holy Grails.”
The ship’s name was Andaste.
“Our group has launched four different expeditions looking for the Andaste, but each time, we came up empty,” said Valerie van Heest, Board Director of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, and maritime author of several books, including “Buckets and Belts.”
“We’ve searched the area on the lake where we believe it went down, but our equipment has not picked up any images,” van Heest added. “All that was ever recovered from the Andaste was a few name boards that floated ashore and two life rings.”
The Andaste was a steel self-unloader steam sand-sucker. She was 266 feet long when she was built in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1892.
“The Andaste had gone through several owners, and had been transfigured a number of times,” said Craig Rich, Board Director of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association. “By the time of its loss, the Andaste was owned by the Construction Materials Corporation in Grand Haven, Michigan.
“The ship was already almost 40 years old when it was lost.”
During its final years of service, the Andaste made four trips per week, between Grand Haven and Chicago. It was used extensively to bring gravel and other materials to the Windy City to help push the shoreline out and build what is now Lakeshore Drive.
But the Andaste’s weekly trips came to an abrupt end on the night of September 9, 1929.
“When she left Grand Haven that night, around 9:03 p.m., it was supposed to be another routine trip,” said Rich. “She headed out the Grand Haven Channel to begin another journey to Chicago, then was expected to return the next day.”
About an hour after the Andaste began its course, a bad storm came up unexpectedly. Strong winds became gale-force in no time.
The vessel was lost in the dark of the night at an unknown location in Lake Michigan.
All 25 crewmen aboard perished.
“The next day, when the ship didn’t return, everyone just assumed it was running late,” said Rich. “But then bodies started washing ashore, just south of Holland, and that served as the first indication that the Andaste was lost.”
In the days after the storm, more bodies were recovered along the Lake Michigan shoreline between Grand Haven and Holland.
“One of the Andaste sailors came ashore within a short distance of his family’s home, which was right over the Grand Haven dunes,” said Rich. “The lore has it that his arms were stretched out on the beach, as if he were reaching for home.”
Sixteen sailors from the wreck of the Andaste would be recovered and identified.
“The remains of the rest of the crewmen are likely still inside the vessel,” added Rich. “When we find this, it’s going to be in the top of our minds that it’s a gravesite.”
Decades would pass, and nothing else from the wreck of the Andaste was ever recovered on Lake Michigan. Several shipwreck hunters have launched expeditions to find the Andaste, but the ship has chosen to remain elusive.
“We don’t know exactly what happened; we don’t know exactly where it happened, but finding the ship will provide us with those answers, and it’s going to also give answers to some of the family members who still exist in this area,” said van Heest.
In a case where everybody dies, like the case of the Andaste, for 87 years, there’s been no primary-source information that exists to offer any last accounts of where the ship was last seen on that fateful night.
But through its extensive research, the MSRA found out there was once a legal document drawn up that, if ever found, might provide them with clues to the final resting place of the Andaste.
“Two weeks after the Andaste was declared missing and lost, the government held an inquest in Grand Haven and interviewed 31 people who knew something about the Andaste,” said van Heest. “Our group started in 2009, which was the year of our first search for the ship."
“We looked in the archives of all the Lakeshore libraries, including the Ottawa County archives. We also traveled to the National Archives in Chicago and Washington D.C., but still found no records of the inquest."
“We couldn’t find the document anywhere so we came to the conclusion that any transcript must have been destroyed.”
But that wasn’t the case.
“In the summer of 2015, something amazing happened,” said van Heest. “Long after I had laid to rest the possibility of finding the inquest document, I received a call one night from a man who had knowledge of the MSRA’s interest in finding the Andaste.
“He said, ‘Valerie, I believe I have found something you might be interested in.’ And I said, ‘the Andaste Inquest?’ And he said, ‘Yea.’ And I said, ‘Where did you find it?’ And he said, ‘In a basement, inside a box that hadn’t been handled in more than 50 years.’
“Bingo,” van Heest said, emphatically. “That document had primary information – the last known sighting of the Andaste that night, during the height of the storm.”
After reading the document, van Heest realized that of the 31 individuals who were interviewed under oath, only two accounts made up the contents of the inquest – those accounts being from Captain John Crawford and First Mate Henry Erbe, both of the steamship Alabama, which was on a course from Chicago to Grand Haven that stormy night.
Van Heest began sharing some key quotes from the inquest document:
“Captain Crawford said, ‘The storm reached its peak around 1 o’clock…The second mate seen some lights about 1:15…Practically looked like a fella not going anyplace…He was holding to the westward pretty well into the storm.’”
While reading over the comments from Henry Erbe, van Heest said Erbe also saw the Andaste around 1 o’clock that morning.
“Erbe said, ’The ship was west and northwest of us.’ He also said, ‘They were about 8 to 10 miles away; at about 2 o’clock, you could see that there was just one light.’
“This tells us that he was seeing the stern of the Andaste when he was directly west of it,” said van Heest.
After deciphering the document, it didn’t take long for van Heest to realize she’s likely reading a “treasure map” that might reveal Andaste’s final resting place.
“We know where the Alabama was that night; they provided their position, so we believe the comments from Crawford and Erbe tell us where the Andaste is,” said van Heest, smiling. “Not only did [Crawford and Erbe] provide the Alabama’s position, they provided the position of the lights, and the conditions of the storm when things were worst."
“Knowing everything else we know about the Andaste, we can now combine the information from this inquest with all of the data and research our organization has done on this ship."
“We now have a spot on Lake Michigan where the Andaste was last seen, and we feel if we cover maybe ten square miles around that spot, we’re going to find it!”
Van Heest says that the MSRA will launch their expedition in the late spring of this year.
“This is going to be the farthest out and in the deepest water we’ve ever worked,” said van Heest. “We expect to find the Andaste 35 to 40 miles off shore, in 450 feet or deeper water.”
Van Heest also says that the information from the inquest document points to a spot that’s a little bit west of where the MSRA has already searched.
“The Andaste ranks in the top three vessels that we are trying to find,” said van Heest. The Chicora was lost in 1895; Northwest Orient Flight 2501 was lost in 1950, and the Andaste was lost in 1929.
“In and of itself, the Andaste inquest document doesn’t tell us everything we need, and somebody who doesn’t understand the story like the MSRA does, wouldn’t quite see it that way,” added van Heest. “But we know all the other information already."
“The missing puzzle piece luckily fell directly into our laps.”
On March 26, in an unprecedented gathering in Holland, Michigan, three exploration teams will share the stories of the three most recent shipwreck discoveries on the Great Lakes including:
- David Trotter of the Undersea Research Associates, which found the steamship Hydrus, the last ship of the Great storm of 1913.
- Jitka Hanakova of Shipwreck Explorers, which found the steamship Alice E. Wilds.
- MSRA (Michigan Shipwreck Research Association) team, which discovered the John V. Moran.
The event is the 18th annual “Mysteries & Histories; Beneath the Inland Seas” symposium, put on by the MSRA. It’s at the Knickerbocker Theatre in downtown Holland, and starts at 7 p.m.
Advanced tickets can be purchased by clicking HERE, or you can buy them at the door.
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