Moonlight (1874)
Gallery
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Moonlight under full sail
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Wreck site plan
By The Numbers
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Depth (ft)
 
 
Service History

The wooden 3 masted schooner Moonlight was built in Milwaukee in 1874 at the Wolf & Davidson shipyard. Her official registry number was 90719. Moonlight was of a new, larger class of schooners that signaled the beginning of the golden age of sail on the Great Lakes. She was principally in the grain, coal, and ore trade between ports on Lake Erie and Lake Michigan and was a familiar sight in Milwaukee. In her day, many considered the Moonlight as the queen of the lake schooners. She is often remembered for her famous 800 mile race with the schooner Porter from Buffalo to Milwaukee on Lake Michigan. The vessels were caught in a storm causing the Porter to be dismasted and nearly sunk. The Porter was finally towed to the finish by a tug and even though she was first to cross the finish line, some said the race ended in a draw. About the fall of 1888 the Moonlight was converted to a schooner barge for use in the coal and ore trade and was towed by the steamer Charles J. Kenshaw. On September 29, 1895 she along with the barge Henry A. Kent stranded in a gale while in tow of the steamer Charles J. Kershaw off Marquette, Michigan.

The Moonlight achieved fame and recognition across the lakes as a beautiful sailing ship with fine lines and exceptional speed. The Moonlight even saw service on the Atlantic and she served as the inspiration for the modern schooner Denis Sullivan.
Final Voyage

The old schooner Moonlight ended her days on September 1903. She had come up the lakes under the tow of the Volunteer for a load of 1,400 tons of iron ore at the Northwestern docks in Ashland, Wisconsin. The wind had been blowing hard for two days, and the two ships departed during a lull in the gale. As the vessels approached Michigan Island in the Apostle Island group, Captain Campbell signaled the Volunteer that he was taking on water. An attempt was made to start the steam pumps, but steam could not be raised quickly enough to overcome the rising water. The Moonlight began to settle rapidly so Captain Campbell signaled the Volunteer to come alongside. With great effort, all the men on board the schooner barge Moonlight were able to jump to the safety of the Volunteer. The Moonlight slid to the bottom approximately twelve miles off Michigan Island becoming a total loss of $9,000 for the vessel and her cargo of iron ore valued at $6,000.
Today

The wreck of the schooner barge Moonlight lies in 240 feet of water seven miles east of Michigan Island near the Apostle Islands, Lake Superior. The hull is broken up, but large hull structures remain intact and many artifacts liter the site undisturbed. Two large wood stock anchors are present and the name of the vessel is recognizable on the side. Due to its extreme depth, the wreck site has not been extensively explored by divers.
 
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© 2019 - Wisconsin Sea Grant, Wisconsin Historical Society