Detroit, MI

The story of the thrice sank Nucleus shipwreck

Author Ed Anderson
The Nucleus wreckage was found recentlyPhoto byGreat Lakes Shipwrecks Historical Society

Most of the time when a ship sinks, it only happens once. It usually only takes one trip to the bottom of a lake or ocean for a boat to disappear from the world. But The Nucleus was not an ordinary vessel. Instead, it seemed to have nine lives and a string of very bad luck attached to it.

The first two times The Nucleus went down, it was because the boat ran aground and took on water. However, in those instances, the water was shallow enough that the crew was able to get it to the shore to be patched up.

But the more word spread about the boat and its legacy, the less people wanted to work on it. A reputation for it having bad luck spread throughout the Detroit area and many were weary of getting on board for fear that the ship would sink one more time and those working on it wouldn't be able to escape.

A Spokesman for the Great Lakes Shipwrecks Historical Society told the Mirror: "Many people associated with maritime professions have superstitions. Though I can't speak for the crew of the Nucleus, I would not want to go on that vessel."

The owners were able to get a crew together for one final voyage. One that would prove pivotal to the legacy of The Nucleus. It would also help cement the reputation of an area near Detroit as the graveyard of shipwrecks.
The Nucleus was found more than 150 years after it sankPhoto byBob McGreevy

Nucleus Down

15 years before The Nucleus sank, it was part of another tragedy. While on a run, the weather turned bad. The fog made visibility low and the wind whipped around the boats making them hard to maneuver. Waves would push the ships in various directions, while crews worked to correct course.

Shipwreck Explorers reports that on May 25, 1854, The Nucleus smashed into the middle of the SS Detroit. The latter boat sank and would not be found until 1994, still mostly intact. It was one of the biggest shipwrecks to hit the Great Lakes.

On September 14, 1869, The Nucleus was sent out for another run. This time it was hauling iron ore along the southeast corner of Lake Superior. This particular strip is known to boat professionals and enthusiasts as Shipwreck Coast.

According to The Detroit Free Press, the weather was bad that day. Storms rolled over the area, the wind was fierce, and rain pelted down on the water and anything that was in its way. Which included the ships that were on the lake.

It didn't take long for The Nucleus to begin taking on water. The crew made a valiant effort to save the ship but they weren't able to stop it from sinking. They took to their lifeboat and made their way to shore.

In a matter of hours, The Nucleus fell to the bottom of Lake Superior. It would stay lost to the water for more than 150 years.
Shipwreck Coast is where The Nucleus made it's final resting placePhoto byPure Michigan

Finding Nucleus

The search for the shipwreck began within a few years. However, there was never any luck finding it. Some people believed that it would never be found. There was some thought that The Nucleus might have broken apart and scattered across the bottom of Lake Superior.

That was not the case, however, as ABC News reported that the shipwreck was found in the deep waters of the great lake. Searchers began using side scan sonar technology in the summer of 2021. Their hope was to find parts of the wreckage and see if they could piece together what happened after the crew abandoned the ship and was ultimately saved.

Once the radar picked up what ended up being The Nucleus wreckage. According to MPR News, there were no identifying markings. However, researchers did find enough conclusive evidence to determine that this was the long-lost ship in 2022. It seemed to be a miracle.

Even more amazing was that the wreckage was in pretty good condition. WDIV reports that those who saw the ship underwater were pretty amazed at how well-preserved it was, considering its history of accidents.

Bruce Lynn, Director of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, told the station: “This is a pretty significant shipwreck . . . Considering its age, the fact that it is a barquentine and we can’t overlook the vessel’s checkered past. The wreck site is littered with shovels too . . . and a few dinner plates, which speaks to their work and shipboard life...”

And finding the wreckage puts a final stamp on the tragic story of The Nucleus. Or as some experts call the ship, the Bad Luck Barquentine.

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Ed Anderson is a true crime and gossip writer from Detroit, Michigan. Ed is the author of several true crime books, most recently Financing Doubt.

Rochester, MI

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