Tamara Thomsen

Divers aim to uncover stories behind shipwrecks

By Emily Ann Holman - Herald Times

The seven men aboard the Floretta escaped in a lifeboat just a half-mile away as the iron ore schooner sank at the bow and exploded off the shore of Manitowoc in September 1885.

The wreckage of the 134-foot-long, 26-foot-wide schooner sits in 180 feet of water where it sank in Lake Michigan, said maritime archeologist Tamara Thomsen.

"The Floretta sits there basically as if she went down yesterday," Thomsen said. "Everything that was on board the ship in 1885 is down there and hasn't deteriorated at all."

In about a year, Thomsen and state archaeologist John Broihahn will take the 180-foot dive to document the Floretta and four other Lake Michigan shipwrecks with $170,000 from a $1 million federal grant awarded to the Wisconsin Historical Society in November by the Federal Highway Administration Transportation Enhancement program.

Documentation includes digital photo mosaics, measured sketches, photographs, site plans and historic research. The five wrecks were chosen because they represent significant vessel types and evolution in construction. Broihahn, Thomsen and a team of 10 divers will spend about two weeks on the Floretta.