LOVE & WRECKAGE: Michigan newlyweds discover and identify wrecks on their honeymoon
Shortly after packing their wedding day clothes, the newlyweds boarded a boat and began heading to Mackinac Island in search of these long lost ships.
SOUTH HAVEN, Michigan – There are over 6,000 combined wrecks in the Great Lakes. You can pull off two more undiscovered ones, thanks to a newly married couple from South Haven, Michigan, who chose not to spend their honeymoon relaxing on a tropical island.
Instead, their first happily married days were spent hunting wrecks.
Kevin and Amy Ailes tied the knot on May 30, 2020, coinciding with when COVID-19 was ravaging Michigan, causing the entire state to shut down.
“Amy and I are both divers and I’m obsessed with wrecks so rather than going on an extravagant vacation we decided to spend a few days on Mackinac Island and go wreck hunting,” said Kevin, president of the Southwest Michigan Submarine Reserve and a maritime history enthusiast. “The investigation of two shipwrecks was on our honeymoon list.”
The two wrecks they hoped to find were the Dolphin, which was a 120-foot wooden schooner that sank after colliding with another vessel (Badger condition) in poor visibility on July 6, 1869, and the other wreck was the Peshtigo, which was a 198-foot wooden steamboat that ran aground during a severe storm near Mission Point on Mackinac Island.
So, shortly after putting their wedding day clothes away, the newlyweds boarded a boat and started heading for the Straits of Mackinac in search of these long lost ships.
“In 1970 Jim Ryerse, a local rescue diver, found the Dolphin at the bottom of the harbor, “Kevin said.” Then a decade later a man named Dr Charles Feltner came across the wreckage.
“If Feltner had had access to the measurements taken by Ryerse a decade earlier, the mystery of the ship’s identity would have ended there.”
That’s why Kevin and Amy wanted to confirm that the almost 50-year-old data was the truth.
The couple reached the wreckage site. Kevin put on his snorkel gear and began to descend 55 feet from the bottom.
“It’s upside down,” Kevin said, referring to the condition of the wreckage. “But it’s completely intact having sunk over 140 years ago.
“There were many identifiable features, including the collision hole from which she was hit.”
Kevin filmed his entire expedition, and after reviewing and cross-checking his video, photos, and measurements with the research he had done, he was comfortable confirming that the wreck was the Dolphin.
The couple then began to walk towards the area where the Peshtigo has sunk.
“We came across a 1992 report that the bow of a boat was seen in the harbor, but the information was vague on exactly where it was,” Kevin said. “We knew it was somewhere off the western breakwater near Mission Pointe.”
Kevin began to scan his side scan sonar over the area, and eventually a large bump appeared on the screen.
“Of course there is a boat there,” Kevin said.
Once again Kevin entered the water and climbed down. This particular wreck is only 15 feet deep.
“It was all in pieces,” Kevin said. “Today’s biggest piece is about 55 feet long.
“It wouldn’t surprise me if it had been dismantled over the years, as the Shepler’s ferries, which carry people to and from Mackinac Island, travel just over the Peshtigo wreck site. “
Kevin says that the “smoking gun” that led him to identify this site as the last resting place of Peshtigo was that there was evidence of an engine cradle.
“There was no loss of life on any of these ships,” said Kevin. “Even though others have laid eyes on them, no one has ever taken the time to research to be sure that they were in fact the Dolphin and Peshtigo, until Amy and I do. “
Unfortunately, some people’s marriages end up being “wiped out.” Kevin and Amy started out as “castaways”, and the only way for them to live happily ever after is to stay “castaways.”
“It was one of the highlights of our honeymoon for sure,” Kevin said.
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