Diving the Madeira
Standing on top of Gold Rock Point at Split Rock Lighthouse State Park on a calm and pleasant day at the very end of summer, it was hard to imagine Lake Superior could ever turn into a deadly beast. The morning fog had burned off, given way to sunny skies and the air smelled of spruce and fir, 60 feet above the lake.
They finally started swimming out to the wreck site about 300 yards off shore, where a buoy marks where the pieces of the Madeira rest in about 80 feet of water. Then they disappeared. Dave Alt explained what happened next: “For me the coolest thing is swimming along the bottom and all of a sudden there is this looming darkness ahead of you. At first you think it might be a drop off, but as you get closer you realize it’s the hull of a ship, tipped on its side, rising 30 or 40 feet up off the lake bottom.”
More about the Madeira and the Mataafa storm
The Madeira was an unpowered schooner-barge towed behind the William Edenborn, a steamship. Both sank in the Mataafa Storm of November 27 and 28, 1905, but the Edenborn was recovered and restored. After drifting from the William Edenborn, the helpless Madeira crashed into the shores of Gold Rock and began breaking up. One crewman, Fred Benson, scaled up the icy cliff, dropped down a rope and was able to save all but one man. This shipwreck is one of the few known surviving examples of a schooner-barge. Though it did break into numerous pieces, the major elements of the hull are mostly intact.
The rights to salvage pieces were sold to a salvage company, which hauled parts to Little Two Harbors Bay southwest of the crash site, but found it too difficult to take them out of the lake. In the early 1960s this practice stopped and the wreck is now open to the public to dive. Today, about 500 people a year come to visit the wreck. The Mataafa storm sank, destroyed and damaged 29 vessels and killed 36 seamen and is the reason Split Rock Lighthouse was built in 1910. One of the Madeira’s anchors is displayed at the historical site entrance at the park.
Sources: Minnesota Historical Society and Wikipedia.