BERLIN's remains on Burnt Cabin Shoal- Google Earth Image

While flying for the Michigan DNR on survey trips around Michigan's thumb I began to spot wrecks in the shallows along Lake Huron's shore. Eventually I took my camera along and photographed a few, but was never able to record the "exact" locations other than making some scribbles on my aeronautical chart. This one I found to be a real stunner. Now, 28 years after the DNR furloughed me, (Okay they said that I was still employed, but they simply were no longer flying the routes I was on... that way they didn't have to take the hit for un-employing someone. It was a furlough, no matter how you looked at it.), we have the wonder of Google Earth and by way of their latest high resolution satellite imagery and I've been able to locate several of my shallow water wrecks from my DNR days.

My 1988 photo of the BERLIN wreck.

In 1877 Captain A.M. Johnson was the owner and master of the 112 foot long wooden schooner BERLIN. The boat was his family small business and carrying whatever he could find as a paying cargo was how he fed his family. To economize the operation Captain Johnson had his son aboard functioning as a crewman. In f the first week of November, 1877 Captain Johnson had booked a cargo of limestone to be hauled from Marblehead, Ohio to Bay City, Michigan knowing full well that the weather would be rough, but that the profit from this cargo would likely help get his family through the long winter ahead when ice blocked the lakes and the sailing season came to an end. Unfortunately, on this trip, all that came to an end was Captain Johnson and the BERLIN. 

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While attempting to round the upper tip of Michigan's thumb the BERLIN was running in a strong northeast blow with heavy rain. Her only source of navigation was the Point aux Barques (pronounced Aw- Bach) lighthouse which stood right next to the newly established US Life-Saving Station of the same name. Oddly, Point aux Barques itself is located nearly 8.8 miles, as the crow flies, and 10.1 sailing miles to the northwest of the lighthouse for which it is named. Captain Johnson managed to sail 8 miles beyond the light, but running in the pitch black of the November night he had gotten himself too far to the south of his course and ran aground on Burnt Cabin shoal, one of a series of rocky fangs that jut out from the thumb and look to spear any mariner who ventures too near.

Almost immediately the waves began to take the BERLIN apart as two of her masts fell and the seas shoved her along the shoal. Captain Johnson was one of the first to be washed over the side and parish in the bitter cold water. Next the ship's cook was washed overboard and as the captain's son was overcome with despair at losing his father to Lake Huron, the lake came and easily plucked him overboard to a frozen death. Of course Lake Huron could not let such a prize simply be swallowed- no indeed. Instead the waved entangled the Johnson boy's body in the fallen rigging of the vessel and displayed it there for the other three survivors to gaze upon and ponder own their fate.
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The original 1877 Point aux Barques life-saving station, now on display at Huron City, MI.- author's photo

Local residents discovered the wreck at daybreak and notified the Point aux Barques life-savers by telegraph. The wreck itself was well outside of the USLSS beach patrol area and was completely out of sight of the station's watch tower. Due to the distance and sea conditions the life-savers had to move their surfboat by horse and carriage in order to get to the wreck site and the trek took several hours. During that time, the ice water seas claimed a fourth crewman. By the time that the life-savers reached the wreck only part of the bow and one mast remained above the waves with two benumbed crewmen clinging to it. They were both rescued and the body of the captain's son was also recovered. The BERLIN herself was soon flattened by the winter ice, but small pieces of her occasionally come ashore to this day.

The entire thrilling story of the BERLIN can be found in this book of mine. BTW- I once saw Keepers of Valor being sold here for one PENNY! I had to buy that copy myself.

Keepers of Valor

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