There are about 2,500 shipwrecks beneath the waves of Lake Michigan, and about 1,000 of them are still missing. The great lakes of the 1900s were the freeway system of that era. Now only a handful of groups are committed to discovering those wrecks, and solving the mysteries of what caused them to disappear.
Captain Yika Hanakova and her crew on the Molly V are leading a chartered dive into Lake Michigan. She's taking divers seven miles northeast of Milwaukee to the watery tomb of the Milwaukee car ferry.
Hanakova and her second-in-command Dave Sutton take divers 125 feet below the water's surface for an up close look at the wooden ship that sank back in 1929.
The crew of the Molly V are shipwreck hunters. To Hanakova and her crew the bottom of Lake Michigan is a museum, and it's shipwrecks the exhibits. Better preserved than most ocean wrecks, the intact pilot houses, port holes and propellers tell stories of the people who built Milwaukee.
Hanakova joined the elite underwater archaeologists by discovering the LR DOTY, which was the largest wooden ship still missing in Lake Michigan.
Shipwreck hunting is more passion than profit. Chartered drives help cover the weeks spent pouring over historical records. Sutton says, "A lot of background work goes into locating a wreck. The divers on the water just think that it's easy. You come and find the buoy, snap on and jump in the water and go."
The Molly V recently began searching for one particular wreck they believe is somewhere near Milwaukee.
Brendan Baillod created the most comprehensive database of Lake Michigan wrecks. He's helping Hanakova and Sutton plot the location of the Alice C. Wilds, a lumber steamer missing since 1892.
The Wilds had been traveling in foul weather when it crashed into another steamer.
Using 19th century shipping routes, Baillod maps the exact point where the two boats should have collided.
Finding the Wilds could take one weekend or as long as a month. The crew will use new sonar equipment, which uses sound waves to capture images of the lake floor.
The Molly V is confident they'll find the Wilds, but they'll have to wait for calmer spring waters.
Hanakova's crew is now equipped with new sonar technology that will allow them to uncover two to three wrecks every year.