Mystery Wreck Cyprus Found In Lake Superior

By James Donahue

Divers for the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society say they hope to soon discover the cause of the mysterious sinking of the Cyprus just one hundred years ago.

That 420-foot-long ore carrier was a brand new vessel, on its second voyage with holds filled with iron ore from Superior, Wisconsin, bound for Buffalo, New York, when it capsized and sank taking all but one of its crew of 22 to the bottom with it.

The sole survivor, second mate Charles G. Pitz, said the Cyprus was getting pounded by a gale from the northwest and the ship took on a list that got worse as the afternoon of Oct. 11, 1907 progressed.

The engines were eventually stopped and crew members put on life jackets and headed to the lifeboats. Pitz, the captain, first mate and a watchman gathered near a raft near the bow. When the Cyprus capsized and sank at 7:45 p.m., everybody was literally hurled into the water. Pitz said he and his companions climbed on the raft and by about 2 a.m. had drifted within 300 feet of shore, off Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

Pitz said the raft flipped several times in the surf and everybody was drowned except him. He said he eventually stumbled ashore cold and exhausted, but alive. Pitz continued sailing on the lakes for several years after that. He died in 1961.

The wreck was found about eight miles north of Deer Park, Michigan, between Grand Marais and Whitefish Point. It lies in about 460 feet of water.

There has always been a mystery as to why this ship, just 21-days old, flipped over and sank in what was described as a relatively moderate storm.

The captain of a vessel that passed the Cyprus before it sank said the vessel was trailed by a reddish wake, suggesting that water was being pumped out of the cargo hold and was being discolored by the ore. Later it was speculated that the ship was leaking and that the reddish water was simply seeping through the hull.

Pitz denied suggestions that the hatch covers weren't secure. He said he personally knew that the hatches were sealed and no water was getting into the Cyprus from the decks.

Members of the diving research team that found the Cyprus said they plan to make several exploratory deep water dives on the wreck in an attempt to learn why that ship sank. They will especially be looking for hull damage, or problems with steering that might have caused the vessel to get caught in the trough of the seas, which can be deadly for any vessel, even in less severe storms.

That Pitz reported the engines stopped, without further explanation, suggests that the engine room either flooded, or the ship developed engine trouble, thus causing the vessel to drift into serious trouble.

Pitz guessed that the Cyprus was about 19 miles off shore when it sank, never realizing it was as close to shore as it was. This is one reason it took so long for diving search teams to locate it, even with the help of sonar.




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