Wisconsin's Great Lakes Shipwrecks - Explore Shipwrecks - Bullhead Point
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Depth: 0-10 Feet    | Condition: Two relatively intact lower hulls and an iron-sheathed bow invite exploration by snorkelers, kayakers and divers.

Rising just above the water's surface at Bullhead Point in Sturgeon Bay are three tangible reminders of the city's once-flourishing limestone industry. The three vessels are lying in 0-10 feet of water, offering an excellent opportunity for divers, snorkelers, and kayakers to visit these interesting wrecks. The remains of all three vessels can be seen from the shore. Visibility at the site ranges from 10-25 feet, and water temperature varies from about 45 to 60°F in the summer.

 

The Bullhead Point shipwrecks today.

 

The Bullhead Point site consists of four features: the shipwrecks Empire State, Ida Corning, and Oak Leaf, and the point itself. Located on the west side of Surgeon Bay, Bullhead Point proper is a large rock outcropping piled on an older rock crib pier structure, approximately 380 feet in length by 200 feet at its greatest width.

 

Empire State

Perpendicular to the long axis of Bullhead Point are the remains of the propeller-driven steamer Empire State. The hull is large for a mid nineteenth-century wooden ship, at 212 feet in length, with a beam of 35 feet.

  

Partially sheathed in iron, the vessel's wooden hull is constructed with a complex system of integrated iron strapping for longitudinal reinforcement. The Empire State's starboard side is nearly on shore at water level and the hold is buried under a considerable pile of stone. The weight of this stone has distorted the ship from its original sleek shape and threatens to break off the port side. The bow is listing to port 10 to 15 degrees, and the entire wreck has twisted under the stress of its stone load. Rising approximately one foot above the water's surface, the stempost is still sheathed with a massive iron shoe for protection from ice, as was the custom for many vessels on the lakes.

The vessel is heavily constructed with frames considerably heavier than those of the other two Bullhead Point vessels. Notably, frame sets are tripled and quadrupled toward the after part of the ship to support the boilers and engines, which were removed during the vessel's conversion to a stone barge. Although the propeller and outboard shaft were also removed as part of the vessel's conversion, much of the inboard portion of the shaft remains in place.

 

The Empire State's port side and bow rise off the bottom nearly to the surface in some 10 to 12 feet of water, and the steamer's starboard side is embedded in the point's eastern shoreline. Consequently, it appears that the old steamer was sunk to extend the loading dock and present a new deep face for the wharf. Ships with a 12-foot draft could easily load off the Empire State's port side.

 

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