Lake Superior Shipwrecks
Present Description

The remains of the Madeira lie broken and scattered in several large sections and numerous small pieces around Gold Rock cliff, immediately north of Split Rock Lighthouse on Lake Superior. Water visibility varies from 20 to 60 feet in both shallow and deeper areas of the site. Water depths range from 15 to over 100 feet. Madeira's wreckage covers a varied topography. A boulder-strewn slope begins at the base of Gold Rock cliff in approximately 10 feet of water, ending at varying depths where the bottom is composed of gently sloping sand.

wreck site drawing
Artists drawing of wreck site; MHS/SHPO Collections

Surviving fragments of the Madeira include substantial portions of bow and stern, the pilot house and boat deck, as well as several large sections of the midship structure. The majority of the wreckage is situated along where the boulder slope and sand bottom meet, or on the sand bottom itself. Numerous fragments of disarticulated wreckage are strewn upslope from the main hull sections toward the base of the cliff in shallow water (10 to 20 feet), and over a large area around the cliff extending several hundred feet from the main wreck. These fragments range in size from 2 to 80 feet square. Several smaller pieces also have been thrown up on shore above the water level.

The bow section is located in 40 feet of water along the northwestern side of the boulder slope surrounding Gold Rock. From a flat 43-foot section of the starboard side of the hull, the bow rises straight up 24 feet, perpendicular to the bottom, with the port side of the bow facing the shore. Approximately 35 feet of the lower hull is intact aft of the bow. The bottom of the hull was apparently torn out as the vessel went to pieces in the storm. The sharp angle at which the bow is bent serves as a testament to the severity of the vessel's impact against the rock cliff above. The total length of the starboard side is 67 feet. The forecastle bulwark is substantially intact along the length of the starboard side. The deckhouse is absent. The circular captain seat is visible on the forecastle deck. Several large, disarticulated gears, which may represent remnants of the capstan and/or the windlass, lay atop boulders adjacent to the circular seat. Mooring eyes are located aft of the stem on both port and starboard sides. Port and starboard hawse holes are intact. Both anchors were salvaged in the 1970s. Anchor chain is visible inside the hull. Torch-cut holes in the side of the hull give evidence to the attempts to salvage parts of the vessel for scrap during the 1960s and 1970s. The letters V, S and J, burned into the port side of the bow are also most likely the result of salvage activity during the 1960s and 1970s.

The Madeira's stern section lies farther offshore, its aft end resting approximately 110 feet from the bow section. The approximately 140-foot section rests on its starboard side on the bottom in 70 feet of water. The hull is relatively free of sediments, though there is a thin layer of encrustation or oxidation. The intact fantail stern rests on its starboard side at a 60 degree angle with the starboard bulwark just below the sand. The aftmost 70 feet of the hull is substantially intact from the keel up to the main deck. Approximately 70 feet forward of the stern, the hull is buckled where the boulder slope and sand bottom meet. Here there is a large jagged tear in the hull approximately 20 feet in diameter. Moving forward along the hull, and upslope, the hull is heavily damaged though still connected to the stern. Here only the main deck is preserved. The port side of the hull has been ripped away. The angle of the main deck is similar to that of the port side of the stern.

The tiller and windlass are intact on the main deck on the aft portion of the stern section. The copper alloy tiller, measuring approximately 5 feet in length, is set just aft of the windlass. The tiller swings freely on the rudder post. The cable for the mooring buoy, which was placed at the site by the State of Minnesota, is attached to the tiller, causing it to move with the buoy. A bollard is located adjacent to the windlass on its starboard side. Its counterpart on the port side is absent. Forward of the bollard to the starboard is a circular opening within which linear lengths of large chain (not stud link) are visible. These, presumably, are associated with the steering gear and may still be connected to the tiller and rudder post. Several mooring eyes are located along the stern bulwark, including one directly aft of the tiller. The rudder post is intact. The rudder is missing. Evidence suggests that it was removed during salvage efforts.

Adjacent the stern section, and upslope from where the boulder slope and sand bottom meet, sits a large section of the side of the hull, flipped over to expose the vessel's interior. Girder-like frames and a ladder are visible. To the starboard of the stern section, along the boulder/sand edge and continuing up the slope, is a large scatter of miscellaneous hull sections. Within this scatter is a large, crumpled pipe-like piece of iron which may be part of a mast.

underwater image Fig. 1 underwater image Fig. 2

Fig. 1: Madeira wreck - stern winch; Ken Merryman, Fridley, MN
Fig. 2: The compass binnacle inside the pilot house, Sep. 1990; MHS/SHPO Collections

The pilot house sits upright atop the boat deck approximately 100 feet from the aft end of the stern section on the gently sloping sand bottom in approximately 80 feet of water. The starboard wall of the pilot house has been bent slightly inward. Several small hull fragments and numerous pieces of iron strapping are located adjacent to the pilot house toward the shore. The compass binnacle stands in the center of the pilot house. The compass has been removed. Both of the Madeira's wheels were salvaged during the 1960s and 1970s.

Approximately 100 feet north of the pilot house, along the boulder/sand interface, a large 75-foot section of hull projects approximately 10 feet into the water column. One-third of the section length rests on the sand bottom. The remaining two-thirds projects upward over the boulder-strewn slope. This hull fragment, with its offshore end lying in 105 feet of water, was the deepest piece of wreckage investigated. This section is "L" shaped in cross section along its entire length, representing the junction of approximately 12 feet of maindeck with approximately 15 feet of the side of the hull. A grouping of bollard, mooring eye, and a bit-like projection with a single large pulley oriented forward and aft, is located at the edge of the main deck, at the approximate center of the fragment lengthwise. An additional 40-foot section of hull lies along the interface directly opposite the pilot house. It sits with its internal framing, and what appear to be knees, facing up. Within this scatter is a 15-foot long section of riveted pipe, approximately 4 feet in diameter, which may be part of the stack.

Several additional midship sections of hull with portions intact to the main deck rest on the bottom farther offshore from Gold Rock to the west of the pilot house, approximately 200 feet from the stern section. Water depths are 100 feet and more. Numerous small pieces ranging from 2 feet to more than 20 feet square are scattered all about the site.

|--Madeira-- |--Historic Description--|
|--Construction and Career-- |--Description of the Wreck Event--|
|--Post-Depositional Impacts-- |--Present Description-- |--Significance-- |--Photographs--|
|--Minnesota Lake Superior Shipwrecks-- |
|--Minnesota Historical Society Homepage--|