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Return of the Contest
March 26, 2021
A once mysterious ship with an unlucky past has returned to the Lake Michigan shoreline.
The wreck of the schooner Contest has emerged from the sand for what could be the fourth time since the late 1800s when the ill-fated vessel went aground near the current channel to White Lake in Muskegon County.
Last seen in 2018, the remains of the 126-foot vessel recently became visible again due to beach erosion and falling Lake Michigan water levels.
Originally thought to be the larger, 170-foot schooner the L.C. Woodruff when it appeared in 1942 and again 1974, the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association (MSRA) determined it was the wreck of the Contest in 2018 after taking measurements of the centerboard section of the wreck's keelson.
Built in Buffalo, New York in 1855 the Contest had a troubled history as a lumber and grain transporter on the Great Lakes. Shortly after it was built, the Contest suffered a collision with another vessel in 1855, lost its sails and anchor in 1858, and was involved in a second collision in 1859. The schooner actually sank once before in Lake Erie in 1868 and was raised and returned to service at great cost to its owners.
The Contest's last voyage was in 1882 when it encountered a storm and ran aground just a few meters from the safety of the channel into White Lake. News reports at the time said the crew simply jumped onto the beach and took refuge at the recently built White River Light Station. The next day the crew reportedly stripped the vessel of anything salvageable and left the hull to the pounding surf and shifting sands of the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Until Mother Nature decides to reclaim the Contest, the best way to see the shipwreck is to visit the White River Light Station Museum in Whitehall and walk down the pier to the Lake Michigan shoreline.
Photo caption: Contest shipwreck unearthed in Whitehall.