LAKE MICHIGAN — Thanks to record high Lake Michigan water levels and strong winds in recent days, a ship named the Contest is now almost completely visible on the beach in Whitehall.
The wreck became visible to us back in 2018 and has slowly been dug up more by recent windstorms and the continued erosion. The ship also was uncovered back in 1974 under similar conditions. There was some confusion, however, that need to be cleared up in 2018 after the late 1900s encounter.
When it was observed in 1974, the lighthouse keeper identified it as the L.C. Woodruff and not the Contest. This stood true until 2018 when it again became uncovered and experts took a closer look.
The shipwreck experts, including Valerie VanHeest, the Director of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, found that the L.C. Woodruff was quite a bit larger than the wreckage that now sits on the beach. When they measured, the wreckage only came out to about 120 feet long, while records showed that the L.C. Woodruff was 170 feet long.
Once they eliminated the L.C. Woodruff from consideration, they looked back into old records to find that this wreckage was likely the Contest as it was 121 feet long back in the day. While diving back into the history of the wreckage, they also found out what led to it's demise.
"There was a storm in early October 1882 and reports that the Contest came up onto the beach trying to get into the White Lake channel" says VanHeest. "We understand that there were no lives lost. The lighthouse was right there at the mouth of the channel so the crew members probably stepped off onto dry ground and took shelter in the lighthouse. They reported that the ship was a total loss."
If you plan on visiting the wreckage, you are encouraged to take pictures and video and even carefully walk through the wreckage. It is advised, though, that you do not take anything from the wreckage so that others can enjoy it while it is above the sand.
The best way of getting to the Contest is to put the White River Light Station Museum in your GPS. Once there, you can head down to the beach along the channel to where the wreckage rests.
You can also find information about other Michigan shipwrecks at michiganshipwreck.org