TRAVERSE CITY — Ward Lamphere wasn’t sure what to make of the object that appeared before him on the beach along Lake Michigan.
A string of large, worn wooden ribs jutted skyward, poking from the sand like a partially unearthed whale skeleton. But the object clearly was man-made.
“I saw the spine, and the horizontal curve,” he said of his March 31 discovery in Leelanau County. “Because it’s not the entire boat, my first impression was it was a big row boat. I thought it was just a smaller boat like that.”
Lamphere, who owns a condo at the nearby Homestead Resort, recalled that someone spotted pieces of what might be a shipwreck near the spot a handful of years ago. But piles of raking ice and violent winter storms worked to unearth something more — a 40-foot-long section of the center beam and ribs of a wooden boat.
“It’s probably been there for years and now it’s uncovered,” Lamphere said.
An August 2009 local newspaper article told of a group of children who unearthed some ship’s ribs near the spot as they dug in the sand during a family vacation.
Lamphere quickly looked for local experts and found Kerry Kelly, chairman of the board for Friends of the Sleeping Bear. Kelly made a trek to look at the site last week.
“It’s a pretty good-size artifact,” Kelly said. “It is one-half of a boat. It is pretty old because there are no threads or bolts or anything like that. You’ve been walking on that beach many times and all of a sudden something is there.”
Kelly recorded the specifications, then photographed and took a GPS location of the new discovery. The information, though it’s a bit north of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, will be logged into a database maintained by the park museum. It joins 13 other shipwrecks in the database and is one of the largest finds.