A retired engineer and two buddies took his boat out on Lake Ontario a few weeks ago, with a high-res side-scan sonar to see if they could find any shipwrecks. What they stumbled across, 400 feet below the surface: the remains of the Royal Albert schooner, which sank nearly 150 years ago after leaving Oswego, NY, for Toledo, Ohio, the Democrat and Chronicle reports. Jim Kennard, 73, tells the Toronto Star he was going back and forth in a certain area of the lake—what he refers to as his "mowing the lawn" method—with Roger Pawlowski and Roland Stevens when the sonar picked up the schooner. "We saw two masts lying on either side of the ship," he tells the Democrat & Chronicle. Because Kennard had an extensive database of shipwrecks—he's helped track down more than 200 shipwrecks since the '70s—and an idea of the Royal Albert's size and shape, they were able to ID the vessel. A remote-controlled vehicle sent to take pictures and video of the ship offered more evidence of their find.
The 104-foot-long schooner, which Kennard says sank 15 miles west of Oswego, was transporting 285 tons of railroad iron on Aug. 10, 1868, when something happened (some say bad weather) to make the railroad iron move, causing it to tear a hole in the side of the vessel; Kennard tells the AP some of those rails can be seen in video of the ship's hold. The crew safely made it to shore in a small boat. Kennard and his fellow explorers were out on the lake thanks to the National Museum of the Great Lakes, which funds volunteer shipwreck explorers, per the Toledo Blade. "Our collaboration with Jim Kennard and his team have produced some of the most important discoveries on Lake Ontario," the museum's director said. As for the Royal Albert, it will likely stay put, per local and federal shipwreck laws. "It's essentially an underwater museum of maritime history," Kennard tells the Democrat & Chronicle. ("One of the most important shipwrecks" ever may have been found off Rhode Island.)