R. Kanters


The wreck discoverer near the shipwreck. (He chooses to remain anonymous)

By Valerie van Heest and Craig Rich of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association with contributions from William Lafferty.

A storm on April 19, 2020 churned up so much sand on the eastern side of the Garden Peninsula that a shipwreck was revealed.  A long-time area homeowner had never seen any evidence of the ship before, but his curiosity led him to contact the Michigan Maritime Museum, which in turn asked that the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association (MSRA) investigate the wreck.

The location of this wreck was of particular interest because it is located in northern Lake Michigan, where most historians believe Robert Cavalier Sieur de LaSalle’s famed barque Le Griffon went missing in 1679.  More than two dozen shipwreck discoveries over the last 200 years, each purported to be Le Griffon, have been officially ruled out as being Le Griffon, so it remains possible that the shipwreck is in deep water or buried near shore, most likely in northern Lake Michigan. Therefore anyone discovering a shipwreck in that vicinity should bear this in mind.

The shelter in place order for the COVID-19 pandemic of 2020 did not allow MSRA to travel to view the wreck in person, but the home owner, who asked not to be named, offered to take detailed measurements and photographs to help MSRA study and possibly identify the ship.  Once he provided the first few photographs, it became clear that while the ship was a sailing vessel based on the lack of machinery, the fasteners on this wreck are clearly too “modern” and numerous to have been hand-smithed in the late 1600s. Instead, the construction and fasteners seem quite similar to many schooners built regionally between the 1850s and 1880s.  But which one?

R. Kanters looking north

As is typical of ships that grounded and were abandoned near shore, the structure gets worn severely over the decades and can further break up. Typically only the lowest portion of a vessel remains, defined by the keelson, or rather “backbone” of the ship, and the frames affixed to the keelson that formed the bottom hull structure. In that condition, only a few things can help identify a shipwreck that is so badly degraded—its size, type of construction, and historic accounts of area ship losses.

R. Kanters looking south

Only about a 50-foot portion of this schooner’s keelson and frames became visible above the sand after the storm. A hole dug about 15 feet north of the north end of the exposed piece revealed the keelson, adding at least 15 feet, if not more, to the length. The keelson appeared to extend further forward, but the sand was too deep to dig further.

R. Kanters deadwood

A bolt protruding from the sand some 20 feet south of the visible keelson also suggests that there is more of the ship buried in that direction. Interestingly, some 55 feet south of the southern edge of the visible section is a large structure that appears to be the stern deadwood, which is the structure that extends beyond the tapered hull onto which the rudder would have been mounted. Measurement of the deadwood suggests that the rudder was approximately nine feet tall.  Comparing this dimension to the size of rudders on several other schooners, for which detailed historic drawings exist, it can be concluded that the original ship was upwards of 100 feet long, but probably less than 140 feet long, in which case the rudder would have been even larger.

In reviewing ship losses, consideration had to be given to every schooner lost between Manistique and Summer Island as the coast was and still is very desolate with few landmarks in between. Only one documented loss fits the location and vessel size: the R. Kanters. Historic accounts indicate that schooner was blown ashore in a gale on September 7, 1903, stranding south of Manistique near the outlet of a creek; the same creek near where this wreck is located.  Being quite advanced in age and lying in an exposed position on a rocky bottom, the ship was left to break up in place according to a newspaper account.  It is particularly coincidental, considering that MSRA is based in Holland, Michigan, that the R. Kanters was also based in Holland, Michigan for a number of years and named after a former mayor of Holland.


Built in 1873 by Larson and Christianson at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, the single-decked, two-masted, wooden schooner City of Woodstock would serve as a workhorse on the Great Lakes for three decades. The schooner rolled into the river on August 3, 1873. The owners, Johnson & Co. officially enrolled the City of Woodstock, hull number 125223, at Chicago on September 3, 1873, as a new vessel. It measured 112.6 feet in length, with a beam or width of 25.6 feet and a depth of 8.4 feet.

For eight years the schooner hauled various cargoes, often grain, throughout the upper Great Lakes. Then in 1881, ownership of the schooner changed abruptly as federal marshals seized the City of Woodstock and sold the vessel to Thor Solverson, who listed it for sale that winter.

Rokus Kanters
Holland, Michigan mayor Rokus Kanters

In April 1882, with financial assistance from Rokus Kanters, a marine contractor and former mayor of Holland, Michigan (1885-1886), Captain Bastian Van Ry of Holland purchased the vessel for $6,400. From that time on, the newly renamed R. Kanters operated out of Holland and Grand Haven on Lake Michigan and throughout the Great Lakes.

As two-thirds owner, Rokus Kanters was a silent partner, who invested in numerous ventures. He was highly regarded in marine contracting and had learned his trade in the Netherlands working with his father and grandfather building breakwalls, dikes, windmills, and other structures to claim land from the North Sea. He continued that trade in the United States after arriving in 1862, installing breakwalls at Chicago’s Lincoln Park, Milwaukee, Benton Harbor, and White Lake. Kanters also owned a hardware and mercantile business in Holland with his five sons, was the publisher of the official Hope College weekly newspaper De Hope, ran a printing company, developed several homes and commercial properties, and served as both Alderman for several terms, and Mayor for one term (1885-1886).

Captain Van Ry served on the R. Kanters from the time Kanters purchased it until 1895 when he sold a one-half interest in the ship to Captain Peter Blake, who took over as master. His service would be short-lived. In a thick fog at 1:00 a.m. on May 29, 1896, the R. Kanters went on the rocks between Gravel Island and Pilot Island, off the Door Peninsula in Wisconsin on the western shore of Lake Michigan. Figuring that the vessel was damaged beyond repair, Blake quitclaimed the vessel to Joys Brothers & Company of Milwaukee for $100 so it could salvage useable equipment on board the vessel, including its masts, rigging, and hardware.  Joys hired the services of the Leathem & Smith Towing and Wrecking Company. Using the wrecking tug A. J. Wright and Captain Coyne and the crew of the scow schooner Emily and Eliza, the vessel was stripped.  Although the original intent had been to abandon the hull, the tug affixed a large hawser to the schooner and rather easily succeeded in pulling the R. Kanters loose in mid-June that year. Surprisingly, the R. Kanters floated on its own.  After learning that the hull was still seaworthy, Peter Blake made arraignments to buy back the ship and all the items that had been taken off it for $900. It was towed to Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, and spent time “in the boxes” or drydock, for a thorough overhauling and repairs. Its bottom was reported to have been “quite badly injured.”

The R. Kanters in dry dock at Manitowoc in 1887 for an earlier repair.

Although there was some discussion that the vessel might be converted to a stripped-down barge for carrying cargoes of stone, it was instead repaired to its original condition and kept sailing. However, Rokus Kanters passed away on November 22, 1899, at the age of 73 in Holland, Michigan. He is buried in the Pilgrim Home Cemetery. Soon thereafter the schooner was sold it to the George Lill Coal Company of Chicago, which began using it to deliver its coal.

The end came on Monday, September 7, 1903, when the R. Kanters went ashore south of Manistique, Michigan, during a storm. Five crew members were aboard at the time, but there was no reported loss of life and it is yet unknown whether the ship was carrying cargo or running light. That stretch of beach was and still is very desolate. The crew would have had to walk quite a distance to the only nearby civilization at Manistique to report the accident. The vessel eventually broke up and was forgotten, only to be uncovered by a similar storm 117 years later.

After being exposed for only three days in 2020, the R. Kanters is already being reclaimed by the shifting sands of Lake Michigan. But thanks to a curious and observant beachcomber, a small piece of Michigan’s rich maritime past could be briefly glimpsed.


  • Holland City News (various dates and articles)
  • Master Abstracts: Chicago, Illinois; Grand Haven, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Enrollment: Chicago, Illinois; Grand Haven, Michigan; Milwaukee, Wisconsin
  • Annual Report of the Operations of the United States Life-saving Service, year ending June 30, 1896
  • maritimehistoryofthegreatlakes.ca
  • greatlakesvessels.org
  • Findagrave.com
  • Portrait and Biographical Record of Muskegon and Ottawa Counties MICHIGAN, CONTAINING Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens AND OF THE Presidents of the United States, CHICAGO BIOGRAPHICAL PUBLISHING CO. 1893
  • Holland, Michigan: From Dutch Colony to Dynamic City, Robert P. Swierenga, 2014, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.
  • Detroit Tribune, June 4, 1896
  • Port Huron Daily Times, Thursday, June 4, 1896
  • Detroit Tribune, June 7, 1896
  • U.S. Merchant Vessels: (1882-1904)
  • Inland Lloyds Vessel Classification, (Various years)
  • David Swayze database