The schooner Wings of the Wind was constructed by Bidwell, Banta & Company of Buffalo, New York in 1885. The two-masted bulk carrier was 142 feet long, 26 feet wide and drew10 feet of water. Fully loaded, the 370 ton Wings could carry 16,000 bushels of corn.
In the early hours of May 12, 1866 the fore-and-aft-rigged Wings was inbound to Chicago with a load of 240 tons of coal. There was a strong offshore breeze blowing, and the Wings of the Wind was beating in when a considerably larger sailing ship suddenly appeared out of the darkness. Before Captain John Gray could alter his course, the other vessel struck amidships with such force that the Wings nearly keeled over. The other ship, the lumber-laden bark H.P. Baldwin, suffered little damage and continued on its way. The side of the Wings, however, was badly stove in, and the hold quickly flooded. The uninjured crew boarded the yawl boat and rowed off a few yards. Their shouts got the attention of the crew on the Baldwin, and she returned to take them aboard.
Later that year an attempt to raise the Wings of the Wind was organized, but in the end only her cargo of coal was salvaged. The bucket crane used to recover the coal did considerable damage to the stern of the sunken Wings.
The site of the Wings was soon forgotten, and remained undisturbed until located by professional divers in 1987. These divers shared the location of the Wings with a few of their friends, and word of the new dive site spread. Within two weeks, divers had stripped the wreck of her hardware and loose objects.
As She Rests Today
Although much has been removed, the Wings remains a very interesting dive. The bow is intact and a large wooden windlass sits proudly on her deck. The bow sprit is in place and one of her masts lies in the sand off the port bow. The centerboard trunk is also in place and provides an interesting glimpse into marine architecture ot that era. The wreck disappears into the sand aft of the centerboard trunk, but the rudderpost remains visible above the sand and conveys a sense of the full size of the ship.
The Underwater Archaelogical Society of Chicago encourages all divers to visit this shipwreck. Remember! Illinois law prohibits the removal of anything from this or any other historic wreck. Please help preserve our maritime heritage!
Research by Henry Schwenk
Sponsored by Adventures in Scuba, in Chicago