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Two 19th century canal boats found in Lake Ontario

The wrecks of two 19th century canal boats were recently found on the bottom of Lake Ontario, an unusual discovery because such vessels typically weren't used on open water, a team of New York shipwreck hunters said Wednesday.

A three-member team from the Rochester area said they discovered the boats using side-scan sonar last year while searching for shipwrecks on Lake Ontario's eastern end. The sunken canal boats — one 65 feet and the other 78 feet— were found within a few miles of each other midway between Oswego and Sackets Harbor, said Jim Kennard of Fairport.

Two professional divers using apparatus for deep-water work captured video images of the wrecks, which are more than 200 feet below the surface, Kennard told the Associated Press.

The wrecks have not been identified, but Kennard and fellow explorers Roger Pawlowski of Gates and Roland Stevens of Pultneyville believe the vessels were built in the mid-1800s, when the Erie Canal was widened to accommodate larger boats.

Records of more than 600 Lake Ontario shipwrecks did not turn up a match for either canal vessel, the explorers said.

Kennard said the two shallow-draft boats were probably being towed by steamboats when they sank. Both showed damage that indicated their cargoes may have shifted during fast-changing weather conditions typical of Lake Ontario, he said.

Kennard said the vessels were likely older boats whose owners tried to get one more voyage out of them by hauling cargo on the lake, which is connected to the Erie Canal by the Oswego Canal.

"They took a chance," Kennard said. "It didn't work."

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