"The Wreck of the Francisco Morazan" Exploring South Manitou Island

March 16, 2015  •  1 Comment


Shipwrecks of lake Michigan


Michigan-based photographer John McCormick shares his story of exploring Michigan's South Manitou Island, Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore.


My wife and I spent a couple of days exploring South Manitou Island two summers ago, and I've been wanting to share a few photos we brought back. One of the things we wanted to see was this shipwreck, the "Franciso Morazan". This old cargo ship has got to be the eeriest looking scene on the Great Lakes. The colony of nesting cormorants give it that "extra creepy appeal". 

In 1960, risking late season Great Lakes weather, the ship was caught in a late November storm and ran aground about 300 feet off the southwest shore of South Manitou Island.


Lake Michigan Shipwrecks South Manitou Island"Wreck of the Franciso Morazan" South Manitou Island Sleeping Bear Dunes
The photo below of the South Manitou Lighthouse was taken from the passenger ferry as we were arriving to the island. Find yourself a seat on the port side to get a better view and photo of it. The ferry service operates from the historic Fishtown Dock in Leland, Mi. It's the only access to the island other than private boats. The trip takes about 1½ hours.


South Manitou Island LighthouseSouth Manitou Island Lighthouse


There are three back-country campsites on the island and our plan was to camp at the Weather Station Campground, which has 20 sites and is a 1.3 mile hike from where the ferry docks. That location got us to within 13/4 miles of the shipwreck that I had planned to photograph at sunset. The beach is absolutely gorgeous out there, very peaceful and remote experience. We spent the entire afternoon swimming and exploring it. We only saw two other people all day, you can see them in this photo enjoying a swim.


South Manitou Island secluded Lake Michigan beachLake Michigan beach on South Manitou IslandCumulus clouds on a secluded South Manitou Island Beach. Sleeping Bear Dunes.


Another one of our plans was to see the island's historic lighthouse. You can climb the 117 steps to the top for a stunning view of Lake Michigan and the Manitou Passage. There's lots of trails for exploring; hike to the old cemetery in the interior of the island or explore the stand of giant cedar trees on the southern end.

View from the top of the South Manitou Island LighthouseView from the top of the South Manitou Island LighthouseView of South Manitou passage Sleeping Bear Dunes.


South Manitou Island Lighthouse Lake MichiganEvening light at South Manitou Island Lighthouse


Old boat house on South Manitou IslandOld weathered boat house on South Manitou Island

When we arrived at the island the rangers told us that poison ivy was well established there. I was super cautious on our hikes making sure I didn't brush up against any of it as I am highly susceptable. Well, after a long day of exploring we arrived back at the campsite and my wife wanted a campfire. At this point I had shorts on and it was getting dark, but, we "had" to find some firewood in the forest. I found plenty of firewood, but guess who forgot all about the poison ivy?  It took me three weeks to get rid of it; the rangers nailed it, lot's of poison ivy on that island. My wife likes to tell that story... :)  Some ivy along the path in this photo.


South Manitou Island Lighthouse photosSouth Manitou Island LighthouseEvening light on the South Manitou Island Lighthouse. Sleeping Bear Dunes.


Thanks for taking the time to read my post. You can see all of my Sleeping Bear Dunes gallery here. if you're interested in other areas of Michigan you can see all of my galleries here. If you have a moment, please feel free to share this blog via the social media share buttons provided.

Thank you very much!



John McCormick is a lifelong Michigan resident and has been interested in Michigan Nature Photography for over 30 years. Michigan is a beautiful place to live and photographing that beauty is his absolute passion. To follow his recent work be sure to "like" his facebook page. To see all of his Michigan photo galleries, purchase prints, or to license an image, use the links at the top of this page.


Dave Gordon(non-registered)
Hi John, I wanted to say that I think your photos of these places that I love (S. Manitou and Pictured Rocks,) are incredible. You have a very talented eye. Thank you for sharing these.

If you ever find yourself on Bois Blanc Island, you should look up Russ Riker. He is the youngest child of the last family that farmed S. Manitou Island and it was his brother who, sadly, perished while swimming on the wreck of the Morazan with a friend.


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