The water is exceptionally clear in Lake Michigan right now, and a Coast Guard helicopter crew used a recent routine patrol to capture striking images of some of the area's many notable sunken ships. Some of them date from the 1800s.

Photos from the flight out of the Coast Guard's Traverse City, Mich., air station show a variety of ships resting on the lake bottom, including the James McBride, a 121-foot brig that sank in 1857.

One of the pilots on that flight was Lt. Cmdr. Charlie Wilson, who says it's "fairly common" to spot an old wreck while on a patrol — "but not in the numbers we saw on that flight."

While the clear, blue water may look alluring as temperatures are starting to rise in many parts of the U.S., the Coast Guard reminds us that the water is still very frigid, at only 38 degrees.

It's that cold, fresh water that has helped preserve the wrecked ships over the years.

"An estimated 6,000 vessels were lost on the Great Lakes with approximately 1,500 of these ships located in Michigan waters," according to the state Department of Environmental Quality, which calls the wrecks "irreplaceable records of our cultural history."

The new photos were taken along a fairly small portion of the coastline in northern Lake Michigan, from Sleeping Bear Point to Northpoint.

The Coast Guard also shared a link to the Michigan Preserves website, which lists 11 well-known wreck sites, including the McBride.

Copyright 2016 NPR. To see more, visit