Thursday, December 6, 2012

133-year-old wooden steamer New York found in Lake Huron



For scuba divers, watching an ancient shipwreck emerge in the murky gloom beneath their feet is quite a rush.
But imagine being the first pair of eyes to view that ship in more than 100 years. David Trotter has done that many times in his 30 years as a shipwreck hunter. For him, viewing a previously discovered shipwreck doesn’t get his juices flowing. It’s the thrill of the hunt and the journey rather than the destination. And it’s a passion he has followed for more than 30 years.
Trotter announced the news of his latest discovery on Tuesday, Dec. 4, the 133-year-old wooden steamer New York, discovered in Lake Huron in May and dived for the first time in July. The discovery was the result of more than two years of searching with his expedition team, Undersea Research Associates, an operation that is funded by Trotter and includes a small group of volunteer divers and support personnel.
The wreck was found about 20 miles southeast of Alpena and about 75 degrees and 25 miles out from the small port town of Harrisville. Side-scan sonar was used to locate the vessel, which is located in about 240 feet of water.
The time consuming part of the search is largely due to inaccurate information. Groups lay down search grids based upon information given at the time of the sinking by the surviving crew members. In this case, and many others, different men provide different locations and different stories. It’s not surprising, since as the ship is going down, the men are thinking about surviving, not about charting its last location. Trotter said some stories had the ship going down 25 miles further north, while others had it 5-10 miles further south.
"It was quite obvious we had a shipwreck and that it was a steamer as opposed to a schooner based upon its size," Trotter said of the initial sonar sighting. "Since the stern was damaged, we couldn’t determine its full length and whether or not it was the New York. It could have been one of three other ships that were thought to go down in that area."
The New York, built in 1879 to a length of 283 feet, is historically significant for two reasons. First, at the time of her construction, she was the largest ship to ply the Great Lakes, the leviathan of her time. And secondly, at the time of her sinking 31 years later, she represented a changing of the guard in ship construction. As a "woody," by 1910, she was a bit of a relic; most of her neighbors on the sea were made of steel.
The New York was headed northbound in October 1910 from Detroit to Canada carrying a load of coal when it was caught in a violent gale. She lost power and fell into a trough (sideways) where the waves pummeled the ship.
The 430-foot steamer Mataafa, with the 376-foot Whaleback Alexander Holley in tow, spotted the New York and realized she was in serious danger. Captain Regan, of the Mataafa, began a turn into the raging seas when its load of iron ore shifted, causing the vessel to nearly capsize. She was now two feet lower on one side. Despite the risks, Regan brought the Mataafa around and headed toward the New York. They also poured about 40 gallons of oil into Lake Huron to calm the water.
The captain and the 13-member crew of the New York were able to transfer into two small lifeboats and were then picked up by the Mataafa. No souls were lost.
Because the wreck sits so deep on the floor of Lake Huron, the dive down to her would be a technical one, with expert divers using mixed gas. Quite a bit of planning and safety considerations would have to be established.
"There is tremendous excitement and intensity for the first two divers down because they are the first ones to lay eyes on her, but they also have tasks to complete, securing the mooring line and shooting video. The second group gets to explore," Trotter said.
URA dived the site for three months, starting in July, and felt pretty confident they had found the New York, but they had no authentication, especially since the stern, where her identification would have been located, had been so severely damaged.
Then, in September, paydirt.
"(A diver) went portside, about 50 feet from the wreck and found what looked like a giant bowl," Trotter said. "It was very heavy … but he managed to turn it over and it turned out to be the capstan cover. It was made of brass and engraved in the capstan cover were the words, ‘New York.’ We had finally validated the ship’s identity on the very last dive of the year."
The ship sits upright with stern damage almost up to its engine compartment. Its two broken stacks lay nearby. As is common, its upper structure was blown off, thanks to trapped air pressure, during the sinking.
Trotter, 72, has been sidelined from diving for about two years to due to medical complications, but that hasn’t stopped his passion for searching the Great Lakes to track down its remaining lost ships. The former Ford Motor Credit executive has, by his estimate, explored and charted more than 2,200 square miles of Lake Huron. That represents about 20 percent of the U.S. side.
He has two more ships on his "bucket list," the Water Witch and R.G. Colburn, two ships that have eluded him for the last 15 years.
"The great thrill is to know what you have found and then view it for the first time and come up and share those tales. It’s quite a rush," Trotter said. "People often ask me ‘what’s the most exciting ship I’ve found, and I say ‘the next one.’ "
For more info, visit Trotter's website at www.shipwreck1.com


Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Canton shipwreck hunter announces discovery of 133-year-old wooden steamer in Lake Huron

Shipwreck hunter David Trotter and his expedition team, Undersea Research Associates, announced today the discovery of the 133-year-old New York, a 283-foot wooden steamer found this summer in Lake Huron after about two years of searching.
The ship was first located by sonar scanning in May and was found by divers in July in about 240 feet of water. It sits upright, but it has major stern damage after sinking from that direction. It is located about 20 miles southeast of Alpena, or about 75 degrees and 25 miles out from the small port of Harrisville.
At the time of the sinking, the New York was the largest wooden vessel plying the Great Lakes. Historically, she represents a transitional period in shipping in which steel-hulled boats were becoming the norm.

I interviewed Trotter this afternoon and will have video of that discussion later on this week along with a more extensive story. So stay tuned for that.

The 283-foot New York while she was still in service.
The New York was headed northbound in October 1910 from Detroit to Canada carrying a load of coal when it was caught in a violent gale. She lost power and fell into a trough (sideways) where the waves pummeled the ship.
The 430-foot steamer Mataafa, with the 376-foot Whaleback Alexander Holley in tow, spotted the New York and realized she was in serious danger. Captain Regan, of the Mataafa, began a turn into the raging seas when its load of iron ore shifted, causing the vessel to nearly capsize. She was now two feet lower on one side. Despite the risks, Regan brought the Mataafa around and headed toward the New York. They also poured about 40 gallons of oil into Lake Huron to calm the water.
The 14-member crew of the New York was able to transfer into two small lifeboats and was then picked up by the Mataafa. No souls were lost.
Trotter, a scuba diver since 1965, has been wreck hunting for 30 years. During that time, he has discovered 90-100 wrecks. He puts the discovery of the New York in his top five, primarily due to its historical signficance.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

West Michigan Underwater Preserve becomes official


A number of Lake Michigan shipwrecks are now being officially protected and promoted as Michigan’s 13th underwater preserve.
The West Michigan Underwater Preserve recently became official with the filing of paperwork with the state.
The new preserve covers about 345 square miles and features 13 identified shipwrecks and three other diving structures. It encompasses West Michigan’s shoreline from a point between Grand Haven and Holland north to the northern boundary of Ludington State Park. This area contains 13 known shipwrecks, and almost certainly more waiting to be discovered, according to the West Michigan Underwater Preserve website.
West Michigan Underwater Preserve board co-chair John Hanson says the shipwreck represent "maritime history for the whole area."
While I've dived in Lake Michigan on the western side of the state (Traverse City), I've never put in that far south. After reading this story, it certainly seems like a place I would like to check out. In addition, it seems to have dive sites ranging from novice to advanced.
The benefits of establishing the preserve are basically threefold, all designed to protect the wrecks.
First, the wrecks are protected as "underwater museums," which means they cannot be destroyed and in theory, divers cannot remove artifacts from the wrecks.
Secondly, the wrecks will be marked with buoys so boats and divers can locate the wrecks more easily.
And lastly, the wrecks will be chartered on maps to protect them from boat traffic in the West Michigan area of the lake.
Here is some brief information about each of the wreck sites, as provided by the West Michigan Underwater Preserve website:
Brightie
Built in Cleveland in 1868, the Brightie foundered in Lake Michigan north of Whitehall on August 13, 1928. She is broken up timbers and lies in abou 70 feet of water.
The Clay Wall
The Comanche
The naturally occurring clay wall lies in 50 feet of water about 1/2 mile northwest of the Whitehall Channel.

The Comanche
Approximately five miles north of Pentwater, the Comanche is a 75 - 100 foot tugboat in 75 feet of water.

The Henry Cort
A 320-foot whaleback steamer, the Henry Cort was stranded along the Muskegon Breakwall of Lake Michigan on Nov. 30, 1934. The crew survived, but one rescuer was lost in the storm. She lies in 20-30 feet of water.

The Daisy Day
A shallow wreck, the Daisy Day is a 103-foot wooden steam-powered bulk freighter that sank in Lake Michigan in 1891. She is described as sitting in shallow water off Claybanks Twp Park in Oceana County.

The William B. Davock
About 1.9 miles off the Little Sable Light lies the William B. Davock, a 420-foot steel bulk freight steamer. She sank in more than 200 feet of water in the Armistice Day storm of 1940. She sits in 215-240 feet of water, beyond recreational dive limits.

Hamilton Reef
The Hamilton Reef (also known as "The Rock Pile") is an artificial reef of cement rubble in a snake formation that lies just south of the Muskegon Channel in Lake Michigan. It provides habitat for fish, making it an interesting dive. It sits in about 30 feet of water.

The Helen
The Helen, a 90-foot merchant schooner, sank in the gale of November 18, 1886. She lies in 10 feet of water about one mile north of the Muskegon Channel. She is an elusive wreck, appearing and disappearing in the shifting sands of Lake Michigan.

The Interlaken
The Interlaken went down in a storm in 1936. She is in Lake Michigan about 7 miles north of Whitehall in 15 feet of water.

Ironsides
In 120 feet of water four miles west of the Grand Haven Channel lies the Ironsides, a 218-foot wooden twin prop steamer. She foundered in heavy seas on September 15, 1873.
The Anna C. Minch
The Anna C. Minch
The Anna C. Minch went down in the Armistice Day storm on November 11, 1940. She is a 380-foot steel bulk freighter steamer, and was broken in two during the storm. She sits in 35-45 feet of water.

The Novadoc

The Novadoc shipwreck is 252-foot steel bulk freighter off Juniper Beach near Pentwater Built in 1928 at Wallsend, England, the Novadoc sank during the Armistice Day storm in 1940. She can be observed by either diving or snorkeling in 12-15 feet of water.

The Salvor
The State of Michigan
The Salvor is a 253-foot wooden pseduo-whaleback steamer that was converted to a steel bulk freight barge. She foundered in a storm in 1930 while being towed. She lies in 25-30 feet of water.

The State of Michigan
A 165-foot wooden passenger freight steamer, the State of Michigan was built in 1875 in Manitowac, WI. She sank in Lake Michigan about two miles north of Whtehall on October 18, 1901. The boiler and outer hull are intact. She sits in 60-75 feet of water.

The State of Michigan
For more information, go the the West Michigan Underwater Preserve site at http://www.wmup.org/home







Thursday, August 16, 2012

Slideshow of underwater photos from scuba diving in Cozumel, Mexico (It's working)

It's working now!

I forgot to mention that some of my underwater photographs from my recent diving trip to Cozumel, Mexico are now online.
Unfortuntely, I cannot place a slideshow on my blog, but it is available for viewing on our Macomb Daily website by clicking on this link http://www.macombdaily.com/apps/pbcs.dll/tngallery?Site=MD&Date=20120720&Category=LIFE01&ArtNo=720009998&Ref=PH

I'm still fairly new to underwater photography, but I've got some decent shots, including several octopi from a night dive.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

"The Search for the Westmoreland" book now on sale

Shipwreck hunter Ross Richardson, featured several times on this blog, has informed me about the launch of his new book, "The Search for the Westmoreland, Lake Michigan's Treasure Shipwreck."
The book is now available for purchase.
Richardson discovered the Westmoreland, one of the Great Lakes' most famous shipwrecks, in 2010. Here is the link to my story and interview with him on that topic. http://donsdiverdown.blogspot.com/2012_05_01_archive.html
Richardson is launching his new book Saturday, Aug. 25 at the historic Garden Theater in Frankfort, MI.
RICHARDSON
Underwater shipwreck footage, some never before seen publically, and historical images will be playing on a big movie screen throughout the evening. Richardson has also informed me in the past that GPS coordinates for the wreck are also published in the book.
Book readings will be performed at 4:15 p.m. and 5:15 p.m., and there will be a presentation at 6 p.m.
The event is open to the public.
From what I know of Ross, he is a big history buff. So, in addition to his own search, I'm guessing the book will be full of information about previous expeditions to find the Westmoreland and some of the crazy legends that have accompanied the legacy of the ship.
The book is published by Arbutus Press and can be purchased through Richardson's website, www.michiganmysteries.com using Pay Pal.

The book is also available through Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Horizon Books in Traverse City, Petoskey and Cadillac, MI, along with some smaller bookstores. Electronic versions for Kindle and Nook will be available in the next couple of weeks. Cost of the book through Richardson's website is $19.95, plus $6 for shipping and handling.

Friday, July 20, 2012

So far away, but still close to home; meeting men from Michigan in Cozumel

I never cease to be amazed by the truly small world we live in.
All of my five trips to Cozumel to scuba dive have been solo trips. I have a deal with my wife, who is Latin, that if she flies off to see her mother, I get to go diving. While the diving is always fantastic, my topside time can get a little lonely until I start making connections with other travelers on the island.
This year, things were never lonely since I met a friendly father and son pair on our first day of diving.
Minutes after I said good morning to Jeff Bullis aboard our Dive With Martin dive boat, I discovered we had much in common.
We are both from Michigan. They are from Kalamazoo.
He grew up in Rochester Hills, the city bordering Shelby Township, which is where I live.
And they were staying at the Casa Mexicana hotel, just as I was, and they were on the same floor, only three doors down!
What are the odds of that?
It turns out that Tim, Jeff's youngest son, had purchased the diving trip for his dad for Father's Day. Pretty nice gift if you ask me. Their presence made my trip even more fun since I had a couple of guys to hang out with. They arrived on the same day and would be leaving on the same day. We had dinner a couple of nights together and walked around the city of San Miguel, the largest (really the only) city in Cozumel. We dived two of our three days together (they missed the pilot whales) and did a night dive together.
Here is my interview with Jeff and Tim as we prepared for our night dive:

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Chasing pilot whales in Cozumel

As promised, here is some video of our dive boat chasing short-finned pilot whales on Friday, July 13 after a great set of morning dives in Cozumel, Mexico.
Many thanks to Wayne LeJeune, who captured the pilot whales on video. Wayne happened to have his underwater video camera nearby and recorded this chance encounter. My previous post contains video of the LeJeune family commenting about our fantastic experience. It also contains some facts that I dug up about pilot whales.
Also, many thanks to the captain and crew of our Dive With Martin dive boat. They went out of their way and no doubt burned up extra liters of fuel so that all aboard could enjoy this close encounter.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Family discusses pilot whales sighting in Cozumel

As I mentioned a couple of days ago, one of the highlights of my recent scuba diving trip to Cozumel, Mexico, was running into a pod of pilot whales at the conclusion of morning diving.
One of my dive buddies on the trip, Wayne LeJeune of Lafayette, Louisiana, shot video of the whales swimming alongside, underneath and around our dive boat and surfacing for air.
Wayne promises to send his video to me shortly, and when he does, I will post it here.
I interviewed Wayne, his wife, Lisa, and his daughter Jessica about our unique sighting shortly after we were dropped off at the pier. All of us were still tingling with excitement.
As it turns out, my video was somewhat corrupted, so I was unable to do much editing, but I was still able to piece something together. You can feel the excitement of the sighting on the faces of the LeJeune family. Here is that video:
After doing some research online, I've come to the conclusion that what we saw were short-finned pilot whales. According to the website www.cms.int/index.html, a Convention on Migratory Species website, there is also a long-finned pilot whale species, but they generally stick to colder waters. According to Wikipedia, pilot whales are among the largest of the oceanic dolphins, exceeded in size only by the killer whale. Pilot whales are primarily squid eaters, but will feed on fish as well. They are also highly social and studies suggest that both males and females remain in their mothers’ pods, an unusual trait among mammals, also found in certain killer whale communities. Short-finned pilot whales are also one of the few mammal species where females go through menopause and post-reproductive females may contribute to the survival of younger members of their pods.
Both species live in groups of 10-30 but some groups may number 100 or more. According to the CMS website, short-finned pilot whales appear to be generally nomadic, with no fixed migrations, but some north-south movements are related to prey movemens or incursions of warm water.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

My interview from Cozumel, Mexico, with Dive With Martin dive master

Unfortunately, I am back home from another fantastic trip to Cozumel, Mexico, one of the top dive destinations on earth.
Today, I've posted an interview I did with Miguel Estrella, a dive master with Dive With Martin in Coz.
I've done about 50+ dives in Cozumel and a large chunk of them were with with Miguel, an extremely nice man and an excellent dive master.
He has been a dive master in Cozumel for 28 years, the last 5-6 years with Dive With Martin.
We did this interview on a surface interval between dives on Saturday, July 14. Miguel also shot underwater video of a couple of our dives that day. He plans on getting me a copy of those dives in the next couple of weeks. Come on Miguel, I'm counting on you! Here is the interview:

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Last dives in Coz

I did my final dives in Cozumel yesterday.
I requested Columbia Deep, but because of the currents and poor visibility, we did Palancar Horseshoe again. Our second dive was Cedral. The current was ripping so fast it was like being on a highway. Viz was about as poor as it gets in Coz with sand filling the water column.
I will be providing more details later, but for now, I´ve to catch the flight home.
Hopefully, I will be providing some good pics, video and interviews from my wonderful time spent in this diving mecca.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Night dive in Cozumel

Friday night I did my third ever night dive in Cozumel.
Night dives are a whole different ballgame for average divers. You are really relying on your skills as a diver and your ability to control your buoyancy since your eyesight is minimalized.
The greatest joy resulting from a night dive is the whole new set of animals that come out of hiding when the sun goes down. The greatest misfortune is getting slammed into by other divers who don´t see you or don´t care and simply have to get to whatever object has been spotted before anyone else does.
On my first night dive years ago, a woman came by in a big hurry and drove me into the reef with such force that I became a human sandblaster for several seconds. She neither stopped to apologize nor change her course. She had to get there first. When I came up from the dive, I had algae all down the side of my BC.
But on to more pleasant subjects.
Night dives always get my heart racing because, well, it´s dark, but also because of the chance of seeing one of my dive favorites, the octopus. Octopi are so graceful and elegant. When they move across the face of a crevice-filled reef head, they look like liquid spilling across the surface. Just beautiful. Plus, they change colors as they try to camouflage themselves from potential predators, in this case, the divers.
Our night dive on Paradise Reef lasted about an hour in about 40 feet of water. Paradise is a beautiful reef day or night and is perfect for new divers to get a taste of the Caribbean. Though not a new diver, I tried something new on this dive. I had my camera strapped to my right wrist and my night light strapped to my left wrist. Talk about multitasking. Trying to control my buoyancy and equalize with all that stuff floating off my arms was a little bit of a job. Plus the straps inevitably found away to curl around my hoses.
The dive started out slowly, a couple of stingrays, some enormous crabs and some lobsters. I found a moray eel curled up in his nighttime home, and another one scooting across the sea bottom before finding a new hiding place. About 35 minutes went by, and no octopi. Then, suddenly, our DM found one. Several searchlights trained on the octo. It was not happy. It went from white to brown to white again. It stopped, flared out its arms. It moved quickly and flared them again. Then another diver moved in with gloves (frowned upon in Coz) and started tormenting the octo. I moved on. Then we found the sweet spot. A second octopi, a third, a fourth and a fifth. Really, really cool. One or two would have been worth the price of admission for me, but to see five of them, to observe them from about two feet away was really spectacular. Caribbean octopi are not very big, but they move and act just like larger ocean octopi.
I listened for the sound of croaking from the splendid toadfish, and ugly fish made beautiful by its blue and yellow color. They are indigenous only to Cozumel and are quite a find for photographers. I´ve spotted them before and posted them on this blog. Unfortunately, no luck on this dive. I´m also waiting to see my first squid on a Coz night dive. Maybe some day. Regardless, the five octopi made my night.
Just before surfacing, I located a spotted drumfish, another great find for photographers. For whatever reason, my search light made it start going in circles. I tried to get a pic, but couldn´t get in the proper position. I did get several shots of the octos, but they look a little overexposed. I´m really new to underwater photography and need some practice. But many thanks go out to Bruno´s Dive Shop in Clinton Township, Mich. for letting my borrow the camera. I´ll see if I can Photoshop some decent pics when I get home.
Next, my final two dives in Cozumel.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Jackpot diving day in Cozumel

Amazing, incredible, awesome diving this morning in Cozumel! There are so many things to write about that I don´t know where to begin. So I won´t save the best for last, I will make it first.
After completing two awesome dives, we piled into the dive boat for the long ride home. In front of us we saw several boats in a circle, and inside their circle was a circle of snorkelers. Was someone hurt? No, everyone was watching a pod of pilot whales!
We quickly joined in the fun and began chasing them.Soon, we were surrounded by pilot whales. They were swimming alongside the boat, under the boat and surfacing all around us. I was tingling with excitement! The dive boat captain, perched about eight feet above us, could follow the whales and announced where the next one might be surfacing. It was a sight to see. Six divers and three crew members from the Dive With Martin dive shop jumping up and down and screaming whenever we saw one about to surface. They looked like dolphins to me, but our dive master, David, said they were pilot whales, which look similar but are a little bigger. David said that normally pilot whales swim away from passing boats, but today, for some reason, they decided to play with us! And all on Friday the 13th! The family that I dove with today, Wayne, Lisa and their daughter Jessica from Louisiana, shot video of the whale pod, and Wayne promises to send me the video. Wayne, I will hold you to it and look forward to seeing it! I started to scramble for my Flip video camera, but it was already wrapped up in my dry bag, and to search for it would have meant I might miss the whales. I was too excited to avert my attention from the whales. To see the dive crew so excited about the whales told me that this was a rare sight to see. I feel very lucky to have seen it, and I am still tingling an hour after the event.
Our first dive today was on Palancar Bricks, one of four dive sites on the Palancar Reef. This segment is named Bricks because a ship hauling bricks to build houses on the island was lost in a storm. As the boat was sinking, those aboard started dumping bricks off the boat in an attempt to save the boat. But it didn´t matter. The craft when down anyway. I asked David if this is where a diver can see COZUMEL spelled out in bricks on the bottom is the sea. He said it was the place, I did not see it on the dive. I was also introduced to an 89-year-old diver from Utah. What an inspiration! He walked to the dive boat with two canes but was like a fish in the water. I sure hope I can still dive when I´m his age. I thought he was the grandfather of one of the dive masters at first, so I told him that he speaks wonderful English.
¨I should because I was born and raised in Utah,¨ he told me. Boy did I feel like an idiot.
¨Wait until I tell me wife this one,¨ he joked.
Our dive lasted about 50 minutes, with a max depth of 90 feet. Once again, as is the case with many deep Coz dives, 10-story plus coral reef walls full of a variety of colorful species of coral stand as giant intimidating monoliths that can only be looked upon with awe. We did a variety of swimthroughs and saw more lobster the size of small dogs. I also saw my first lionfish of the tip, three of them unfortunately. While the first one we saw was quite large, the second one was a baby, the size of a silver dollar or smaller. Dive master Lucio held it in the palm of his hand and showed it to me. At that size they are not yet dangerous. And was discussed in my previous entry, they are not indigenous to Coz and are not welcome. Lucio begin hitting the lionfish with a metal clip-on in an attempt to kill it. When the lionfish grew dazed, it fell out of Lucio´s hand and he couldn´t find it. Suddenly, it reappeared, and a fish swam up and ate it! That was good to see. Lionfish have no natural predators in the Caribbean, but it appears some are getting a taste for them, at least while they are still small. DM David reported that while lionfish have become a real problem for Coz in the last couple of years, the local government has been allowing liberal spearing of the fish in an attempt to eradicate them. He said that appears to be working since there are less sightings of them. But they spawn every four days and thousands of eggs, so the job is far from over.
Our second dive was on Delila reef, one of my favorites thanks to its color and multitude of pelagic life. We spent 56 minutes on the reef with a max depth of 58 feet. And the dive didn´t disappoint! Right off the bat, a stingray, a little larger than a dinner plate, swam by in front of me. Moments later, I saw my first nurse shark of the trip, a large specimen which I could see the tail from one hole in the coral and its head in another hole.I tried getting pics of both. An array of beautiful reef fish coated the top of the formation. Just a feast for the eyes. After seeing more giant lobster, I saw my first moray eel of the trip, spotted by Lucio´s keen eye. It was a little fella, hiding in a hole in the coral. He let me get up real close and take a picture. Thanks bud. Two more nurse sharks swam by my path and a hawksbill turtle. As we started our ascent, I pointed out another large nurse swimming below and alerted Wayne and Lucio. It was a great way to end the dive, which would have been the highlight of the day if not for the pilot whales.
Tonight, the K-zoo boys, Jeff and Tim, and I have lined up a night dive. Those are always exciting because a whole new array of wildlife emerges at nighttime. I will have that report for you tomorrow afternoon.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

First day of diving in Cozumel

Up at 6 a.m. And I´m on vacation! Fortunately, it´s 7 a.m. for my body clock, but still.
Anyway, this morning was my first Caribbean diving in three years. It is great to be back. This morning was overcast and not too hot as I took my 20 minute walk along the seaboard to get to the diving pier where Dive With Martin will pick me up. This is my fourth trip to Cozumel and my fourth time with Dive With Martin. They are a very professional group and the prices are reasonable. They are always among the first dive boats on the water. We dove with Miguel, a dive master I´ve dove with before. He is a nice gentle man and an excellent dive leader. We also dove with Pasquel, a DM I´d never met. Our large group of nine would have two DMs.
On board, I met a father and son pair who hail from Kalamazoo, Michigan. So right off the bat I´m hanging with fellow Michiganders! Then I find out they are staying at the same hotel, Casa Mexicana, and are only five doors down! Small world. Looks like I´ve got some guys to hang out with.
Our first dive is on Palancar Horseshoe. It is one of several reef areas with Palancar as its first name. According to my dive log, I first dove this part of the reef in 2007, and I saw an 8-10 foot black tip shark. I still see that image in my minds eye ... turning the corner around a coral head and seeing the black tip in the distance about 30 feet out. The dive master instantly pointed with enthusiasm as the black tip slowly swam around the coral head, not a care in the world. That was awesome.
Today, no such luck. But the water was beautiful as always with about 100 feet of visibility. It is great to see how much the reefs have recovered since my last trip.There is plenty of new delicate fans and tubes and pot (is that the right name?) coral. Much of the sand from the major hurricane in 2006  or 2007 seems to be washed away.
Unfortunately, I didn´t see many large animals. We did see on hawksbill turtle, which seemed to be chasing after Tim, one of the guys from K-Zoo. There were also a couple of lobster and groupers. In recent years, Cozumel has been invaded by lionfish. But I didn´t see any on this dive. That is a good sign. But I´m bummed because I didn´t see any nurse sharks. The turtles are my favorite, but the nurse sharks are a close second.
We went to a depth of 90 feet with about 50 minutes of bottom time. I was a little nervous for my first salt water dive in three years, but when I saw that a couple of my fellow divers were more inexperienced than me I felt much better. I was one of the more experienced divers and very comfortable in my favorite dive destination again.
Our second dive was on La Francesa with a max depth of 60 feet and one hour of bottom time. I also dove this reef in 2007, but with a recorded depth of 100 feet, so perhaps it was a different section. For this dive, the current was really ripping. I felt like I was on a freeway. Cozumel is exclusively drift diving, meaning the current carries you across the reef. On the positive side, that means very little finning is required and you don´t have to work very hard to move. That means you use less energy, use less air and can have more bottom time. The down side is you move very rapidly across the reef and really have to keep a sharp eye out for critters. And if you see something and you want to swim back to get a closer look, that ´upstream´ movement takes a lot of energy and burns a lot of air. I saw two more turtles traveling together and it was funny to watch them battle the current. When the natives are struggling to maintain their direction, you know it´s ripping. I saw a couple more lobsters and three large black groupers.
Pasquel chased after a small fish that is very popular with photographers, but I was too far away from him to cut across the current and follow him. I asked him the name of the fish, but I forgot what he said it was. The first part of its name was an animal ... monkey? I can´t remember. If I see him again, I will ask him. As he, another couple and I were bobbing in the water, the last ones to be picked up, we all marveled at the current and how it would slow down and then speed up again. Sometimes, it even starts going the opposite direction! But not today.
No afternoon dive today, but the K-zoo boys and I are trying to scurry up some people for a night dive.
BTW, hopefully I will be posting some photos and video along the way. I might be able to post some pics, but the video will have to wait until I get home.
Check in next time for the result of my night dive or tomorrow´s diving. If you have any questions or comments, don´t hesitate to ask or comment.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I landed in Coz and saved some $$

I arrived in Coz Wednesday afternoon at about 130 local time. It´s good to be back. I dove in Coz for three consecutive years, the last time coming in 2009. At that time, the swine flu was at its peak, and the island was practically deserted. Today, everything looks back to normal with lots of tourists.
Today, for the first time, I did the ¨bag drag¨to the main road after processing through customs at the airport. In years past, I would pre-purchase ground transportation along with my hotel and airfare.
Now that I am a Coz veteran, I decided to wing it and grab a cab when I got here. Airport officials don´t let the taxis near the airport so that they can rake it the ground transportation dollars. Today, I met a nice family from Indiana in customs and we all ¨bag dragged¨to the main road. It only took a couple of minutes. The temp was about 80, but overcast and not too bad. The end result? A $5 taxi ride that was quick and painless. Ground transportation costs about $30 (roundtrip) depending upon where your hotel is on the island. And, you have to wait in the ground trans van forever until they have collected all of their fares. After six hours worth of travel, you just want to get to your hotel, clean up and relax. So, I´m already feeling good and looking forward to my first set of dives tomorrow. And I have a couple of extra bucks for a few more cervasas! Sorry, no dictionary. I can´t remember how to spell it, only how to ask for it and drink it!
I will update you Thursday. I´m getting excited.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Heading to Cozumel!

I am heading to Cozumel on Wednesday for three days of diving! I plan on providing a daily blog of my activities, including detailed descriptions of my dives. I also hope to take some underwater shots of the wildlife and maybe some video as well.
Stay tuned.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Michigan's mysterious treasure ship, the Westmoreland, found after 156 years

Scuba diver and shipwreck hunter Ross Richardson calls his discovery of the wreck of the Westmoreland in 2010 “providential.” How else could he describe it after about a dozen attempts had been made to find the wreck since it sunk in a terrible storm in December 1854 near the Manitou Islands, north of Traverse City in Lake Michigan?
Of course, advances in diving and sonar technology certainly give Richardson advantages over all of the expeditions before him, but ending up in the right place at the right time and dogged efforts to find the wreck certainly helped his cause.


Richardson began researching the Westmoreland in 2003. It wasn’t long after Richardson moved to the Lake Ann area in 2008 before he convinced his family that it needed a boat for “recreational purposes.” Richardson had once searched for the wreck with another expedition in 2006 and became fixated by the Westmoreland. Now he was living in the back yard of where the ship had gone down and he began diving for the wreck in 2009. Soon, his boat became a search vessel and Richardson purchased side-scan sonar equipment that cost almost as much as the boat. About a year after purchasing the boat and the sonar equipment, he discovered the wreck.
“I think the story just intrigued me: Treasure, whiskey, hardhat diving, all those cool elements were in the story,” Richardson said. “So I really started researching that, not even thinking that someday I would actually find it.”
According to accounts developed after the sinking of the Westmoreland, the ship was carrying $100,000 in gold coins (valued today at somewhere between $5 million-$25 million) and was loaded with barrels of premium quality whiskey and brandy.
Seventeen people went down with the ship, 15 when a lifeboat caught on a davit and flipped as the ship was sinking, and two more died as a lifeboat got caught in huge waves close to shore. Seventeen people survived.
 I’ve also recently read in a book titled “Grand Traverse: The Civil War Era,” by John C. Mitchell, that indicates the Westmoreland was also carrying dozens of water-tight barrels of flour, which popped up to the surface during the sinking and ended up along the shoreline of Lake Michigan, helping early settlers survive the brutal oncoming winter.
In large part because of the alleged valuable cargo, expeditions to find the ship started in 1872. After the turn of the century, expeditions continued in the 1930s, 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and the early part of the 21st century. Each of them came up with stories, including an 1851 penny found on the deck of some wreck in a 1936 expedition, but none came up with conclusive proof that they had found the mysterious Westmoreland.
That’s until Richardson came along in 2010.
On the morning of July 10, Richardson was beginning his third of two-mile runs, each about 100 yards apart, when he passed over what was unmistakably a shipwreck. He crossed over the area several times in an attempt to gain better sonar images and discovered what appeared to be an intact ship that looked very similar to the construction style of the Westmoreland. It was lying in about 200 feet of water in a hole between two large underwater hills near Sleeping Bear Dunes. He was by himself, but immediately called Jim Sawtelle, a previous searcher who carried out an expedition in 1957. Richardson had been in regular contact with Sawtelle in the years previous sharing information, so Ross wanted to share the discovery with him.
Now Richardson had to decide what to do next. He didn’t want to tell too many people and decided to dive the wreck by himself, a dangerous task in 200 feet of water. So, he headed out with his brother, grappled the boat and descended by himself. It would be his deepest solo dive ever. And to add to the circumstances, he decided to videotape the dive as well.
“I was never really fist-pumping. I never really got excited that way. I was more nervous, like what’s the next step,” he said. “So I decided to dive it alone.”
As the ship began to take shape beneath Richardson as he descended on his grappling line, he became the first person to lay eyes on the ship since she had sunk to the bottom of Lake Michigan 10 years before President Abraham Lincoln was assassinated.


As for the gold, the pilot house, where the ship’s safe was located, was blown off as the ship sunk and has presumably never been found. Richardson admits he will continue searching for the pilothouse and the gold coins.
“I haven’t gotten rich off of this. I don’t have a gold-plated car in the parking lot. I drive a Saturn,” he said.
The whiskey, which if intact could be worth millions of dollars, was unable to be seen since the hold was collapsed under the weight of decks above it. Richardson discovered an access hole into the hold but with virtually no room to move within it.
“I wouldn’t go in there. I don’t need a drink that badly,” Richardson quipped.
Richardson also said it’s very possible that the remains of the victims of the sinking are on or around the ship but that looking for them was “not his thing.”
“I’m more of a preservationist, and more into the history. I’m not a treasure hunter, it just happened that the legend is this ship was carrying gold,” Richardson said.
“But it’s a great story and a great find. I feel privileged and humbled to be able to claim that I found it and share everyone else’s stories and the legend. It’s a great local legend for the northern Michigan region,” he added. “So I’m glad that it was me that found it so I could tell the stories as opposed to a treasure hunter.”
Richardson has refused to divulge the location of the Westmoreland, but he will be publishing a book this summer about the discovery called, “The Search for the Westmoreland: Lake Michigan’s Treasure Shipwreck” published by Arbutus Press. GPS coordinates will be in the book.
Here is my interview with Ross Richardson regarding his discovery of the Westmoreland from a presentation he gave at the Dossin Great Lakes Museum. The second video is a portion of Richardson’s maiden dive to the Westmoreland.
Learn more about Ross and his discoveries at his website www.michiganmysteries.com

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

The loss of the Fred McBrier as told by diver Tony Gramer

One of my favorite parts of diving shipwrecks is the clues left behind from the ship’s final moments.
Quite often you will see the ship “as is,” meaning exactly how it was topside in the frantic minutes before succumbing. Of course, the impact of the vessel hitting bottom and the course of time will break up the ship, but many of those “as is” clues will remain.
That is what intrigued me the most while listening to diver Tony Gramer describing the loss of the steamer Fred McBrier, which sunk in just seven minutes after being struck midship by another vessel in 1890 in a thick fog.
The McBrier sits in 89 to 104 feet of water in the Straits of Mackinac, about nine miles west of the Mackinac Bridge.

The ship is upright and the rudder is hard a-starboard, and the throttle was set at a very low speed. That means the ship was moving cautiously in conditions with poor visibility when it tried at the last minute to swerve out of the way of the oncoming ship. That moment in time is forever preserved at the bottom of Lake Michigan, where both the rudder and the throttle remain in those same positions.
That night in October 1890, the Fred McBrier was loaded with iron ore, towing two schooner barges. She, along with the larger propeller, the Progress, had exchanged fog horn signals, but the signals were misinterpreted. Moments later, the much larger Progress emerged from the thick soup and plowed into the Fred McBrier enbedding itself about midship portside. At that time, the Progress was stuck into the McBrier and stayed there until all of the crew got off safely. When the Progress pulled back and away from the McBrier, the latter sunk in three minutes.
Gramer first dove the wreck in 1979. At that time, visibility was so poor, he could hardly see his hand in front of his face. He dove it again in 1986 – same thing. Then, he dove it again in 2011 and, thanks to zebra mussels, the visibility was 50-60 feet.
Here is my interview with Tony Gramer regarding the Fred McBrier at The Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dossin Maritime Symposium today at Belle Isle

I went to the Dossin Maritime Symposium today at Belle Isle. I had a great time and will be bringing you stories and video from that event next week.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Great Lakes history is revealed in its ancient shorelines, reefs and lake levels

The state of Michigan has a rich geological history.
And the evidence of that history is still all around us. In many cases, all we need to do is look below our feet.
Or, in many cases, in the water below our feet.
Luke Clyburn, a United States Merchant Marine Captain operating the research/training vessel, the Pride of Michigan, admits he sailed the Great Lakes for years without giving second thought to what might lie below. Now, as president of the Noble Odyssey Foundation, which brings scientists and young people together to document underwater research projects, he leads efforts to document understanding of Great Lakes science and history.
“The Great Lakes cover up the history for this part of the world,” Clyburn said. “It’s underneath our shorelines that we’ll find out what happened 7,000 years ago.
“For years, I travelled the Great Lakes without giving thought to the fact that the lake levels could have been different. Once I realized that the changes were there, I really started looking and realized that there is so much that is yet to be discovered.”


At one time, before glaciers moved into the area and melted, the lakes were much, much shallower. As a result, those ancient shorelines are now several miles out into the lake. That results in the strange phenomena of seeing tree stumps sitting deep on the bottom of the lake. Many of those stumps are nearly 8,000 years old, leftovers from a region that looked nothing like it does today.
“A lot of people swim right over a tree stump and it never means a thing to them,” Clyburn added. “Until all a sudden there is a purpose for the tree stump being there, and they say, ‘Wow, this is pretty neat.’ ”
I have an interest in another part of the Great Lakes ancient history – its ancient reefs. Long before any animals even walked on land, what is now Michigan was covered by a shallow saltwater sea. Close to my parent’s retirement home in the south-central part of the Upper Peninsula, I have discovered hundreds of fossilized corals imbedded in the limestone shores of Lake Michigan. Nowadays, whenever I visit my parents, I head to that same shoreline looking for and photographing those coral fossils. But for years, just like Clyburn and his maritime travels, I walked over these fossils without even giving a second thought.
Here is my interview with Clyburn regarding Michigan’s ancient shorelines.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Adaptive scuba and kayaking returns to Eastern Michigan University

Adaptive water sports instruction (scuba and kayaking) return to the greater Detroit area on Sunday, April 15 at the Michael Jones pool facility of Eastern Michigan University in Ypsilanti. The event will be held from 10 am to 3 pm and invites anyone with a physical challenge to come and try.  First Dive (scuba) and First Paddle (kayaking) are programs of the Orthotic & Prosthetic Activities Foundation and offer an introduction to the world of adaptive recreation across the country with First Clinics. Local hosts for this First Dive and First Paddle Clinic are Becker Orthopedic of Troy, Ropp Orthopedic Clinic in Commerce Township and SOAR – Special Opportunities for Advanced Rehabilitation, a non for profit support group in the greater Detroit area. There is NO CHARGE for First Dive or First Paddle, but participants need to register.  For more information and to register, please contact Emily Irvine at 248-766-8150 or eirvine@emich.edu or Joe Cloutier at Huron Scuba at 734-994-3483.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Artist's rendering of the attempt to find survivors of the wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald

This week, I received an email from Doris Sampson, an artist/photographer from Duluth, Minn., who read my stories about Capt. Donald Erickson and his subsequent passing. As you may recall, Capt. Erickson and his crew of the William Clay Ford were the first responders to the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald.
Sampson told me she believes she is the only person to accurately paint the search for the Fitzgerald, which was conducted by the William Clay Ford and the Arthur Anderson.
Here is a portion of the story Sampson told me.
After interviewing Capt. Erickson at the Dossin Marine Museum, (in Detroit) in the William Clay Ford pilot house, on March 15, 1999, in September she proceeded to do the painting based on Don's personal description of the night.
Doris Sampson's artwork.

She then met with Don in Toledo on the way to Dayton, Ohio, in April, 2000, to have the painting printed into a limited edition; and he confirmed that everything in the painting was accurate.
On the return trip, she met with him again on April 10 at the Old Mariners' Church in Detroit, where they both signed the Artist Proof Series of the edition.
“He will be sorely missed because of what a wonderful person he was, and because of his willing contributions to Great Lakes freighter history in the sharing of his story to many, including myself,” Sampson said.
On this page your will see a couple of Doris Sampson’s photographs of the painting and of Capt. Erickson signing the painting.
Capt. Donald Erickson and Doris Sampson signing the Artist Proof Series of the illustration.

Doris Sampson’s other work can be viewed at dorissampson-lenscanvas.smugmug.com

Friday, March 30, 2012

Researchers try to save the lake sturgeon from extinction

The lake sturgeon has been around since the age of the dinosaurs. They did the one thing dinosaurs couldn’t do: They adapted, and they survived.
But, leave it to mankind push one of nature’s oldest creatures to the verge of extinction.
Count Kathy Johnson among those who are trying to bring the lake sturgeon back from near extinction through research and education of the public.
For more than 30 years, Kathy Johnson, along with her partner, Greg Lashbrook,  have worked with scuba certification classes, on search & rescue operations, for commercial hardhat companies and assisted researchers across the Great Lakes basin. Their work with U.S. Fish and Wildlife, Departments of Natural Resources and Fishes & Oceans Canada, among other organizations, has established them as Great Lakes marine life experts.
For the last several years, the pair has focused much of its efforts on saving the lake sturgeon, which is currently classified as an endangered species. Their efforts began after they received a call from the Department of Natural Resources fisheries office in Harrison Township, MI., to ask if they would like to be involved in the project. The DNR had located where the lake sturgeon were spawning, but they needed someone, i.e. scuba divers, to get into the water and find fertilized eggs.
“We didn’t even know what a sturgeon egg looked like,” Johnson said. “So we said, ‘Great, we’re willing, but what are we looking for?’ ”
That initial study was followed by a grant, which allowed researchers to mount a camera in the water for a month to document spawning activity.

What is now known is that the Algonac area of the St. Clair River has the largest area of free range sturgeon population in the Great Lakes basin. Other areas, such as Black Lake, located in the northeast portion of the Lower Peninsula, are land locked and  the sturgeon there are unable to move freely through the basin.
Sturgeons are most vulnerable in the spring when they spawn in shallow rivers and tributaries and can literally be hand-plucked out of the water and stripped of their caviar. The young sturgeon are then subject to predators for about six months, or the fall season, when they swim away from their nesting grounds. Adult sturgeon can grow to 6-8 feet long, weigh 200 pounds and live for 100 years. After travelling for thousands of miles, they return to the exact location they were born every 3-4 years to spawn.
Lake sturgeon are also a valuable barometer on the health of a watershed because they are what is called a “keystone” species. They are given that title because they are the largest animal in the water column yet they are bottom feeders and feed on the smallest organisms in the water column. Thus, the existence of a healthy keystone species like the lake sturgeon in a particular watershed means the entire watershed is healthy.
Johnson said scuba divers can assist in the recovery of the lake sturgeon by working with researchers who need volunteers trained to dive. Divers and other volunteers can also protect the riverbanks during spawning season to prevent poaching.
In 2011, Kathy and Greg released a new full length documentary titled “Manistee NmĂ©, a Lake Sturgeon Success Story,” about the relationship between the Little River Band of Ottawa Indians in Manistee, MI and the lake sturgeon. The DVD explores not only the spiritual bond between the people and the sturgeon, but also how researchers were able study the lake sturgeon in the area while also being sensitive to the needs of the Indian tribe.
The video is available, for free, by going to www.lrboi-nsn.gov/nrd or www.GregoryAD.com In addition, here is the website for the St. Clair-Detroit River chapter of Sturgeon for Tomorrow: www.stclairsturgeon.org/page-index.html
Here is my video interview with Kathy Johnson on efforts to saving the lake sturgeon and how divers can help in the effort.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Shipwreck hunter discusses wrecks he found in 2011, and how technology may close the book on wreck hunting in the Great Lakes

Ross Richardson has spent the last decade searching for and documenting shipwrecks off the coast of west Michigan.His hobby has been made much easier with recent advancements in side-scan sonar technology.
But that technology, Richardson fears, may, 10 years from now, render his hobby obsolete.
The Lake Ann resident discovered three still unidentified wrecks off Sleeping Bear Point, near the Sleeping Bear Dunes in 2011. They were all discovered about one-half mile from each other in 12-20 feet of water fairly close to the shoreline. He believes the wrecks were recently uncovered due to shifting sands in the area that were uncovered during a storm, and he happened to be in the right place at the right time. Sleeping Bear Point is subject to numerous landslides, which probably helped bury the wrecks for years. He believes they all wrecked in the area sometime in the 1850s to the 1890s.

Richardson has not found any cargo at any of the sites, but because the wrecks are in such shallow water, salvagers probably recovered the cargo a long time ago.
Unfortunately, for Richardson and others like him, shipwreck hunting in the Great Lakes may be an era that is coming to an end. According to Ross, the new sonar technology will make it possible to discover all remaining shipwrecks on the bottom of the lakes within the next 10-15 years. He believes there are still “a couple hundred shipwrecks" in deep water  intact that are still not found.
“In another 10-15 years, there’s going to be no other shipwrecks to go out there and look for. They’re all going to be discovered,” he said.
Here is my video interview with Ross Richardson regarding his discoveries and the end of an era in shipwreck hunting.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Dive shops, dive charters talk about scuba diving in the Great Lakes basin

In addition to the very interesting seminars and speakers, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival is at its core a haven for scuba divers to visit the many booths on display that are manned by scuba diving shops and dive charters from across the state.
In this video clip, I spoke with Michael Lynch, of Bruno’s Dive Shop in Clinton Township, MI and michigandiver.com; Gary Venet, owner of Rec & Tec Dive Charters out of Port Sanilac; and Femia Alberts of Sea-Side in St. Clair Shores about the value of the festival, wreck diving in Lake Huron and some of the fun that comes with river diving in southeastern Michigan.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Capt. Donald Erickson remembers the night his crew tried to find survivors from the Edmund Fitzgerald

(Note: Capt. Erickson passed away March 26. He was 84. It's probably fair to say I was the last person to interview him when we met on Feb. 25, 2012. It was my honor to do so. May he rest in peace. Funeral arrangements were handled by Howe-Peterson Funeral Home in Taylor, Mich. His remains were cremated and as of March 28, there was no funeral service information.)

The night of November 10, 1975, was a night like no other.
If that date doesn’t ring any bells, perhaps referencing Gordon Lightfoot’s greatest hits will do the trick.
That was the night that the Edmund Fitzgerald, the largest ship to ever ply the Great Lakes at the time, went down in a ferocious storm north of Whitefish Bay in Lake Superior.
It is well known that when she went down, she it took all 29 souls aboard with her.
What isn’t as well known is the story of the brave sailors who risked their lives to try to find survivors of the Fitz. After the Coast Guard radioed that contact had been lost with the Fitz and she had gone down, a frantic call was sent out to nearby ships to assist in recovery of anyone who had survived the sinking.
Capt. Don Erickson, who helmed the SS William Clay Ford, was docked at Whitefish Point when the call came in. He and his crew agreed to head out into dangerous waters along with the Arthur M. Anderson to look for survivors. When they arrived at the spot that the Fitzgerald went down, about three hours after contact was lost, all the William Clay Ford saw was two ducks, according to Erickson.
While their search came up empty, the captain and crew of the SS William Clay Ford was presented with many awards for their bravery, including a plaque bestowed upon them by the Great Lakes Maritime Insitute. It reads “On the night of November 10–11, 1975, these men voluntarily left a safe harbor to face the dangers of gale force winds and vicious seas, in the blackness of a storm which had already claimed as a victim the steamer Edmund Fitzgerald, to search for possible survivors of that disaster, exemplifying the finest traditions of the maritime profession."
I had always believed that the Fitz went down because it ended up sitting on two rogue waves at the stem and the stern that lifted the center section off the water. With nothing to support the center, it broke it two. Erickson is convinced the Fitz struck a shoal near Caribou Island which produced a hole in the hull that ultimately led to the sinking.
Here is my interview with Capt. Erickson and his memories from that harrowing night.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Scientists study caribou hunters beneath Lake Huron along the prehistoric Alpena-Amberly land bridge

Nine thousand years ago, travelers heading from Michigan to Canada didn’t have the luxury of the Ambassador Bridge or the Blue Water Bridge or the Windsor Tunnel to get them there.
But those travelers didn’t need those man-made passages either, since there was once a land bridge from what is now Alpena to what is now Ontario.
That’s right. Just after the end of the Ice Age, whose glaciers helped form Michigan’s Great Lakes, a land bridge, called the Alpena- Amberley ridge, was a 72-square mile stretch of land connecting the northestern Lower Peninsula with southwest Ontario. On older nautical charts, the area is labeled as the Six Fathom Shoal, and it once divided the Lake Huron basin into two distinct lakes. The prehistoric Lake Stanley is the forerunner to Lake Huron, while Lake Chippewa is the forerunner to Lake Michigan. Prior to the ice melt, those two lakes did not connect at the Straits of Mackinac like they do today.

The Alpena-Amberly Ridge was a rocky land-bridge subject to bitterly cold weather that served as a migration path for both mastadon and caribou.
All of the conditions would have been right for a caribou hunt along the ridge. Early hunters are known to have hunted caribou in present day Michigan during that time. The region was prime caribou habitat with its open tundra and few trees. And those hunters would have pursued the caribou not only as a  food source, but also to use their thick hides as insulation against the harsh cold. Sharing the same land bridge doesn't necessarily mean the caribou became prey for early hunters, but scientists are beginning to uncover clues that could reveal evidence of hunting blinds, caches or pits, and “drive lanes” that would bring the animals close enough that the hunters could attack with them spears.
Since the summer of 2009, Dr. John O'Shea, curator of Great Lakes Archaeology in the Museum of Anthropology at the University of Michigan, has led a study of the area. His biggest problems? The ridge is now at the bottom of Lake Huron, about 100 feet below the surface and secondly, any potential artifacts are covered with zebra mussels. The good news is that the area remains virtually the way it was. If such an area was on land, it most certainly would have been altered by farmers and ultimately that type of modern development we have today.
Here is my fasinating interview from the Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival with Dr. O’Shea regarding his research on the Alpena-Amberly land ridge.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Detroit Police Department dive team member describes how he found a Revolutionary War-era cannon in the Detroit River last summer

I didn’t ask Detroit Police Sgt. Dean Rademaker if he is a gambler. But with his luck, he might consider dropping down a few bills in Las Vegas.
Last July, Rademaker, part of the police department’s scuba diving team, found a Revolutionary War-era cannon on the bottom of the Detroit River. It was a training dive to get new divers familiar with the river’s fast currents.
Rademaker, who already was part of the dive team that found another cannon in 1994, wasn’t in the water for long before he discovered another amazing part of our region’s history.
The cannon was found in about 6 inches of silt. It is 5.5 feet long and weighs 1,288 pounds.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Detroit Historical Society curator discusses Revolutionary War-era cannon pulled from the Detroit River in 2011

Here is an interview I did with Joel Stone, curator of the Detroit Historical Society at the 31st Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival  regarding discovery of a pre-Revolutionary War cannon found in the Detroit River last summer.

Members of the Detroit Police Department dive team discovered the cannon about 200 feet from Cobo Center in downtown Detroit during a training session in July. It’s the fifth cannon found in the area in three decades. After a couple of failed attempts, the cannon was finally brought to the surface on Oct. 5 by the Detroit Police Underwater Recovery Team.
Stone said the cannon is 5.5 feet in length, with a 3.38-inch bore, molded of solid iron and weighs 1,288 pounds. It carries the crest of King George III.
The cannon is believed to have landed in the river in 1796, but how it got there remains a mystery. It is Stone’s opinion that the cannon was dumped there, since it had outlived its usefulness. He believes the cannon was “blown out,” and since it couldn’t be reforged, it no longer had value.  And dumping it in the river would keep it out of the hands of the Americans.
My next video will feature Sgt. Dean Rademaker, the officer who discovered the cannon.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Shipwreck Festival was a great experience

I had a GREAT time at the Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival on Saturday. It was enjoyable from both a personal and professional standpoint. I met some great people and it was an educational experience as well.
I will be producing several video clips of people that I interviewed at the festival. Look for the first clip on Wednesday. Some of the topics will include: A cannon found in the Detroit River; newly discovered shipwrecks off Sleeping Bear Point; Sharks of the Great Lakes; Caribou Hunters beneath Lake Huron; a chat with the captain of the William Clay Ford, the first responder to the sinking of the Edmund Fitzgerald; a retired teaching couple who have turned into video producers and produced a piece on a Tuskegee airman who crashed into the St. Clair River; the ancient shores of the Great Lakes and more. So stay tuned.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

31th annual Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival set for Saturday, Feb. 25

The 31th annual Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival will take place this weekend, Feb. 25 at Washtenaw Community College.
I will be at the festival, enjoying some of the presentations and hopefully, if all goes to plan, feature several video interviews on this blog starting next Wednesday, Feb. 29.
Here is some information about the festival, courtesy of the festival website.

The Ford Seahorse Scuba Diving Club, in conjunction with the Detroit Historical Society’s Dossin Maritime Group and the Dossin Great Lakes Museum will present the 31st Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival at Washtenaw Community College’s Morris Lawrence Building, 4800 E. Huron River Drive, in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
The programs run from 9am–5pm, featuring a wide variety of sessions on Great Lakes shipwrecks, exotic dive locations from around the world and education/technical sessions. In the Exhibit area, there will be book signings, exhibits from local maritime artists, the Dossin Great Lakes Museum, dive equipment manufacturers, diver charter operations and dive travel agencies. A number of local dive shops will be represented as well as underwater marine sanctuaries, and local quarries.
Shipwrecks are always the theme of this event and this year is no exception. The Festival has three venues, including presentations on Great Lakes shipwrecks, exotic saltwater destinations and Educational/Technical topics.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Divers go to extremes in search of lobster sold to Americans



By Catherine Olian, Jessica Hopper, Michelle Balani and Alissa Figueroa
Rock Center
UPDATED: Off the coast of Honduras, divers are dying in search of what they call "red gold." The treasure they're hunting is the lobster that ends up on many American dinner plates.
"Americans should know that every time they eat the lobster, there is a history behind that lobster," said Dr. Elmer Mejia, who has devoted his life to helping the lobster divers.
Mejia has been treating lobster divers for nearly three years at his clinic in La Ceiba, Honduras. The doctor has the only hyperbaric chamber to treat the men who come to him when they are suffering from decompression sickness, commonly called "the bends."
Thousands of men have become permanently disabled working in the unsafe and poorly regulated lobster industry in Honduras. They spend weeks at a time at sea, making as many as 16  dives a day down to depths of 120 feet.  Their air tanks often don’t even have pressure gauges to warn them when their supply is running low, so the divers bolt to the surface when they suddenly have trouble breathing.  The dangerous combination of staying down too long and coming up too quickly can result in serious decompression sickness and in some cases, paralysis.
"It's incredibly dangerous what they are doing.  They are diving so far beyond anything that we would consider to be within acceptable limits," said Eric Douglas, who writes about diving safety and has studied the Miskito divers along with Dr. Mejia. "They have none of the basic things that divers today would consider mandatory equipment- pressure gauges, alternate air sources, even a buoyancy control vest to help them float underwater without effort."

Sometimes the men ignore their difficulty breathing in an attempt to catch one more lobster.
"They get paid by the pound, so the more lobsters they can get on every one of those dives, the more money they make.  So they're going to push it for every last breath in the tank," said Douglas.
About 90 percent of their catch ends up in the United States, according to the Honduran government.
Dr Mejia works around the clock at his small clinic treating as many divers as he can. He has very little money, but he doesn’t turn any injured diver away, and what he sees is heartbreaking.
"It's very difficult when you see very young people paralyzed from the neck down below and you know that they will not improve," said Dr. Mejia.
Mejia often travels to the Miskito Coast, a remote area about 200 miles from his clinic where most of his patients live. People there have no electricity or running water. There are few other job opportunities and most families have at least one male relative who became disabled diving for lobsters to be exported to the United States.
In a dilapidated one-room house, Wilmur Mauricio Sambola lay dying. He was paralyzed from the chest down while diving for lobster and he was suffering from a severe infection caused by his illness. Mejia had treated Sambola 10 months earlier and knew that his injuries were severe, but he was still shocked to see how rapidly he had deteriorated.
"He was a very strong man, I'm really surprised at his condition at this moment," said Mejia as he leaned over the ailing man.
During his visit, there was little Mejia could do to treat the 31-year-old man except to provide him with pain medication.
Some 4,500 divers throughout the Miskito Coast have suffered from dive-related injuries like Sambola. Those lucky enough to be healed often return to diving.
"We feel very pleased when they improve very quickly at the chamber, but sometimes we are kind of scared because if they improve so quick, so fast, they will think the hyperbaric chamber makes miracles," said Mejia. "So they will go back again diving and the next time can be the last time."
They take the risk for a few hundred dollars for each two week diving trip.  Only the tails of the lobsters they catch are sent to America, and there’s no way the U.S. government, or the consumer, can tell if a lobster tail was caught by a lobster diver.
"Whether they are dive caught or trap caught lobsters, you can't tell, all that we're looking at is the tail," said Agent Paul Raymond of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  There are no laws in the U.S. blocking the import of lobster caught by deep sea divers like the Miskito men.
The Honduran government and regional fishing organizations want to ban lobster diving in 2013, but the divers say they can’t stop because they have no other way to feed their families.
"If we do not provide the job alternatives, stopping the diving will be like killing them," says Dr. Mejia.
There is some hope. USAID just announced that the World Bank is putting together a package of grants and loans for the lobster divers totaling about $775,000. The money is meant to help the Miskito divers develop other ways to make a living, including possibly starting a small artisanal diving industry to catch fish that live in shallow waters, where it’s safe to dive.