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  1. #1

    May 2005
    7,209
    19 times

    GREAT LAKES SHIP HUNTERS SEEKING HISTORY--OR SPOILS

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/n...ck=1&cset=true

    By Sean D. Hamill
    Special to the Tribune
    Published July 17, 2006


    ON LAKE ERIE -- If they were less experienced shipwreck hunters, Mike and Georgann Wachter would have been more wary as they headed out recently into choppy Lake Erie to search for a schooner lost in 1893.

    For decades, Great Lakes ports have been home to "claim jumpers," unscrupulous shipwreck hunters. They follow tireless researchers like the Wachters out to a wreck site--and before the legitimate hunters have verified their find--claim to have been the first to discover it, stealing the glory.

    But after nearly 20 years of searching for sunken ships so they can document history, the husband and wife team have developed ways to deal with such sharks, as they did when they realized they were being followed a couple of years ago.

    To throw off claim jumpers, some shipwreck hunters will go out at night or post fishing poles onboard to make it look like they're anglers. But the Wachters simply drove a fake search pattern, then stopped and dove where they knew there was nothing below but sand.

    "Then we left and watched [from a distance] and laughed as they tried to find what they thought we dived on," Georgann Wachter, a dental assistant, said on the recent outing as the Ohio coast faded into the distance behind their power boat, Figment. "It was priceless."

    Wrecks stripped

    As part of the small but fiercely competitive community of Great Lakes hunters who regularly seek out "virgin" shipwrecks--many 100 to 200 years old--the Wachters know too well what can happen when a claim jumper gets to a wreck.

    "They strip it bare and all that history is lost," said Mike Wachter, 57, a management consultant who, with his wife, has found 15 wrecks on the Great Lakes.

    His lament is an example of the sea change in attitudes of shipwreck hunters. Twenty years or more ago, anyone who managed to find a wreck thought nothing of taking what he or she could as a souvenir.

    "In [shipwreck hunting] circles, I almost can't talk about my experiences from 40 years ago because I get a nasty look, or some say, `You're a wreck rapist,"' said Jim Paskert, 56, of Medina, Ohio, who has hunted shipwrecks on the Great Lakes for four decades.

    "But that's the way it was back then. You filled your garage with enough rusty things [taken from shipwrecks] until your garage was full," he recalls. "Today they'd arrest me for that."

    Laws in Canada and the United States in the late 1970s and 1980s--most initiated by hunters--tried to put a stop to trophy taking, but the practice persists among a minority of hunters.

    Experts believe there are two dozen regular shipwreck hunters on the Great Lakes like the Wachters and Paskert, and perhaps another 100 or so who hunt periodically, and most of them respect a wreck's history.

    But with more shipwreck hunters entering the field and thousands of wrecks yet to be found--anywhere from 5,000 to 11,000 ships, most of them lost on the lakes from 1800 to about 1930--experts fear more needs to be done to protect history.

    "This is the golden age of shipwreck hunting [on the Great Lakes] but it's also the golden age of responsibility, too," said Cris Kohl of West Chicago, Ill., who has written several books on Great Lakes shipwrecks.

    While the older generation of hunters may have been inspired by the Lloyd Bridges' television series "Sea Hunt," which debuted in 1958, and availability of affordable, advanced diving gear, the new generation is inspired by series such as "The Sea Hunters" on the National Geographic Channel, and encouraged by access to new sonar technology.

    The most sophisticated sonar can cost $50,000, but new units, developed for anglers to find fish in water up to 150 feet deep, can be had for $2,000.

    What binds the old and new generations is not the hope of finding doubloons from a Spanish galleon but of uncovering history, even if it's relatively mundane.

    "What you find on the Great Lakes is what built this country [such as limestone, coal or iron ore], not the wealth that was extracted like you find in ocean shipwrecks," said David Trotter, 65, a prolific shipwreck hunter from Canton, Mich.

    But there's a lot of history onboard those undiscovered sunken ships, from the Griffon, the first European ship to sail the Great Lakes that was lost in 1679, to two French minesweepers lost in a storm on Lake Superior in 1919.
    Kohl hopes shipwreck advocacy groups can do more to police sites, and spread the word to new hunters that the wrecks are to be revered, not seen as repositories of free antiques to decorate rec rooms.

    It may be the only hope because, despite the laws, there's little states can do.

    "If someone tells me someone is stripping a ship, I can't go out there. I don't have the resources," said John Halsey, Michigan's state archeologist, who has been battling the destruction of historic shipwreck sites for 30 years.

    Michigan is responsible for more lake bottom than any other state--38,000 square miles--and is the only state with jurisdiction on four of the Great Lakes, all except Lake Ontario.

    As a result, Halsey for years has been trying to persuade hunters to stop hunting for wrecks he can never hope to protect.

    `Root of the problem'

    "It's not so much the finding of a wreck, it's what happens after it's found," he said. "It is their desire to find these things that's at the root of the problem."

    Most divers try to protect the site by not revealing its location, but document its history through photography, hopefully answering questions about what led to the ship's demise.

    That's what drives the Wachters on this day in late June. There are no thieves in sight. So they make full use of their Humminbird 987 C sonar and global positioning system to scan an area of Lake Erie they believe might be the graveyard for the 137-foot schooner Riverside that went down in a storm in 1893. While Mike drives the boat, Georgann watches the sonar.

    They don't find what they're looking for today, but they can eliminate another square-mile area from the grid they think might be home to the Riverside.

    "Maybe next time," Georgann says as they head back to port.

    - - -

    At rest beneath the Great Lakes

    Ships and subs still missing after sinking on the Great Lakes include:

    - Griffon--Lost in 1679 on Lake Michigan or Lake Huron, the boat was built by French explorer Rene-Robert Cavelier Sieur de La Salle.

    - Lodner Phillips' submarine--Lost in 1853 on Lake Erie, this was one of the earliest working submarines. The Indiana shoemaker's vessel was lost while on a salvage effort for the sunken steamship Atlantic.

    - Asia--Lost in 1882 on Lake Huron, the Canadian passenger steamer sunk in a storm with 123 people aboard.

    - Western Reserve--Lost in 1892 on Lake Superior, the steamer went down during a storm. Most people got off the sinking ship, but 31 drowned.

    - Chicora--Lost in 1895 on Lake Michigan, the cargo and passenger steamer sunk in a storm with 23 people onboard.

    - Bannockburn--Lost in 1902 on Lake Superior, the Canadian steamer went down with 20 crew members in a storm. It spurred "ghost ship" sightings over the years by other sailors.

    - Marquette & Bessemer No. 2--Lost in 1909 on Lake Erie, the railcar transport sunk in a storm with 36 men and 32 hopper cars full of coal.

    - Pere Marquette 18--Lost in 1910 on Lake Michigan, the car ferry went down in a storm with 29 people.

    - Inkermann and Cerisoles--Lost in 1919 on Lake Superior, the two French minesweepers went down with all 74 French and Canadian crew members.

    all have a good un....
    SHERMANVILLE ILLINOIS





    In the academies many books, at the circus many sacks of peanuts, at the club rooms many cigar butts.

  2. #2

    May 2006
    Utica,NY
    35
    1 times

    Re: GREAT LAKES SHIP HUNTERS SEEKING HISTORY--OR SPOILS

    according to a book I read years ago there are over 100 ships off the coast of buffalo and rochester area

  3. #3
    hu
    Gypsyheart~ Queen of Rust

    Nov 2005
    Ozarks
    12,689
    46 times

    Re: GREAT LAKES SHIP HUNTERS SEEKING HISTORY--OR SPOILS

    Really great story Sherm,Thanks for sharing!
    I go a great distance,while some are considering whether they will start today or tomorrow

  4. #4
    mx
    Nov 2004
    Alamos,Sonora,Mexico
    10,690
    1469 times

    Re: GREAT LAKES SHIP HUNTERS SEEKING HISTORY--OR SPOILS

    HI, I am curious, how does leaving the well documented cargos etc., remain on the bottom gradually reverting to nature, benefit history or the public.?

    As far as the ships from the late 1700's on, the actual construction and it's equipment is also thoroughly documented? What is to be learned that we don't already know?

    Just a few of the estimated 11,000 wrecks would fill all existing museums to capacity many times over.

    Basically all that I can see is that they are being put into a situation of guaranteeing work security for a small group of public professionals, most of whom have a "fine personal collection " through public funding, which they justify - ? - by writing a paper? They should do as the rest of us do, go to the museum for the study and references, where such collections belong..

    As far as having "a private collection" by public paid employees, I feel that it is a prime case of misappropriation of public property, exactly same as for public funds.

    I believe that no public employee should have "a personal collection" of the very thing that he is hired to produce or protect for the public. It creates a conflict of interest.

    In no-way will 999% of the ships ever be even looked for or investigated in site, through lack of funds, personnel, and actual interest. So this is up to the private investor, who should be given all the help possible, if we are genuinely interested in recovering physical evidence. He has a perfect right to show a profit to his backers for his efforts or there is no justification.

    I do believe that a professional Archaeologist should accompany all serious salvage efforts as part of the crew. He in turn would be responsible to know which are of any use to the Scientific sector and so have it turned over, the investor being compensated of course.

    As far as the individual or hobby diver goes, he/she she certainly cannot remove very much or extensively damage a ship. Naturally he/she would have no need for a professional archaeologist. what little he might remove, would in no way compare to the existing "private collections"

    Soo please clarify the situation for me, I must be missing something? Do I just leave my German WW-2 submarine to disintegrate or do I turn over the information to the appropriate officials, and for what ?

    Tropical Tamp

    P.S. If it was up to the professional sector, the Atocha etc. would still be a legend, an unknown.
    "I exist to live, not live to exist"

 

 

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