Tuesday, October 30, 2012

19th-century shipwreck in lake near Oswego


More than 500 feet below the surface of Lake Ontario, a team of determined shipwreck hunters found the final resting place of a coal schooner that left Oswego 138 years ago only to sink 20 miles out to sea.
The Shannon was discovered by former Greece resident Daniel Scoville and friend Chris Koberstein while looking for another wreck off the shores of Oswego. This is not Scoville's first find. He and his fellow wreck hunters, including Jim Kennard of Perinton, have found more than 20 ships in Lake Ontario and elsewhere over the past decade, but this summer's find, he said, is pretty sweet.
"For me the hobby started as a diving hobby and then it became about "how deep can we go?" He said. "Then we decided that it would be cool to see ships no divers have seen before."
The Shannon was last seen the night of June 20, 1874. A few hours after setting sail to deliver coal to a client in Ganaoque, Canada, water came gushing through a hole in the hull. According to newspaper accounts, the captain ordered the crew to cut down the jib in hopes the Shannon would run over it and blanket the leak to slow the flow of the water.
But the last-ditch effort did not work and with the pumps unable to keep up, the crew jumped safely to a small boat just in time to see the vessel sink.
"They only had one oar, but they paddled all the way back to Oswego," said Scoville.
Scoville and Kobertein searched the waters of Lake Ontario near Oswego for nearly three weeks in June and July using side-scan sonar to identify potential targets on the lake bottom. They also employed a remote operated vehicle (ROV) that can dive to depths of more than 600 feet, equipped with lights video and still cameras.
Scoville, an electrical engineering graduate from the Rochester Institute of Technology, designed and built the small ROV for his underwater adventures as a senior project before his graduation in 2006. He now works for Oceaneering, a Houston company that designs and manufactures deep water ROVs.
"It has gone through some changes over time, but is essentially the same vehicle just made a little nicer," Scoville said. "It has been down in more than 600 feet and it can go down there, unlike diving where you can only be there for a very short amount of time, and with the ROV it flies around down there and I can spend two or three hours on a shipwreck viewing everything and it is all videoed and recorded."
Scoville works with a number of shipwreck hunters. Many of those adventures are with Kennard who has found scores of wrecks on Lake Ontario and other deep bodies of water.
The two men in 2010 found an Erie Canal boat in the mud and sediment of the Oswego River just south of Fulton, Oswego County.
In 2008 they discovered a 200-year-old daggerboard schooner about 10 miles offshore of Oak Orchard, Orleans County. In that same year, they discovered the HMS Ontario, a 22-gun British warship that sank in the lake during a 1780 storm.
Kennard, who was not on the trip this summer with Scoville, speaks to many groups around the Rochester area about his travels and hunts for shipwrecks and he said many people are not aware of Lake Ontario's maritime history.
"All our large commodities were shipped in schooners, so schooners were our trucks 150 years ago," said Kennard. "We look at Lake Ontario today and see pleasure boats and from here we can't see a lot of the lake traffic, but really that was our commodity highway."
For Scoville the fun is in the challenge of scanning the bottom of the lake looking for long forgotten wrecks, sometimes tragic, but always a reflection of the history.
"Lake Ontario has a lot of shipwrecks and they are not all that easy to find and it takes time and effort. So for me it is pretty much, find it, take pictures and tell everybody about it."
For more interesting topics related to archaeology, visit archaeology excavations.

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