The Great Lakes region is right at the origins of the Our World - Underwater Scholarship Society. I met with Joe Hoyt, the 2004 North American Rolex Scholar, in Richmond, Virginia, and we embarked on the 18 hr trip to Alpena, Michigan. Joe is a maritime archaeologist with NOAA, and he invited me to take part in a project they were doing this summer; a live webcast from the bottom of Lake Huron on a shipwreck called Montana. The Montana was a wooden freighter from the late 1800s that burned and sank in Thunder Bay in 1914. Now it sits at about 70 feet below the surface in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary.
I was hosted by Tane Casserley, Joe´s friend and colleague, for the week. Lauren Heesemann was our research coordinator with NOAA. I was amazed by how professional and serious they were when it came to planning the broadcast. We spent both Monday and Tuesday on the research vessel, R/V Storm, preparing for the big day: testing all the equipment, which included divers, an ROV, advanced broadcasting tools, and communication tools. The first day I was on tether cord management - which means I had to make sure the divers, whom I like to call "Team Awesomeness", Joe Hoyt, Tane Casserley, Russ Green and Wayne Lusardi got the wires they needed. Later, I was repositioned to the com box. The com box is basically a black box which controls the divers´ communication with the surface. If that sounds pretty cool, it was.
The team completed 3 live broadcasts. The goal was to let viewers learn how maritime archaeologists document shipwrecks and how they work to preserve them. They use a wide array of tools, everything from slates and pencils to photomosaics. Cathy Green, also a maritime archaeologist, was our reporter, and she was magnificent.
Following the broadcasts, I was cleared by the NOAA administration to dive - it was time for me to get in the water. Nothing could stop me to do some freshwater, drysuit-diving now. Literally. Even rain, wind and a bad case of motion sickness gave its best shot - but the diving was awesome. Even though the visibility is known to be great, the wrecks are breathtaking. The first day we visited the wooden schooner, Lucinda Van Valkenburg, and the Grecian, a steam engined steel bulk carrier. Lauren and I had never dived there before, and we were speachless after ascending. I have never seen such an intact and impressive ship as the Grecian. The cold freshwater acts like a freezer when it comes to preserving the wrecks, and I would recommend this kind of diving to everyone who fancies wreck diving.
On my next dive, I finally saw the Montana with my own eyes. We had been talking about the Montana all week because of the broadcast, so getting to see her in real life was amazing. Had I been smart and listened to Joe, I would have used my drysuit instead of the 5mm wetsuit for this 11°Celsius-dive. But I hadn't listened to him. I'll know for next time to listen to the experts.
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