Sunday 7 December 2008

Writing about shipwreck finds - let the bun fight begin

Over the past thirty years I have found myself writing about shipwrecks and the men who find them. I wrote a book about the sinking of the Mayflower near Barrys Bay. Ontario. I have had over 10 articles published about the Edmund Fitzgerald (I can't even count the number of Titanic projects I have worked on) and I have interviewed Great Lakes wreck hunters. in ALL cases, the wreck stories have raised a boatload of controversary.

There is no money to be made in finding shipwrecks - Wreck expeditions cost big money, thousands of hours on the water and now and then, the accidental death of divers. Why then such "mashing up" about mashed up ships? It is all about that 15 minutes of fame (20 if you work with Stephen Weir & Associates), the public adulation that wreck hunters always garner after announcing their finds. And, for some, there is the chance that that fame will help them recoup some of their expenses through book deals, movies and speaking gigs.

This summer I was in Kingston, Ontario to take part in a shipwreck festival. One of the highlights was to be a slide show of recent finds in the St Lawence River. I drove to Kingston to sit on the slide show. It didn't go so well, as this unpublished Diver Magazine story documents.

Kingston Underwater: A Celebration of Marine Exploration
Controversy, infighting amongst wreck hunters almost kills Kingston’s first shipwreck festival

Cutline: Kenn Feigelman, the president of Deep/Quest 2 Expeditions pictured in downtown Kingston, Ontario.

It got off to a wobbly start when the featured speaker refused to take to the podium, but, the Marine Museum of the Great Lakes was able to right the ship and launch its first annual shipwreck festival in 2008. Kingston Underwater: A Celebration of Marine Exploration, was a three-day event that featured underwater demonstrations, shipwreck displays and lectures and slide shows given by local divers.

Kingston has one of North America’s largest concentrations of fresh water wrecks ranging from 19th century warships, and paddle wheelers to modern tugs and ferries. It is estimated that there are between 400 and 450 wrecks within easy reach of Kingston. In an effort to promote the growing interest in Kingston as a wreck dive destination, the Museum along with the Preserve Our Wrecks-Kingston Association and the Kingston Economic Development Corporation partnered to organize the mid-summer weekend event.

The launch of the shipwreck festival was almost sunk by infighting amongst the very people it meant to put the spotlight on. Kenn Feigelman, the president of Deep/Quest 2 Expeditions, Kingston’s underwater exploration and film documentation organization, was asked to open the conference by giving a multimedia presentation showcasing the work of the association. Mr. Feigelman has reported making a number of important discoveries in the St. Lawrence River, however, his multi-media presentation was going to be about other expeditions his association has made at the “By Invitation Only” talk.

The opening film and lecture night was held in inside the downtown St. Lawrence riverside Museum. Close to 50 people from around Eastern Ontario were in attendance that night to hear Mr. Feigelman’s talk.

Although the wreck hunter was in attendance, the lecture wasn’t given that night. The reason? Apparently an underwater photographer who at one time had been involved in a Deep/Quest 2 expedition, was in the presentation room using another person’s invitation. Mr. Feigelman refused to take to the podium as long as the photographer remained in the audience. For his part, the uninvited guest refused to leave.

As a result the abbreviated evening consisted of curator Ann Blake talking about the work of the Museum and Stewart Deline showing slides of a recent trip he took to the Cayman Islands. Mr. Deline is a traditional Mohawk environmental awareness speaker and faith elder who learned to dive in 1980 while in the Armed Forces.

Saturday and Sunday, the second and last day of the Festival, the problems of opening night had been settled. Northern Tech Divers and Shark Marine Technologies, conducted scuba diving demonstrations, a demonstration of an ROV (remotely operated underwater vehicle) and high definition underwater photography demonstrations took place in the dry-dock adjacent to the Marine Museum. Mr. Feigelman came back to the Museum and gave the talk he was suppose to give the night before.

Interest in the public portions of the Shipwreck Festival was strong enough in 2008 to convince the organizers to make the event an annual event. Details about next year’s weekend symposium, including a list of speakers, will soon be posted on the museum’s website


Sidebar #1

Ontario’s premier shipwreck museum is in Kingston

The Marine Museum of the Great Lakes is located inside an historical building built beside a 19th century dry dock. Floating inside the dock is a 3,000 ton icebreaker, the Alexander Henry (which is both a museum exhibition and functioning Bed and Breakfast operation). The museum's extensive exhibits provide a look at 19th and 20th century shipbuilding and life on the Great Lakes

Sidebar #2

So what has Kenn Feigelman been down to lately?

Diver Magazine attended the abbreviated Opening Night of the Marine Exploration Film Night and interviewed Kenn Feigelman, several times over the summer and fall. Diver asked Mr. Feigelman what he has discovered while exploring the waters around the city of Kingston.

“We found four warships!” he told Diver Magazine in September. “No doubt they are scuttled British warships… we found two of them today and two a few days ago. We found them basically in the St. Lawrence, right off the city of Kingston where the Lake Ontario becomes the St. Lawrence.”

“We know, they were built as war ships,” he continue. “They are sturdy -- one was in 62 ft of water, the other in 50 ft. The same situation holds for the other two ... we found them in 49 and 55 ft of water.”

“We are going crazy (with our finds). Two weeks ago today, we were going down the St. Lawrence towards Hall Island when we came upon an anomaly (on their side sonar screen). At this point the riverbed itself is 60 to 70 feet down. We found valleys or gouges, into the flat river bottom.

“ I stayed on the boat, and kept the engine running, “ said the explorer. “ (Our divers) found the hull and stern post of a large ship. We are finding all kinds of stuff down there.”

Mr. Feigelman will be researching his finds over the winter, but, suspects that he has rediscovered the wreck of the War of 1912 warship the HMS Montreal which he says was sunk in the 1830s and thought to have first been located in the 1980s.

He is unsure of the identity of the other three warships. Next summer he plans to use his SeaLife photographic equipment to take complete digital photographs of the wrecks and create mosaic pictures of all of the wrecks.

Exploring the St. Lawrence Shipwrecks is just one of many projects Deep/Quest 2 Expeditions is involved in. The company will be launching an expedition next year to photograph and film Greenland Sharks in the upper regions of the St. Lawrence River. On the books in 2009 will be underwater expeditions in the waters around Cuba.