What It's Like to Discover a Shipwreck
Steven P. Hughes
This is the story of a Great Lakes shipwreck discovery.
Divers plunge into a world not natural to human beings, a realm where individuals can defy gravity and breathe underwater. Add a shipwreck to that otherworldly activity, and the stage is set for a second element of the unnatural — a visit to the long-gone world of the past. Wreck diving is, in effect, a double fantasy. But the thrill of examining a just-found wreck that no one has explored — or ever seen — is wreck diving on steroids!
I have hunted for shipwrecks with various partners since 1983 in four of the five Great Lakes. Early in summer 2018, I was part of a three-person team who found the most historic shipwreck of my life, the J.H. Jones. From the second we ecstatic wreck hunters danced jubilantly upon seeing the small, oblong, dark-shadowed outline of a shipwreck on our sonar screen — a sight that can take months or even years to achieve but, research and luck being with us, took less than two hours — to the tingling anticipation of our descent to the wreck itself, were among my most profound moments in diving.
To be the first divers to see this untouched shipwreck nearly 200 feet deep in Lake Huron — with all of its nautical artifacts still in place, exactly where they were the day the ship sank — triggered the feeling of being true adventurers.
The explorer’s imagination soars: How hard did the wheelsman grapple with the helm to try to save his ship? How frantically did the engine-room crew struggle before rising waters extinguished the boiler fires? Who last walked on this deck or gripped that railing before the ship went down and met its fate?
To explore a shipwreck is a trip back in time, made more powerful and memorable if the diver knows, with certainty, that no one has been there since the sailors who perished. Even after locating 12 wrecks, the feeling never gets old. Being the first visitor to a just-located shipwreck plummets the diver into a triple fantasy — perhaps the most thrilling type of diving a person can hope for.