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Lake Erie Technical Wreck Diving Guide: A Necessary Tool

Veteran wrecker and instructor Gene Petersen dives deep into Erik Petkovic’s second book on Lake Erie shipwrecks. This time Petkovic pushes far beyond the [recreational] limits venturing into deeper wrecks that lie on the lake’s bottom. Peterson calls the book a “necessary tool” for any deepwater diver getting ready to explore these shipwrecks.

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by Gene Peterson

Header image of book cover courtesy of E. Petkovic

Erik Petkovic Sr.’s original book, Shipwrecks of Lake Erie, Volume One, is jam-packed with adventurous wreck diving history within recreational diving limits—no-stop dives to 40 m/130 ft. In his latest edition, Petkovic has gone beyond the limits and ventured to deeper wrecks in Lake Erie Technical Wreck Diving Guide. The historian takes this book to a new documentation level in this unique, comprehensive guide for technical deep wreck divers. The accuracy of the guide demonstrates the author’s drive to present a thrilling, non-fiction read with remarkable wreck survival tales, heroic accomplishments, and dramatic narratives. 

A rare drawing of the Straubenzee. Courtesy of Erik Petkovic

Petkovic demonstrates his passion for history by  thoroughly recounting nineteen ship’s careers and disasters. Rarely visited because of their depths, the author thoroughly examines the remains of the nearly untouched sites strewn across the floor of Lake Erie firsthand. Relics such as bells, helms, portholes, deadeyes, and related discoveries litter these hulks. They remain untouched in situ, preserved in the fresh lake water. These protected sites are threatened only by the weight of the zebra mussels that flourish in the dark, productive environment and whose increasing weight may lead the sites to collapse. Petkovic draws the reader in, describing his journeys to these sites and sharing the in-depth research that led him to explore these haunting wrecks. As a diver, his writing encourages me to go beyond the armchair and venture, as he did, to explore each wreck site firsthand. 

Each narrative unveils so much history. It is remarkable that these stories have been overlooked until this guide was printed; otherwise, these records may have been swept away. The writer preserves the fateful tales of those souls destined for tragedy on these historic voyages. Such is the story of the sinking of the sidewheel steamer Atlantic, which caused the greatest loss of life on Lake Erie to date. Over 300 passengers perished during the collision with the steamer Ogdensburg on August 20, 1852—nearly half the passengers. Of notable interest are the fearless salvage attempts and successes by hard hat divers in the early 1800s. Authorities offered a five thousand dollar reward to anyone who could retrieve the ship’s safe, leading these pioneers of deep diving to risk serious injury in order to pursue the reward.



Despite her depth of 50 m/165 ft, the Atlantic was clearly an alluring challenge for these men. Petrokvik’s telling of the bold attempt by diver John B. Green—who faced the depths of this cold and dark water multiple times—is compelling and memorable. Undaunted by the limited technology of the time, Green fearlessly hunted the treasure until decompression sickness struck. Ultimately, the safe was recovered by a competitor following Green’s trail of buoys in the limited visibility. The story is curiously familiar to modern-day pursuits. One must follow the author’s narratives throughout the book to admire his remarkable perceptions. I admire Petkovic’s principles, which are subtly presented, as well as his exploration of the balance between earned honor and purloined glory.

Side Scan Sonar of the Straubenzee. Photo courtesy of Garry Kozak

The deepest wreck in Lake Erie, the Straubenzee, had a prominent history of near disasters prior to her demise. Checkered by groundings, hit and runs, near collisions, actual collisions, and riotous boardings, the Straubenzee peppered newspaper columns throughout her career. A collision with the steamship City of Erie ended her notorious career, sending the barquentine to the depth of 61 m/200 ft on September 27, 1909. Her wreckage remained unseen until wreck hunter Garry Kozak discovered the broken hull in July of 1982. Petkovic describes the wreck as phenomenal and strewn with artifacts, even though the hull is separated by a 7.6 m/25 ft gap. Both sections are picturesque.     

Underwater photo of Sir CT Van Straubenzee courtesy of Tom Wilson.

The illustrations, news clippings, and fantastic photos by well-recognized photographers such as Becky Schott, Gary Gentile, Steve Gatto, Chris Kohl, Vlada Dekina, Tom Wilson, and Warren Lo draw the reader deeper into the writer’s unique descriptions. Each wreck is annotated with a sidebar describing the ship’s features and providing a brief history, an updated wreck account, and the degree of dive difficulty. 

Erik A. Petkovic’s Lake Erie Technical Wreck Diving Guide is a necessary tool for any deep water diver preparing to explore these Great Lakes shipwrecks, and it is a brilliant edition to any serious marine historian’s collection.  


An avid wreck diver, Gene has logged thousands of wreck dives off the Atlantic Coast from Florida to Newfoundland. These exciting adventures have included the discovery of more than 30 undived wrecks, eight Andrea Doria expeditions, and a position as acting diving safety officer for Gary Gentile’s 1990 U.S.S. Monitor Photographic Expedition. He led dozens of wreck hunting expeditions to Nova Scotia and numerous wreck discovery adventures off the Mid-Atlantic coast. Gene has an active 100-ton Ocean Operator’s license and a teaching degree from Rowan University. Gene has received honors from the New Jersey Council of Dive Clubs and from the National Association of Underwater instructors for his 45 years of dedication to safe diver training.

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Getting to the Bottom of the HMS Regent Mystery

Italian shipwreck explorer Fabio Bisciotti and his team have reportedly solved the mystery of the HMS Regent, one of four Rainbow-class submarines built for the Royal Navy, that was lost at sea during WWII and discovered 50 years later near the Puglia region of Italy. Au contraire! Bisciotti et al, have now identified the wreck as that of the Italian sub Giovanni Bausan, and subsequently located what appears to be the remains of the Regent near the port of Brindisi. InDEPTH managing editor Ashley Stewart reached out to Biscotti to get the deets.

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By Ashley Stewart. Images courtesy of Fabio Bisciotti and Michele Favaron.

The HMS Regent, one of four Rainbow-class submarines built for the Royal Navy, patrolled during World War II until she was lost at sea sometime in April 1943. 

There would be no news of the submarine for more than 50 years, until a research team proclaimed to have found the wreck in the Apulia region of Italy. But the Regent was lost once more when the site was declared by another team, including Italian explorer Fabio Giuseppe Bisciotti, to be instead a former Italian submarine once called the Giovanni Bausan.

Now, Bisciotti believes his team has solved the mystery of the HMS Regent once and for all, discovering a wreck with similar characteristics near the port of Brindisi. InDEPTH spoke with Bisciotti about the discovery and why he believes he’s found the wreck of the HMS Regent. Bisciotti previously spoke to InDEPTH about finding a sunken German WWII aircraft in the South Adriatic Sea. Edited for length and clarity.


Bisciotti’s report: English, Italian (Original)


How did your search for the HMS Regent begin?

We know during the war many submarines from the United Kingdom were lost here in the Adriatic Sea. From some combat diaries about some skirmishes in this area, we know we have various wrecks including submarines and one of them is the HMS Regent. We started this research with a unique objective to know the truth about this wreck.

Many years ago, a research team believed they found the HMS Regent. But after our research, we discovered it was an error. The previous research team believed they found the Regent in an area much farther north in the Apulia region in the Barleta area. The wreck in this area is not the HMS Regent but a former Italian submarine called the Giovanni Bausan. It was used after the arrival of allies in the south of Italy as an oil depot, renamed GR 251, without a conning tower or propellers, transformed into a big warehouse. We have documents from the National Archives in London that show American allies sunk this wreck in the same region.

How did you discover the wreck you now believe is the Regent?

We started developing some research and arrived in the real area where we believed the Regent was lost, quite south near the port of Brindisi. Thanks to the fisherman of the area and old witnesses, we discovered a story. 

Here, in the late afternoon on the 18th of April of 1943 — the exact day when the Regent was lost — in front of the seashore, it was heard a very big explosion. The next day, some oil and fuel formed four or five miles out in the open sea where it was believed a submarine hit a mine. By the reports of the Italian Coast Guard of that time, the bodies of four sailors were found in the days after the accident. The first was found in an area nearby Brindisi. A second body was found in the Missipezza area south or Brindisi, and two other bodies were found in the Otranto and Castro Marina areas. The bodies were found between eight and 25 days after the accident. You can imagine the condition of these poor guys, but it is believed one was a non-commissioned officer and the other three were simple sailors. They were surely submariners due to their uniforms, which were blue as British submariners.

After much time, we narrowed down the area thanks to the local fisherman, and found a very object in the water around 80 meters down. The area is quite dangerous due to quite strong drift, and the direction of the wind from the area would create the correct route to where the bodies were found.

Why do you believe this wreck is, in fact, the HMS Regent?

We found some particular points unique to British submarines. First of all, the hull of the wreck had the particular dimension and measurement that pointed to British design. Then, we arrived at the bow. The bow is of course upside down, but we found the area where the torpedo tubes were located. We found three on each side. Everybody knows, or at least wreck divers know, the bow section of a British submarine is unique in its class. A British submarine has a total of six torp tubes, instead of four like a German U-boat or Italian submarine. 

But, in the center of the wreck, it’s gutted and open. We are sure there were two explosions. The first explosion by a mine, on the left side, and a second explosion probably detonated by the ammunition store. Of the wreck’s 87 meters in length, the visible part is about 65 meters and the rest is under the mud. We were not lucky with the visibility and extensive damage, so we have small proofs but enough to say for sure this is a British R-Class submarine.

Tell us about the dive itself.

The diving operation was with two boats and the dive team, Michele Favaron, Stefania Bellesso, both of Acquelibere Sub Padova, and myself, with research from Giuseppe Iacomino, in partnership with the Italian Naval League. We arrived on the point  in the very early morning with my personal boat with Garmin. We already knew the wreck was there by previous scan. We set a lazy line on the seabed to mark the position. We prepared our equipment and cameras. The current was very, very, very strong. It’s not an easy dive, it’s very hard. It was hard to stay on the line but when we arrived on the wreck, the conditions were better and visibility was good. The wreck lies in about 75 meters/245 ft on the seabed, but the shallower part is at 57 meters186 ft. The dive was on open-circuit with 18-45 trimix as back gas, and 50% and 100% deco gasses. About 25 minutes bottom time and 45 minutes deco.

What’s next for your team?

We are involved with the Pentagon in the finding of some U.S. bombers ditched in the Adriatic sea and the finding of still-missing submarines nearby. We are also working with a university on the study and the maintenance of present wrecks and future projects. 

Fabio and his team published an extensive report about the discovery with the help of the Italian Naval League, which provided logistical support. Here’s an excerpt describing the dive:

“Operation N 41 has finally come to an end, the scout ENDURANCE sailed from Manfredonia on 20/05/2022 at 9.30 am to Villanova arrives on site at 15.00. The team, made up of Fabio Giuseppe Bisciotti and Giuseppe Iacomino immediately returned to the sea towards the REGENT point, thus ensuring the planned dive point for the following day. The diving team, composed of Michele Favaron, Stefania Bellesso and Fabio Giuseppe Bisciotti reached the diving point at 7.15 UTC +1. At the moment of the descent there is immediately a very strong cross current such as to force the team to use the treadmill line in order not to lose energy.

Touchdown of the wreck at an altitude of -60 meters where it was found that the body appears to be overturned by 180 with the rostrum cutting cables along the entire keel clearly visible.

The protuberance noted and photographed undoubtedly has the function of a cable-cutting rostrum. The design is typically English of R-CLASS  as the height of this rostrum is 11.5 inches, or 30 cm appropriately calculated with line. The entire body of the wreck has been shaped and the total length is 87 meters, which is the length of a R-CLASS submarine. The remaining models such as classes P, T, S, and U do not possess such dimensions (P) or design (T, S, U) such that they can be traced back to the rostrum studied. The photo taken at the stern shows exactly the rostrum and is completely identical to the drawing of the construction plans. Please note that only the R-CLASS possesses these characteristics. At the height of the gutted point, the rostrum appears strongly deformed due to the violent explosion of the mine.

The ovals shown in the photo do not belong to the turret as you might think but refer to the lower ventral band of the hull in the area between the waste oil recovery and batteries n. 2 and n. 3, exactly below the engine pistons. By looking in the construction plans they are easily identifiable and have been found exactly in the same area. As a first impression the HMS REGENT struck a mine on the left side which undoubtedly initiated a second detonation below the casemate of the 122 mm gun. The explosion did not disable the submarine but literally gutted it.

Currently, the possibility of penetration inside the wreck is excluded due to the structural impossibility of ensuring easy entry and exit. Further studies will be started later for the safety of the wreck itself.”

DIVE DEEPER

Operation Regent-Bausan Report by Fabio Bisciotti

Rapporto Regent-Bausan (Italian) by Fabio Bisciotti

InDEPTH: Surveying and Identifying a Sunken JU 88a German WWII Aircraft (2019) by Fabio Biscotti


InDepth Managing Editor Ashley Stewart is a Seattle-based journalist and tech diver. Ashley started diving with Global Underwater Explorers and writing for InDepth in 2021. She is a GUE Tech 2 and CCR1 diver and on her way to becoming an instructor. In her day job, Ashley is an investigative journalist reporting on technology companies. She can be reached at: ashley@gue.com

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