Connect with us

Exploration

For Whom The Shipwreck Bell Tolls

Many wreck divers consider a ship’s bell to be the quintessential artifact to find and recover. Here prolific shipwreck explorer, historian, and author Gary Gentile recounts his and colleagues’ adventures recovering bells from numerous well-known shipwrecks including the Andrea Doria. He regards these efforts as rescuing our cultural heritage from the ravages of the sea.

Published

on

Text and images by Gary Gentile

🎶🎶 Predive Clicklist: Hell’s Bells by AC/DC

The best way to start an article about ships’ bells is to quote the entry in my book, The Nautical Cyclopedia (1995):

“A bell has many purposes: It can call the crew to dinner, sound an alarm in the fog, signal distress and emergencies such as fire or imminent collision, and announce the time of the watch. A bell is struck when coded signals are used, such as to denote the hour and half hour, and rung rapidly when making a tocsin call.

A ship’s bell’ is generally cast from brass with a small quantity of silver added to the alloy in order to give the ring a more penetrating pitch. The clapper is generally made of iron because iron striking against brass gives a better tonal quality than brass striking against brass. The ship’s bell traditionally has the name of the vessel engraved upon it, and sometimes the date of manufacture. A bell may weigh as little as 14 kg/30 lb, or it may weigh over 450 kg/1,000 lb. A vessel may have more than one bell, which may be mounted on a davit near the bow, such as on the forecastle; on the foremast above and within reach of the crow’s-nest; on the forward bulkhead of the wheelhouse; on a davit in the stern; or some other convenient place.”

Wreck divers consider a ship’s bell to be the quintessential artifact to find and recover because the bell symbolizes both the heart and the soul of a ship and therefore of a shipwreck. Better yet, the bell of an unidentified shipwreck may establish the wreck’s identity.

The photos that follow comprise a recitation of shipwreck bells with which I have been fortunate enough to be involved.

Andrea Doria

In 1985, Bill Nagle organized a five-day expedition to recover the bell from the bow of the iconic Italian liner, the Grand Dame of the Sea, which lay at a depth of 74 m/240 ft. Volunteer helpers included Mike Boring, Kenny Gascon, Artie Kirshner, John Moyer, Tom Packer, and me. After three days of searching, we were unable to locate the bell, either on the wreck or in the sand below the davit where the bell should have been hung. So, we each went our separate ways to explore the wreck.

The bell when we first found it.

I had been on several cruise ships that boasted bells in the stern, so my dive buddy Tom Packer and I swam 53 m/175 ft along the upper hull to the aft steerage area. Above the emergency steering helm, we spotted an object that was so covered with sea anemones that they deformed and disguised the object’s true curved contours. I used my knife to scrape off enough anemones to read the name and date on the barnacled brass surface: “Andrea Doria,” and beneath it, “1952.”

It took the team two more days to free the bell from the steel rod that held it in place.

Tom Packer hovering next to the bell after I scraped off the anemones and revealed the name.
Me with a close-up of the bell.
The recovery team. Standing left to right: me, Artie Kirschner, Mike Boring, Tom Packer (above), and Kenny Gascon (below).
Sitting left to right are Bill Nagle and John Moyer.

Manuela

In 1987, I was diving on the wreck of the freighter Malchace with an express purpose in mind: to explore the forecastle in search of the ship’s bell. I describe this quest in my book, Wreck Diving Adventures (1994):

“The bow of the Malchace is separated from the main hull and lies perfectly on its starboard side, with the main winch and deck machinery still precariously in place. I approached this large intact portion with my shutter snapping, when my eye caught the glint of something protruding out of the sand. I dropped down to inspect it: A curved piece of metal perhaps 2.5 cm/1 in high and 20 cm/8 in long presented an arc which could have been the flared end of a flange.

“A quick scrape with my knife revealed a smooth brass surface under the thin layer of encrustation. I fanned the sand to reveal more of the object, then dug in earnest. Within moments, I uncovered a circular rim that grew in thickness from the top, and that narrowed its diameter under the sand. I backed away and shot a picture.

“With both hands I scooped out sand from the middle. Not until I exposed the clangor was I absolutely sure it was the ship’s bell.”

  • Rebreather Forum 4

Finding and recovering are two different processes. I was unable to pull the bell out of the sand. It was too deeply embedded, and I speculated that it might still be secured to its davit. Recovering the bell was going to be a monumental task that needed the help of every diver on the boat: Jim Anderson, Dave Antolic, Jim DiPreta, Paul Gacek, Scott Jenkins, Artie Kirchner, Joe Pavia, Mel Rich, and Richard Smith.

The rim of the bell when I first found it.

That night I purchased three 4-inch C-clamps from a hardware store in Ocracoke, North Carolina. The next day we returned to the wreck site. I descended first, set the hook, swam to the bell, and sent up a lift bag which I tied to a nearby beam. Next in the water were Jenkins and Smith, who took down a heavy nylon line which they secured with a choker knot around the bell’s flared bottom. They also attached the C-clamps to the bell and secured a 227 kg/500 lb lift bag by weaving its lifting strap through the middle of the clamps.

Three teams of divers then dug out the bell, tightened the clamps, and partially inflated the lift bag. Finally, Kirchner chiseled apart some steel beams that the diggers had uncovered and completely filled the lift bag. We slipped free of the anchor line, pulled in the slack to the nylon line, lashed the line around the starboard bitt, reversed the engine to put tension on the nylon line, and increased RPMs until the bell was lifted out of the sand. The lift bag burst to the surface with the bell suspended below it.

The well-orchestrated plan confirmed the efficacy of teamwork.

The bell after I scooped out the inside and dug under the flared rim.

After the brass came the irony. When I cleaned off the bell, the name that was etched in brass was not Malchace, but Manuela: a freighter that reportedly sank a mile away. After both vessels had been torpedoed by German U-boats during World War Two, the wrecks had been charted incorrectly. There was no doubt that the inshore wreck in 47 m/155 ft of water was the Manuela. I later confirmed that the offshore wreck, which lay at a depth of 63 m/205 ft, was the Malchace.

The bell on the boat.

Nova Scotia

Two months after the recovery of the Manuela bell, I dived off Canso with Lynn Del Corio and Myles Wagner. We were searching for shipwrecks but not finding any when we arrived at a ledge where the depth dropped from 15 m/50 ft to 25 m/80 ft. Lying on the deeper sand was what appeared to be a naval contact mine from World War Two, complete with detonation horns.

Lynn charged downward while Myles and I descended at a more leisurely pace. The “mine” turned out to be a sunken bell buoy. The detonation horns were stubs of steel beams from the cage that protected the bell. We did not have lift bags, so I secured a sisal decompression line to the bell’s top hanger and swam it to the boat.

Lynn is wearing the red dry suit; the two men in black are crewmembers.

I then grabbed a 227 kg/500 lb lift bag and followed my deco line down to the bell. Because I was using the same set of tanks, I did not have enough air to do more than inflate the bag enough to float it upright. I returned to the boat where I rigged a regulator to a spare single tank. I convinced a deckhand (whose name I did not record) to use the tank to fully inflate the lift bag. Within a few minutes, the lift bag bobbed to the surface. I pulled it to the stern of the boat where the real work began.

Fortunately, our chartered boat was a workboat complete with a hoisting boom. It took all of us to lift the bell out of the water and swing it onto the transom. After I took some photos, we swung the bell down to the deck.

The bell buoy had drifted a long way from home. Etched above the rim were the letters USLHS—United States Light House Service. We later learned that the bell weighed more than 136 kg/300 lb.

Sebastian

In 1994, John Chatterton organized an overnight trip to investigate a pair of hang numbers that we hoped would be the sites of the tanker Pan-Pennsylvania and the U-boat that sank her: the U-550. The wrecks lay offshore of the Andrea Doria. On the way to the first site, we stopped over another set of hang numbers. The depthfinder revealed a huge object that stood 15 m/50 ft high in 77 m/250 ft of water.

We continued throughout the night to the next set of numbers. This was indeed the Pan-Pennsylvania. The wreck lay upside down at a depth of 77 m/250 ft but had a relief of only 6 m/20 ft: a real disappointment, because we saw nothing but the bottom of the hull. There was no wreck at the third hang spot. Everyone voted to return to the first target.

  • Rebreather Forum 4

Chatterton wanted to be first to dive on the site. He secured the grapnel to the port side of the forecastle at  61 m/200 ft. I dived next. I went to the bottom to confirm the depth, then ascended along the starboard side to the upper deck of the hull. The main deck was largely intact. I cruised aft until I felt that it was time to return to the anchor line.

The upside-down bell when I first spotted it.

I worked my way forward until I spotted the forecastle bulkhead. I started to enter the crew’s quarters but stopped when I spotted a flared brass bowl with a clapper inside: the ship’s bell!

From my book, Shipwreck Sagas: “It was mounted on a gooseneck davit that had fallen backward off the forecastle deck. After a brief examination, I determined that the bell was still secured to the davit, but that the davit was free and clear.

“I glanced at my gauges. To rig the bell properly and to send it to the surface on a safety line—so as not to lose the precious artifact in case the lift bag should deflate—would require more time than I thought prudent to spend, in consideration of the amount of air that remained in my tanks. I clipped a 45 kg/100 lb lift bag to the gooseneck as a territorial marker. I put enough air in the lift bag to hold it upright. Then I skedaddled for the anchor line…

“I asked Chatterton to go with me on the next dive. I did not need help in the recovery operation, but I wanted to let him share the experience of sending the bell to the surface. We planned our steps, then executed the recovery with clockwork precision.”

On the boat, I cleaned enough of the bell to read the name of the ship: Sebastian.

The bell on the deck of the dive boat; most of the name is legible.

At home, when I searched through my extensive shipwreck files, I learned that I had annotated the Sebastian twenty years earlier. She was a twin-screw motor vessel built in Scotland in 1914. In 1917, she was transporting 4,058 tons of petroleum when she caught fire and had to be abandoned.

I had decided not to include the Sebastian in my Popular Dive Guide Series because the wreck was too deep! Depths that were considered too deep in the 1970s had become commonplace in the 1990s.

BowMariner

The Bow Mariner was a chemical tanker that exploded and sank off the coast of Virginia on February 28, 2004. Recreational divers commenced visiting the wreck as soon as the Coast Guard completed its investigation of the remains. After exploring the wreck on several trips, Harold Moyers organized an expedition dedicated to recovering the ship’s bell. The volunteer team for the May 16, 2004 recovery operation included Steve Gatto, Jon Hulburt, Bart Malone, Tom Packer, Joe Zeissweiss, and me.

The bell from a distance.

The depth to the seabed was 77 m/250 ft. The bell rested on the forward mast where it hung from a steel post. I don’t want to make it sound as if the recovery was easy, but it was certainly less difficult than most similar operations. The lack of encrustation on the nut and bolt, which held the bell in place, enabled the use of household tools.

Each diver had a job to perform: securing the grapnel, rigging recovery and safety lines, unbolting the bell, inflating the lift bag, and so on. My job was photographing the bell and untying the downline after completion of the job. Teamwork functioned perfectly so that the bell was recovered exactly as planned.


Great Lakes

The wreck diving ethic in the Great Lakes, where freshwater preserves shipwrecks for longer than in seawater, is to take nothing but pictures. If it were not for this locally accepted tenet, I would not have had the opportunity to photograph relics that would already have been recovered—especially the ship’s bells in the following pictures.

The text and photos are from my book, Great Lakes Shipwrecks: a Photographic Odyssey.

Detroit

The most astonishing feature of the sidewheeler Detroit is the large bronze bell and its unusual placement: inside the engine support structure, between the apex and the piston platform. The wreck lies in 55m/180 ft in Lake Huron. After photographing the bell from a variety of angles, I rapped the clangor against the inside. The resulting ring was clear but possessed a pitch that was lower than normal, as if the vibrations were somehow altered by the density of the water or muted by the rubber material pressed against my ears.

The side of the Detroit bell on which “NOVELTY WORKS” is embossed. “NEW YORK 1844” is embossed on the other side.

“Novelty Works” was embossed on one side of the bell. “New York 1844” was embossed on the other side. The instant I read the embossing, I thought of John Ericsson’s Monitor, the Civil War ironclad, launched in 1862. The Novelty Iron Works built the Monitor’s turret.

In 2006, I received a phone call from Sergeant Jann Gallager, a law enforcement officer of Michigan’s Department of Natural Resources. She informed me that the bell had gone missing. She wanted permission to use my photos of the bell for a brochure to post around the area in an attempt to locate the culprits who absconded with the precious artifact. 

I granted permission and told her that it was possible that the bell had broken free of its own accord and lay somewhere below and inside the wreck. However, another diver reported that the thieves cut a 1-inch-thick steel pin, thus enabling the bell to be recovered. And there the situation still stands today.

Florida

This wooden-hulled package freighter sank after collision in 1897 and lies in 60m/195 f in lake Huron. The hull is intact except for the collision hole—which extends through two decks in the midship cargo hold—and the demolished engine room in the stern. The railing is contiguous for nearly the entire length of the upper deck. The hull is constructed of wood, but the stem is protected by a metal shield on which the load line numerals are scratched.

The bell on the remains of the wooden deck.

The bell of the Florida is not adorned with the vessel’s name. However, the wreck was identified by its capstan covers, which not only display the name, but also the date of construction and the name of the shipbuilder.

One of the capstan covers.

Typo

This small, wooden-hulled schooner sank in 1899 and lies in 56m/185 f in lake Huron. As you can see, the surface of the iron bell is rusted, covered with silt, and sprinkled with zebra mussels. If any lettering exists under the obfuscating pall, I was unable to determine if there were any misspellings.

The bell near the bow

Note that biologists remain challenged by the coloration scheme of zebra mussels: are they white with black stripes, or black with white stripes?

Beware the Zebra Mussel

Dive Deeper

aquaCORPS Pioneer Interviews: GARY GENTILE: DEEP WRECK DIVER by Michael Menduno (1991)

Books by Gary Gentile: Gary’s Book Store

Wikipedia: Gary Gentile


Enter the wild, exciting world of Gary Gentile: author, lecturer, photographer, explorer, and deep-sea wreck-diver. He has written 68 books, published more than 4,000 photographs, discovered more than 40 shipwrecks, and led a life of adventure. He was the first scuba diver to enter the First Class Dining Room of the Andrea Doria, and he discovered and recovered a number of Italian artist Romano Rui’s ceramic panels that once adorned the walls of the First Class Bar. 

In the early 1990s, Gary was instrumental in merging mixed-gas diving technology with wreck-diving. His dive to the German battleship Ostfriesland, which lies at a depth of 380 feet, triggered an unprecedented expansion in the exploration of deep-water shipwrecks, and the advent of helium mixes as a breathing medium. He wrote one of the first books on technical diving. 

Gary has specialized in wreck-diving and shipwreck research, concentrating his efforts on wrecks along the eastern seaboard, from Newfoundland to Key West, and in the Great Lakes. He has either discovered or been the first to dive on scores of previously unknown shipwrecks. Over the years, he has rescued from the ravages of the sea many thousands of shipwreck artifacts, making him a leading authority in recovery techniques. He has gone to great lengths to preserve and restore these relics from the deep, and to display them to thousands of divers and non-divers alike. Throughout the years, these artifacts have been displayed at various museums, symposiums, and club-oriented exhibitions.

Exploration

Finding the Wreck of the “Admiral Knight”

Professional archeologist and tech diver Ewan Anderson recounts the tale of finding the early 1900s steamship the Admiral Knight in British Columbia waters in the spring of 2020—a collaboration of the British Columbia Underwater Explorers (BCUE) and the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia (UASBC). It’s a tribute to the power of “Citizen Science,” and the joys of diving with purpose. Here’s how they found it.

Published

on

By

By Ewan Anderson

The Admiral Knight, formerly the SS Portland . Courtesy PSMHS Williamson Collection, Neg. no. 2877

“Well… I might have a target for you,” read the fateful email that led to our search for the wreck of the early 1900s Admiral Knight steamship.

It was 2019, and Craig Lessels of the Canadian Hydrographic Service (CHS) had been reviewing multi-beam sonar bathymetry datasets — basically, maps of the seafloor — when he noticed a cluster of features lying on the otherwise sandy seafloor, east of Galiano Island in the Salish Sea off the west coast of Canada. 

Thinking the Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia (UASBC) might be interested, he forwarded what he had found to UASBC Explorations Director Jacques Marc. 

As it turned out, the UASBC had, since 2006, been looking near this location for the Admiral Knight, a steam-powered freighter that sank after an explosion in its engine caused a catastrophic fire on board.

The Search

The UASBC search began, as usual, with some serious background research.  The research turned up a wealth of information about the vessel’s origins and destruction in 1919. Launched by the Westward Navigation Company of Seattle in 1916 as the Kuskokwim River, the 43 m/142 ft long wood hulled, diesel-engine powered vessel was built to provide freight service between Puget Sound and Alaska. It was re-powered with steam engines in 1917 and renamed the SS Portland, and then renamed the Admiral Knight in 1919 after purchase by Alaska Pacific Fisheries, who may have used it to supply their canneries in Alaska.

On July 26, 1919, a fire broke out in the Admiral Knight’s engine room while the freighter was underway from Seattle to Ketchikan. The crew of 21 barely made it off the ship before it was engulfed in flames; the last six men leaped off the foredeck onto a boat dispatched by the local steam ferry just in time to be saved. Three days later, mariners were still being warned of the burning hulk drifting between Vancouver and Vancouver Island, but there was no sign of the ship by July 30.

The Admiral Knight was forgotten until the late 1950s when a group of divers explored a site near Galiano Island where a local fisherman reported to have snagged his gear on a wreck.  In an interview in 2006, one of the divers remembered seeing an intact wooden hull and some machinery matching the Admiral Knight’s description at depths of 55-64 m/180-220 ft; although this firsthand account came with the caveat that they were “narked out of their minds.” This general location became the focus of the UASBC’s field surveys over the next few years, including searches using towed side-scan sonar in 2006 and a multi-beam sonar survey by Parks Canada’s research vessel, the MV David Thompson. Those searches did not locate anything resembling the Admiral Knight wreck, and its location remained a mystery until CHS’s review of data from deeper water in 2019, just beyond the UASBC’s previous search areas.

The CHS target sits in 57 m/187 ft of water, which puts it beyond the range of the UASBC Explorations “regulars” group, some of whom have been exploring and documenting underwater maritime heritage sites in British Columbia and Alaska since the early ‘80s. As a UASBC Explorations regular myself — albeit with only 15 years’ worth of expeditions in my dive log — and member of British Columbia’s close-knit Global Underwater Explorers (GUE) technical diving community, Jacques turned the project over to me and wished me luck. I had been bothering Jacques for several years to give up his wish list of deeper shipwreck targets, and it appeared that this was my chance to prove that GUE tech divers on Vancouver Island could make a significant contribution to the underwater cultural heritage record on B.C.’s coast.  

Multi-beam sonar image of the wreck. Credit: Canadian Hydrographic Service

The Plan

We were ready! In short order, I had a team of qualified and enthusiastic GUE divers, a dive boat, and a dive date in April 2020. And then we were interrupted by the pandemic. Organised diving took a big step back while everyone tried to figure out how to navigate a variety of restrictions and act responsibly in the face of this century’s biggest global health scare. Focus shifted to community-building through impromptu dives, and the big projects, like our plan to identify the Admiral Knight, took a back seat.  

Dive boats available for projects around south Vancouver Island changed, too. GUE instructor evaluator and Vancouver Island resident Guy Shockey bought a boat, the Thermocline, brought it up to the island from Puget Sound, then learned how to drive it (possibly in that order). While the boat was still just a twinkle in Guy’s eye, he told me he hoped to make Thermocline a platform for divers to do world-class diving, but for that to happen it was up to the local GUE community to demonstrate that we had interesting project dives to do. He and I agreed that identifying the Admiral Knight fit the long-term community goals perfectly. Soon after the Thermocline arrived at its permanent home in Vancouver Island’s Maple Bay, Guy started referring to himself as “The Boat Driver,” so I knew he was seriously committed.  

  • Rebreather Forum 4

The Dive

By early 2022, our diving activities on the west coast were back to their pre-pandemic norms, and the way seemed clear to dive the Admiral Knight. So, on a sunny weekend this past August, with water as calm as glass, I found myself dropping through the cool, emerald-green depths towards the bold future of underwater archaeology in my backyard. 

Dropping down the shot line with me was Jason Cook, an instructor and fellow rebreather diver. As we descended, I had a head full of plans and checklists, and handfuls of equipment. Try as we might to keep things simple, we were determined to complete a minimum number of tasks and needed the gear to pull them off.  In addition to our JJ-CCR rebreathers and bailout cylinders to do the dive, we had a full-frame camera and two pairs of large video lights to document the wreck (if it wasn’t just a pile of rocks we were dropping onto). Jason had a 120 m/400 ft reel in case The Boat Driver dropped the shot in the middle of nowhere and our identification dive turned into a search for, well, anything.  I had an additional large surface marker buoy (SMB) stuffed in my left thigh pocket, which we planned to launch without a line attached to signal the next dive team that we’d found something worth diving.  We each had a diver propulsion vehicle (DPV) to drag all this stuff around if the current picked up (strong currents are common in our region, but also highly localised, and nobody was sure when slack tide was at this new site).

The visibility on the descent was just over 20 m/60 ft, which is fantastic no matter where you are in the world. As we passed 40 m/130 a huge grey shape swam right in front of me — a shark! — no, just the biggest lingcod (Ophiodon elongatus) I had ever seen. As the monster fish disappeared, we hit a layer of low-visibility water hovering about 5 m/15 ft off the seafloor. It appeared we were going to be diving in the dark — and the cold, since it was also suddenly only 9° C/~48° F. Finally, the shot appeared below us, lying on a featureless, sandy plain. There wasn’t even a pile of rocks pretending to be a wreck in sight.

Like the optimist he is, Jason quickly got out his reel to tie-off and start a search.  I, on the other hand, stared dejectedly into the gloom, where I could just make out some white blobs in the distance. But wait a second — the blobs must be plumose anemones (Metridium farcimen), and anemones must be attached to something! I got Jason’s attention with a flash of my light, and we headed off towards the anemones.

It turned out that our search for the wreck was brief — the anemones were only about 10 m/30 ft away, attached to a driveshaft just forward of a small steel propeller. It was a convenient place to tie off the reel, and an auspicious start to our dive. I deployed the SMB, which, unencumbered by a line attached to a spool, careened to the surface, and launched, like a small pink ballistic missile, out of the water beside the waiting Thermocline.  The second dive team — Lee Critchley, Conor Collins, and Colin Miller — were into the water in moments to start their dive.

Water tube boiler and engine parts; screen grab from video survey. Photo by Ewan Anderson/UASBC

Back at the wreck site, Jason and I started the next phase of our dive: a visual survey of the site. Firing up the DPVs, we followed the driveshafts forward from the propeller. The shafts disappear under a jumble of machinery that will need a more thorough survey to sort through. The large water-tube boilers appeared next, standing upright on their fire-boxes about 2-3 m/6-10 ft proud of the seafloor. Patches of the relatively thin steel encasing the boilers had corroded away, revealing intricate tubing that was cutting-edge boiler technology in the early 20th century. Winches and engine parts formed another pile forward of the boilers, beyond which was the relatively featureless expanse of seabed corresponding to what was once the vessel’s hold. About a minute later, we rounded the forecastle which sat upright about 3 m/10 ft high, the foredeck winch still in its original position. We completed our circuit with a straight run back to the stern, spotting the second drive shaft and propeller.

As the second team arrived on the bottom, Jason and I lit up the wreck with our video lights. I wanted to document the visual survey we’d just completed, so I coordinated with Jason to do a re-run at slow speed. He led and illuminated the wreck, while I followed with the DPV-mounted camera and lights. Keeping Jason in frame made for a good scale reference as we slipped slowly past century-old rust and watchful fish. The end of our video captured the other team swimming around the boilers. Conor was taking still photos while the others inspected the machinery and puzzled out what they were looking at.

Jason Cook lighting up the foredeck winch; screen grab from video survey by Ewan Anderson/UASBC

And just like that, it was time to go. Leaving the reel for the other team to collect, Jason and I headed back to the shot line and had the usual brief conversation confirming our decompression plan before leaving the bottom.  The ascent took us back up to the relatively crystal-clear water above 45 m/150 ft. We crossed the thermocline around 15 m/50 ft and completed our deco in 18°C/64° F water and dappled green sunlight. 

Dive teams on deco; from left to right: Jim Dixon, “The Boat Driver,” Jason Cook. Photo by Ewan Anderson/UASBC

The Rediscovery

Back onboard the Thermocline, we all agreed that the first day of diving was a great success. We had identified a wreck and concluded that it was worth diving again; but was this definitely the wreck of the Admiral Knight? We thought so: it is a steam-powered, twin-screw vessel of the correct size.  And we knew the burning hulk was seen by several witnesses drifting in the vicinity of our wreck site in late July 1919. More definitive evidence of the wreck’s identity lies in a closer inspection of the surviving equipment and the cargo. We surfaced with about 10 minutes of good-quality video and some still photos, which Jacques will want to review and comment on.  

The two-hour sail back to the dock, and lunch at the marina pub gave us plenty of time to debrief and discuss the details of our dives. We sketched out the goals for diving the next day, and I included a somewhat ambitious list of items to measure and a plan to create a 3D model of the boilers.

Jason and I were back in the water 24 hours after our first dive on the wreck. The shot line had landed right behind the boilers, so we got to work immediately. This time, we planned to document the boilers using photogrammetry. Issues with camera float arms the previous day meant we were not able to carry as many big lights, so I had the camera while Jason handled most of the lighting.  

Jason Cook preparing gear. Photo by Ewan Anderson/UASBC

The somewhat poor visibility and missing lighting (though we still had a lot of lights) meant we had to get relatively close to the wreck for well-lit photos. And since the boilers don’t cover a very large area, I decided to park the DPVs and kick. In hindsight, the DPVs might have made things easier, but I didn’t notice the current sweeping across the wreck until after the kicking started. I’m not beyond second-guessing myself underwater, but with only 30 minutes of bottom time to set-up and complete the photogrammetry, there wasn’t a lot of time to reorganise and restart the work. In the end, we managed to get about 470 reasonable photos for our modelling project.  

The second dive team, Guy and Jim Dixon, arrived on the wreck a few minutes after Jason and I started taking photos. Guy and Jim had the straightforward task of just enjoying the dive. This seemingly simple job is a common assignment on UASBC dives: divers who are unencumbered with cameras, lights, measuring tapes, and other documentation equipment are free to explore and are likely to notice important features that busy diver-photographers might miss. This team spent some time inspecting two “block” features that I had noticed the previous day; sitting forward of the engines and boilers, the blocks could have been the remnants of the vessel’s cargo, which would be an unusual find because we don’t often see intact cargo on our wrecks. We didn’t manage to solve the mystery on this expedition, and even with Guy and Jim offering detailed descriptions, we’re all still scratching our heads.

  • Rebreather Forum 4

Although there were only a handful of divers who made it down into the wreck in August, dozens of people have contributed their time and energy over the last decade and a half to making these successful dives possible. To dive into the unknown just to see what’s there is one thing, but to dive with purpose and come back with valuable information requires dedicated research and planning. Credit for our success (and the pressure to succeed!) in search for the Admiral Knight is largely due to Jacques Marc and other researchers at the UASBC who laid the groundwork for the project.

There is much more to come. We’ve proven that we can add deeper sites to the list of the UASBC’s potential expeditions. Jacques and other UASBC volunteers are turning to the archives to find more targets. By extending the range of what is possible for the local community, we also open the door to exploring deeper into history. Indigenous peoples have lived around the Salish Sea since time immemorial, as indigenous elders and cultural leaders say, and their cultural inheritance includes documented sites spanning the last 14,000 years. The connection Salish peoples have with the sea around us is undeniable, yet tangible underwater heritage sites other than shipwrecks have barely been explored.

As for the Admiral Knight, any uncertainty about the wreck’s identity may be beside the point. The wreck still makes for a great dive, and although it is relatively deep for most divers, many in our local dive community are qualified – or will be soon – to dive it. It’s worth the effort just to see the intact boilers and the entire vessel’s contents laid out on the seafloor, just as they were 103 years ago. The intact sections of wreck and potential cargo provide opportunities for further study and research as well. 

See companion stories:

Building Community Through Project Diving By Guy Shockey

Introducing GUE’s New Project Diver Program By Francesco Cameli

Dive Deeper

InDEPTH: How to Become an Explorer: Passion, Partnership, and Exploration

Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia 

Thermocline Diving 

Marc, Jacques and Warren Oliver Bush (2021) Historic Shipwrecks of the Southern Gulf Islands of British Columbia. Underwater Archaeological Society of British Columbia, Vancouver, B.C.


Ewan Anderson is a professional archaeologist whose work focuses on assessing and mitigating development construction impacts to cultural heritage sites in British Columbia.  A consultant for all levels of government, a variety of industries and Indigenous communities, his expertise is in cultural heritage law, cutting edge archaeological methods and Indigenous peoples’ relationships with archaeology and those who practise it.  

Ewan is passionate about diving – especially when combined with underwater cultural heritage projects.  He is a GUE certified JJ-CCR diver and IANTD certified cave diver.   His diving has taken him around the world, even though everything he needs –  from wrecks to caves – can be found within a few hours of his home in Victoria, on Vancouver Island. 

His professional work and diving almost never mix, for which he is often thankful.  Ewan pursues his interests in underwater photography, underwater photogrammetry, and advocating for conservation of marine environments and underwater heritage, free from the yoke of capitalist overlords. He is a regular volunteer on Underwater Archaeological Society of BC expeditions and has served on the Society’s board of directors since 2018. 

Subscribe for free
Continue Reading

Thank You to Our Sponsors

Subscribe

Education, Conservation, and Exploration articles for the diving obsessed. Subscribe to our monthly blog and get our latest stories and content delivered to your inbox every Thursday.

Latest Features

Trending