It was the early morning of this past June 27 that "Heyboy" departed Grand Portage, MN, headed for Isle Royale. On calm waters Ken Merryman captained his crew of seven GLSPS volunteers past Hat Point into the fog that would encompass their entire voyage to the island. On board were Randy Beebe, Steve and Corey Daniel, Jack Decker, Kelly Murphy and Pete McConnell. The purpose of this monitoring project was to observe, photograph, video and document changes occurring on the "America" wreck.
After checking in with the park service at Windigo Visitors Center and waiting out a nice little thunderstorm, we finally were able to proceed to the wreck of the "America". The entire time we were moored to the wreck and diving, the weather couldn't decide between sun shine and calm winds to brisk SW gusts pushing fog and cold temps in as well as threatening rain. That didn't prevent us from having a great but sombering dive.
The last time GLSPS had a monitoring project on this wreck was in 2009. The National Park Service dive team was there videoing as well. The wreck was fairly intact and the repairs made on earlier projects seemed to be holding up. After the October storm in 2010 that lifted the boat deck off and deposited it on the port side of the wreck, Ken thought the site would remain relatively stable. The wreck seemed relatively undisturbed from the cabin deck down in 2011. In 2012 Ken dove the "America" at the end of the season and was amazed to see the port side wooden cabin walls near the boiler room and truck was sloping out about 30 degrees. The upper engine room walls were collapsing and the wall between the upper engine room and the engineer's quarters had come loose and was sitting in the aft stairwell to the lower engine room. The top of the grand staircase had been pulled to port ripping it from its base and the separation between the cabin deck and the starboard side of the ship continued to widen. Due to the drastic changes seen in 2012 it was decided to try and document the changes in the GLSPS monitoring project in 2013. The cabin deck was found to be continuing to migrate to port and now the port side wooden cabin wall near the boiler room and truck is at a 90 degree angle to the hull. This side wall is correctly set near the stern but gradually bends to port more as you move forward. It also seems like the ship is heeled over more now but there is no historical data to compare it to. Pictures taken and video shot, the crew called it a day before the weather worsened.
The next morning was spent locating a newly discovered barge in Washington Harbor across from the Windigo dock. Dive teams were armed either with a camera or tape measure. The park service had already dove on the barge, taking some initial measurements. Our task was to video and take more measurements of the barge t get a more accurate picture of the dimensions and details. It appears to be a work barge roughly 15 feet wide and 45 feet log. There were two sampson posts, one at the bow with a chock forward of it and one at the stern. There was a crude cleat at every corner and the hull was covered in steel plating at the bow and stern. There were two hatch holes located on the inside of the sampson posts that allowed a glimpse of the reinforcing structure under the deck. this barge was definitely built to handle weight. There will be a more detailed report in the making. It was fun to be among the first few divers to experience a newly found piece of history.
After completing our documentation of the barge we returned to the wreck of the "America". Divers were paired up and again photographed or videoed the wreck. I was partnered up with Ken and our focus was to recapture specific poses in specific areas that had been videoed in 2009 and photographed in the 1990's as well as 1970's. This included entering the crew's bunk room from the bow stairway, the truck, engine room, social salon area, descending the stairway to the galley, and the debris along or near the port side of the hull. The cabin walls collapsing along the port side made a tunnel like swim thru towards the bow on the outside of the hull.
Ken Merryman has dove this wreck for over 30 years and it was very hard for him to see the wreck deteriorating so much. So many people over many years have worked so hard to preserve the wreck and in the end mother nature will always do what she wants. Thanks to all the hard work of this project's volunteers. Everyone did their part to make the voyage a safe and productive one.