Jim Kennard has discovered some of the most historic Great Lakes shipwrecks in his more than 40 years’ exploring New York’s waterways, and he’ll recall his experiences in an upcoming presentation at Cayuga Community College.
Kennard’s “Shipwrecks of Lake Ontario” will provide an opportunity for an in-depth look at his discovery of the HMS Ontario and the Washington, two of the oldest shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, plus other unique vessels Kennard and his team discovered in their explorations. The presentation, the second in Cayuga’s Hometown History Series, is scheduled for 2-3 p.m. on Oct. 22 at Cayuga’s Fulton Campus. It is free and open to the public.
The presentation is not only a look into some of the greatest shipwreck discoveries in Lake Ontario, said Associate Vice President and Dean of the Fulton Campus Keiko Kimura, but also how the ships are found and identified.
“Jim’s career exploring the Great Lakes is truly incredible, and his presentation will allow people to see some of his best discoveries, but also hear about the extensive preparation and research that goes into finding and identifying the shipwrecks,” said Kimura. “We can’t wait to hear his stories of finding some of the best-known shipwrecks in Lake Ontario.”
Kennard’s story of discovery starts with learning to dive in 1970 and exploring shipwrecks in the Finger Lakes and in the St. Lawrence River. However, it was when a friend showed him the wreck of the St. Peter in Lake Ontario near Pultneyville that his enthusiasm for shipwrecks grew.
“That was really the first shipwreck that I saw that was a three-masted schooner. I was amazed at having the opportunity to see it,” he said. “As time went on, I wanted to go on a wreck that no one else had been on. I wanted to see it before anyone else had been there.”
Kennard built his own sidescan sonar to help his explorations. Combined with extensive research of old newspapers to identify the general location of shipwrecks, the homemade sonar helped Kennard find shipwrecks in Lake Champlain, the Finger Lakes and the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers.
In general he stayed away from Lake Ontario, believing it was too deep to find unidentified wrecks. In 2002 he met Dan Scoville, a technical diver who was able to dive into depths greater than 200 feet. Several years later Dan and his team of Rochester Institute of Technology seniors developed as a senior project a remote operated vehicle (ROV) capable of depths exceeding 500 feet.
“Once we had the ROV, it completely changed how we collected information. Before we had to dive repeatedly to get enough video. The ROV can stay down there as long as needed and collect all the video we need. That was such a big improvement,” said Kennard.
His explorations culminated with the discovery of the British warship HMS Ontario in 2008. Built in 1780 and lost in the fall of the same year, the Ontario sank in a gale after departing from Fort Niagara. Almost 230 years later, Kennard and his team found the vessel in deep water off the lake’s southern shores.
The Ontario is the oldest shipwreck discovered in the Great Lakes, and people will have the chance to see photos and video footage of the vessel at Kennard’s presentation, plus video of their discovery of the sloop Washington. Lost in 1803, the sloop is the second oldest discovered and identified shipwreck in the Great Lakes after Kennard’s team located it west of Oswego in 2016.
“We’ll have some great video of both the Ontario and the Washington that will really give everyone ideas of what the shipwrecks look like,” said Kennard. “It’s an interesting combination of the journey that we went through plus some anecdotes about the some of the unusual and interesting shipwrecks we found along the way.”
In 2019, Kennard collected his own discoveries and those of other explorers in his book “Shipwrecks of Lake Ontario.” He plans on sharing other significant shipwrecks mentioned in the book with the audience at the upcoming presentation at Cayuga’s Fulton Campus.
For more information on Cayuga’s Hometown History Series, visit https://www.cayuga-cc.edu/blog/cayuga-launching-hometown-history-series-at-fulton-campus/. For more information on Kennard and his discoveries, visit http://www.shipwreckworld.com.