LAKE ONTARIO — The stories of more than 26 Lake Ontario shipwrecks are documented in Jim Kennard’s latest book, published earlier this month by research sponsor, the National Museum of the Great Lakes.
Kennard, a frequent sight on the waters surrounding Oswego and in the pages of The Palladium-Times, said his latest book might shed light on the 21 shipwreck sites in the proposed Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary, a 1,700-square-mile portion of eastern Lake Ontario designed to protect historically significant sites for historical and scientific research.
The proposed sanctuary is supported by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in March 2017 and is in a public vetting process until July 31.
Chapters in Kennard’s “Shipwrecks of Lake Ontario: A Journey of Discovery” take readers on an “adventure” of his five-person team’s discovery of vessels, and investigations into already known vessels, uncovering histories dating back to the 1800s.
“I call it a ‘journey of discovery’ because that’s really what it is,” Kennard said in an interview Monday.
The beginning of each chapter covers technological and methodological innovations in maritime exploration before describing the process of discovering the shipwreck. Kennard also provides a “well-researched historical account” of the vessel, based on archival information and new findings.
“We’re giving the reader a sense of adventure, but also they’re going to understand from a historical standpoint what was found,” Kennard said.
One of the most historically significant regions of the Great Lakes, eastern Lake Ontario has been the site of maritime trade and armed conflict for centuries. Vessels traversing Lake Ontario encountered “treacherous conditions,” which NOAA said resulted in numerous shipwrecks or “submerged museums.”
Bordering Oswego, Jefferson, Cayuga and Wayne counties and containing 21 known shipwrecks, the proposed sanctuary is one of the few efforts aligning politicians and government workers across party lines and at all levels of government.
Kennard said sanctuary advocates — who in April touted the sanctuary as a potential tourism draw at a press conference — should be careful not to bet on the tourism impact of the shipwrecks, since only one off the coast of Oswego and four of book’s 26 sites are available for recreational diving.
“The recreational diving is very limited,” Kennard said. “It’s not going to affect tourism at all. All the ships we found are beyond the recreational dive limits.”
The vast majority, Kennard warned, are beyond the reach of recreational divers, limited by a 130-foot depth threshold, beyond which requires technical expertise to avoid injury or fatality. The only shipwreck off the coast of Oswego within the recreational dive limit is the David W. Mills, discovered in 1919.
The earliest shipwreck discovery described in the book was the HMS Ontario, a British war ship which sank in 1780 and Kennard's team discovered in 2008.
Kennard and his team, consisting of a marine technician, artist and deep-sea diver, entered the scene in 2003 when they uncovered the 1919 shipwreck of the Homer Warren. Their findings proliferated thanks to innovations in sonar technology that yielded the side-scan sonar.
Side-scan sonar, using similar technology to pre-natal ultra-sound imaging, can send out a signal 1,000 feet on either side to produce an aerial image of the site, according to Kennard.
Crewmembers could also render an image by remote-control operation of a sea-floor vehicle with a camera attached, although neither could produce the panoramic view of the shipwreck site they hankered for their book.
That’s where award-winning water color artist Roland “Chip” Stevens came into play, using the remote-controlled camera to sketch and then paint a circumvent image of the abeyant vessel.
“If you look in a video, people can put it together in their mind, but you’d really like to see what the whole thing looks like,” Kennard said. “In all cases, we really want to show what the entire ship looks like, either through picture or a color painting.”
The explorations described in the book were sponsored by the National Museum of the Great Lakes, which Kennard says has sponsored his team since 2011. Funds raised from book sales support the museum’s maritime research efforts.
Correction: The original version of this article incorrectly stated the earliest shipwreck described in Jim Kennard’s “Shipwrecks of Lake Ontario: A Journey of Discovery” was the St. Peter. The earliest shipwreck described in the book, also the earliest discovered in Lake Ontario, was the HMS Ontario.
Further, the caption incorrectly said the photograph of the Washington was produced by the side-scan sonar technology. The image was actually produced by the team’s remote controlled underwater camera. The article has been updated with these corrections.