Divers visit Historic "Chicora" Shipwreck

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Posted by Craig Rich on June 01, 19102 at 20:55:37:

News release
1 June 2002

Divers Visit Historic "Chicora" Shipwreck

(Holland, MI) – After a year of conducting remote video documentation, members of Holland-based Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates (MSRA) sent a technical dive team to the bottom of Lake Michigan Saturday to visit the wreck of the wooden-hulled steamship "Chicora", located just last summer. Divers were able to obtain firsthand evidence helping to further substantiate that the wreck is in fact the Chicora. It is the goal of the MSRA to further document the existing condition of this historic underwater resource before it becomes a highly visited site for technical divers from throughout the Midwest

Members of the group discovered the long-lost Graham & Morton steamer in May 2001 after a 4-year search. MSRA was formed following the discovery when it was determined the local underwater preserve group, under whose auspices they had been searching for the vessel, did not have the resources to remotely document and explore the site. Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates directors include President Jan Miller, Secretary Craig Rich and Treasurer Valerie van Heest, Jack van Heest, Doug Welsch and Geoffrey Reynolds

The "Chicora" was a 209-foot long steamer that foundered during a late season run from Milwaukee, Wisconsin back to its homeport of St. Joseph-Benton Harbor, Michigan in January 1895. The 3-year old vessel was built especially strong for the Michigan winter shipping season, but was overcome during one of the worst storms in recorded Lake Michigan history. Its final resting place has remained a West Michigan mystery until now.

Two of West Michigan most highly trained divers, Doug Welsch of Fennville and Ocean Sands Scuba shop owner Charles Larsen of Holland conducted Saturday’s dive to the 270-foot deep shipwreck 16 miles off the coast of Saugatuck. Local diver Craig Rich acted as a "safety" diver. Excellent visibility and precise placement of the divers on the bow of the vessel allowed them to observe numerous physical features including ornate railings, historic paint schemes and window placement all matching historic descriptions and architectural drawings of the Chicora.

The goal of the mission was threefold: 1). positively identify the wreck as the "Chicora", 2). begin mapping the wreck site for historical purposes and, 3). provide the State of Michigan "evidentiary" video in case of loss or theft of artifacts. Michigan State Police representative, Sergeant Tom Tanzos, was on hand to witness the dive operation, as coordinated with John Halsey, Michigan State Archaeologist.

The depth of the dive required the use of special gases for breathing rather than the usual compressed air used by recreational divers. The extreme depth also required the divers to spend a significant amount of time "decompressing" on their way to the surface to allow their bodies to adjust to the changing pressures.

MSRA was awarded a grant in April from the Great Lakes Shipwreck Research Foundation in Milwaukee, Wisconsin and will continue to document the wreck using both divers and remote operated vehicles for the balance of the season. Their work will result in a multi-media production available for public viewing in November 2002.

The "Chicora" is located well outside of recreational diving limits and divers should not attempt to visit the site without proper equipment and training.

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