Posted on 18.06.2008 - 06:00 EDT in GENERAL NEWS by Rons_ROV_Links
In the deep depth where the Ontario lies there is no visible light to illuminate the ship. A remote operated vehicle with on-board cameras and high intensity lighting was deployed to bring back images of the sunken shipwreck. The schooner was found sitting upright on the bottom leaning over to one side. The masts are still in place rising up over 70 feet from the bottom. A portion of the bowsprit remains and just below it there is a beautifully carved scroll bow stem. Two of the cannons are visible in the bow area but they have come loose from their original positions. Two of the large anchors are clearly visible. One anchor is still secure in its original position and the other has dropped off to the side of the ship. The most characteristic feature of this ship are the quarter galleries that are located on either side of the stern area of the HMS Ontario. A quarter gallery is a kind of balcony with windows that are typically placed on the sides of the stern-castle, a high, tower-like structure at the back of a ship that housed the officers' quarters. Both quarter galleries are there with some of the window glass still in place. Under the ship's tiller rests one of the small cannons that had been mounted on the stern deck of the ship. A few deadeyes and pulley blocks can be seen lying about in the wreckage. Many of the belaying pins that were used to secure lines are still located on the rails of the ship. All of the hatch covers and skylights are gone leaving a slight opening to the deck below, however, the ROV was not able to penetrate into the lower deck due to the silt that has been deposited over the years.
Tales of Treasure and the Holy Grail
The HMS Ontario is considered to be one of the few "Holy Grail" shipwrecks in the Great Lakes. For years many divers and shipwreck hunters have searched the lake for the HMS Ontario without success. Authors of shipwreck books speculated and then wrote tales of payroll treasure that might be on board the Ontario. This was far from the actual truth as any payroll for the troops would have been coming from Carleton Island, not from Fort Niagara. The book "Legend of the Lake" written by author Arthur Britton Smith in 1997 chronicles the history of the HMS Ontario and provides an excellent treatise of the historical conditions between the British and the Americans during this period of time.
War Grave Site
The shipwreck of the HMS Ontario is still considered to be British Admiralty property. The official record of the number of people on board the Ontario when she sank included: 74 military personnel, 9 women and children, 4 Indians, and 1 civilian. There were no prisoners-of-war officially listed by the British, however, private correspondence by an individual living at Fort Niagara indicated that there may have been a total of 120 people on board the ship including about 30 American prisoners. The shipwreck site of the Ontario is considered to be a British war grave and therefore should remain forever undisturbed.
Documenting the Shipwreck
Multiple cameras located on the underwater remote operated vehicle were utilized to document the condition of the ship providing over 80 minutes of color and black & white video imagery. There has been sufficient video documentation obtained so that it will never be necessary to return to the shipwreck site again. Kennard and Scoville plan to contact several TV production groups that may be interested in developing an historic program about the HMS Ontario. In addition, they are considering the possibility of hosting a local dinner to premiere the showing of this historic shipwreck discovery.
To search for and identify a potential shipwreck, more time is actually spent on land going though old newspapers on microfilm and conferring with shipwreck historians than on the lake searching. Guy Morin assisted the in the research of the Ontario from reports that were documented in the Haldimand papers from the National Archives of Canada located in Ottawa. Ships that get caught in a storm become very broken up, the nameplate may become lost in the wreckage or the painted name on a ship can disappear over time. It is very important to do the research prior to conducting an expensive shipwreck search, especially when a ship may have actually been saved or salvaged later on. Once a ship is found, all efforts are made to confirm its name and history.
Lake Ontario Shipwrecks
There are estimated to have been over 4700 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes with approximately 500 occurring on Lake Ontario. Many of these ships were wrecked in a harbor or were driven on-shore where they were pounded to pieces. Probably fewer than 200 ships have actually been lost in the lake and there have only been a few notable shipwreck discoveries off the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Because lake depths often exceed several hundred feet just a few miles out from the southern shoreline, shipwrecks that are located in these depths are beyond the range of recreational divers and require costly search and support ship equipment to find them. For additional information, images, and to view a short video of the shipwreck of the HMS Ontario, visit the website: www.shipwreckworld.com
Shipwreck Discovery Team
Jim Kennard has been diving and exploring the lakes in the northeast since 1970. He found over 200 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, Lake Champlain, NY Finger Lakes and in the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers over the past 35 years. Using his background as an electrical engineer, he built the side scan sonar system that located these shipwrecks. In 1983 he discovered a unique horse powered ferryboat in Lake Champlain. National Geographic featured the ferryboat in their October 1989 issue. Several other of his shipwreck discoveries have been reported in various publications including Skin Diver, Inland Seas, and Sea Technology.
Dan Scoville is an experienced cave and "technical" diver who utilizes custom gas mixtures of oxygen, helium, and nitrogen to dive to depths of over 300 feet. In 2005, Dan led the development of an Underwater Remote Operated Vehicle with a team of college seniors from the Rochester Institute of Technology. Since then he has used his ROV to explore shipwrecks in Lake Ontario and to locate the bodies of three hunters from a lost Seabee Republic aircraft in Lac Simon, Quebec. He is currently the project manager and electrical engineer for the Remote Operated Vehicle product line at HydroAcoustics Inc.
Shipwreck Team Artist
Roland (Chip) Stevens is a retired architect and working artist whose artwork is well known in the Rochester area and has been accepted into numerous national exhibitions. A sailor for many years, Stevens has a love of the sea, as reflected in his seascape watercolor paintings. He has created paintings of the some of the recently discovered Lake Ontario shipwrecks that have appeared in various news stories and publications.