Thursday, November 25, 2004


Shipwreck Discovered Near Sodus


The Palladium Times
By Debra Lupien Robillard

SODUS POINT --A pre-Civil War era schooner, the Etta Belle, has been discovered in deep waters off Lake Ontario near Sodus Point by shipwreck enthusiasts Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville. According to newspaper accounts, the ship was on route from Little Sodus to Toronto, Canada, and was loaded with a full cargo of coal.

The oak-hulled schooner, which had reportedly sunk during calm weather in the early evening of Sept. 3, 1873, was found using the help of side scan sonar equipment specially-built by Kennard.

Kennard said in the fall of 2003, he and Scoville were searching an area northeast of Sodus on the way to Oswego.
"We were heading back late in the day and kept the sonar running," he said.

Fortunate find
He said they did spot something, but when they turned the boat around to check it out, it stalled. By the time they fixed the problem, it was getting dark and they had to head home.

Kennard said what they saw on the sonar did not really look like a ship.

"But, we knew we had something," he said. "I think the lake felt sorry for us and gave us (the ship)."

They were unable to return for two months and in November, Scoville made his first dive to the schooner.

"The schooner was found in approximately 200 feet of water, beyond the safe limits (135 feet) for recreational scuba divers," said Kennard.

Searching for clues
He said during the 2004 diving season, the schooner was extensively video-documented, measurements were collected and the cargo within its holds inspected.

Armed with data, the next step was to determine the identity of the ship.

Kennard said he uses the online databases of shipwrecks as a jump-off point and follows it up with newspaper research.

"I researched in eight different libraries in (about) four counties," said Kennard.

The result of the search turned up enrollment papers for the Etta Belle, confirming the exact dimensions of the sunken vessel and some additional details relating to owners and vessel registration.

The search culminated in the SUNY Oswego library with two newspaper articles about the shipwreck, one of which included an interview with the captain who visited Oswego two days after the sinking.

Piecing it together
The ship was rebuilt in 1871 from the hull of the schooner "Champion" which had wrecked at Port Hope, Canada, in 1870. The Champion was built in Oakville, Canada, in 1852.

In the Sept. 5, 1873, article of the then Oswego Palladium, Captain Pelow reported the leak was discovered about 6 p.m. on the bluff of the port bow. He said that the water rushed in with "such violence that the pumps were entirely useless."

The crew then took to the yawl and rowed to Big Sodus, losing most of their possessions, but not their lives.

Pelow stated the he believed that the cause of the leak may have happened while the cargo was being loaded, causing the butt end of one of the narrow boards that make up the side of the schooner to come loose.

"On video we can see where the hole is and it looks like a puncture," said Kennard. "We actually see something that looks like a gap or a hole."

He said this contradicts what the captain thought had happened as there is no board butting out.

"It looks like something hit it from the outside," said Kennard. "The schooner appears to have gone down stern first as there is extensive damage in the stern area."

He added the cabin roof has since collapsed down into the area of the cabin floor, the ship's rudder broke loose and lies under the ship's wheel along with portions of the stern railing and other debris and the entire ship is encrusted with zebra mussels.

"But the schooner Etta Belle is still a beautiful sight to see," said Kennard.

The technical team
Kennard has found over 200 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes and inland waterways over the past 30 years. In 1983, with partner Scott Hill, he discovered a unique horse-powered ferryboat in Lake Champlain. National Geographic featured the ferryboat in its October 1989 issue.

In June of 2003, he and Scoville found the Canadian steamship Homer Warren in Lake Ontario near Pultneyville, several miles west of Sodus Bay. The steamer had sunk in 1919 with a crew of nine who died when it sank in a violent storm on its way from Oswego to Toronto.

Kennard is an electrical engineer who built his own side scan sonar equipment in the 1970s.

Dan Scoville is an experienced cave and "technical" diver. He uses custom gas mixtures of oxygen, helium and nitrogen to dive to depths of over 350 feet. He is the owner of StealthDive, a Rochester-based company specializing in the manufacture of underwater lighting and scuba diving accessories.

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