Thursday, October 13, 2005


Finding Shipwreck Destroyed Man's Life

October 08, 2005

We'll go back 25 years later to see what happened to the man who devoted his entire life and savings to recovering this jewel of a yacht.

This team will do anything to get their high-tech equipment into -very- ... -tight-.... places!
And we'll go back to the day this Minnesotan caught a beauty of a safe at the bottom of a lake.
Was it filled with money?

A wall of water at the entrance hints at what lies inside the Duluth Great Lakes Aquarium ...
This popular Minnesota destination is just a 2.5 hour drive from the Twin Cities. With enormous tanks filled with creatures of all shapes and sizes, the aquarium showcases the freshwater world for folks of all ages to see and enjoy.

This is a rare opportunity to see what goes on in our region underwater without getting your feet wet.

But there are many adventurous people who are diving into the murky depths of our lakes and rivers in search of adventure and to try and solve untold mysteries.

It's a whole new world, underwater!

There are more than 10,000 wrecks lying on the bottom of the great lakes and not a year goes by without one of a growing number of scuba divers stumbling on another long lost ship. Many are simply rusting skeletons that retain little of their former glory but a few are incredibly well preserved and historic ships that are ghostly reminders of times gone by.

And the greatest wreck of them all lies hidden in the depths of Lake Superior: A fabulous millionaire's yacht named "Gunilda."

In the summer of 1911, steel magnate William Lamont Harkness with his family and friends took his brand new multi-million dollar plaything that was nearly two hundred feet long for a cruise on Lake Superior. But when faced with a $25 charge for a pilot to guide them into a port 60 miles east of Thunder Bay, Ontario, this very wealthy man refused.

A mistake that would haunt him for the rest of his life.

At full speed, the Gunilda hit an unmarked underwater mountain called McGarvey Shoal and was stuck fast. The rich and famous passengers were ferried ashore and a tug was called to free the stricken ship.

But it all went wrong and the yacht, complete with all its fine furnishings, grand piano, crystal chandeliers and priceless artifacts sank like a stone to the lakebed nearly 300 feet below.

Harkness never saw his ship again, but in 1980 we met a man who said he not only had bought the wreck from the insurers but had been down to it.Marine salvager Fred Broennle told us Gunilda was a ship full of treasures.

"Every porthole, every instrument you know is, as far as I'm concerned, a diamond, a gold bullion," Broennle said. "The scrollwork, the whole ship itself, as far as I'm concerned, is a jewelry store."

A quarter of a century or more ago, only the most adventurous, perhaps even foolhardy divers attempted to plunge into the frigid depths to reach the wreck. Broennle said he lost a friend on while diving into the ship. In 1972, 26-year-old King Hague disappeared while diving with Fred.

His body wasn't located until six years later.

"And yet I feel I owe the Gunilda something. She's a beautiful wreck," Broennle said.

"She's just sitting down there ready to be lifted."

"What I am trying to do is raise 600 tons from 300 feet in the coldest waters known to divers."

When we first went to the wreck with Fred Broennle in 1980 he had already squandered a fortune on plans to raise the Gunilda. Twenty-five years later, Fred and I headed out once more for what has become to him an almost sacred site.Nothing has changed.

A bottle-shaped buoy marks the tip of the underwater mountain called McGarvey Shoal.

In the calm, cold water of the lake the hidden hazard is remarkably clear.The Gunilda still lies 300 feet below, now labeled a "Heritage Shipwreck" by the Canadian authorities although Fred Broennle still says he's the legal owner and he wants to raise it to the surface.

"Money has nothing to do with it anymore. If it was money I would have quit long ago. It's--what you call it--an obsession. I call it a love. Which I don't want to give up."

But time has taken its toll on this man who admits his 35-year quest has ruined his life.

Fred is 72 now; he says the Gunilda has cost him two wives, several fortunes and his entire business. His ambitions lie 300 feet below but the only depths Fred can go to, are those of despair.

"I can only get my head out of the mud and go up. I can't go down any lower eh? I already reached the bottom."

Just a few miles away, the lobby of the historic Rossport Inn has become an unofficial repository of the story of the Gunilda.

"When I bought this place in 1982 more people had walked on the moon than had been underwater on that yacht," said Ned Basher, owner of the Rossport Inn.

Basher has seen the unusual shipwreck become quite a tourist attraction over the years as diving techniques have improved.

"Sunken ships have a particular fascination with people," he said.

But, Broennle still fantasizes about his getting his hands on his prized possession so far down below.

"I had dreams where I actually brought it up eh? And then I wake up and, oh my God that was a good dream," Broennle said.


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