Tag Archives: ship wreck

Dr. E. Lee Spence’s Hunley

English: Dr. E. Lee Spence, VP & owner, Intern...

English: Dr. E. Lee Spence, VP & owner, International Diving Institute (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lee had been searching for the Hunley for some time in the area between the Housatonic and Sullivan’s Island. After sinking the Housatonic, the Hunley would have passed through this area as it returned to its pier. For over 100 years, people had searched this corridor, and a few had claimed to have found the Hunley. P. T. Barnum had something to do with the many people who claimed to have found the little submarine. Each one wanting to claim the $100,000 Barnum had put up for the Hunley. Barnum intended to put the submarine in his museum in New York City. Though many claimed to have found the sub, no one ever presented proof of their find, and Mr. Barnum kept his money.

In 1970, Dr. Spence was taking a break from his search for the Hunley, and enjoying a day of fishing when one of the party’s traps snag on something on the harbor bottom. He knew that there should not have been anything in the immediate area for a trap to snag on. Lee borrowed Joe Porcelli’s diving gear; he did not have his gear with him (they were fishing from Joe’s boat, the Miss Inah). After looking at the chart and their location, Lee felt it must be something from the Housatonic that snagged the trap. Now Lee’s curiosity was up, he had to see what the trap was caught on. Diving in cold water without a wetsuit or even a dry-suit can be life threatening, but Lee was going.

Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley, suspended f...

Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley, suspended from a crane during her recovery from Charleston Harbor, 8 August 2000. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The visibility was poor, but soon Lee saw the trap caught on what looked like a limestone ledge. The bedrock limestone, in this location, should be 100 feet or more under the sand; it did not make sense. Then his many years of experience in the field of underwater archaeology paid-off,  he realized he was looking at Civil War era encrusted iron. The currents had swept away enough of the sand from the wreck that Lee believed he was looking at the Hunley. There was nothing else this size from that time period it could be. He was so excited he ignored all the diving safety rules and raced all the way to the surface screaming, “I’ve found the Hunley!” Unfortunately, Lee did not have a camera that could take photographs in the poor visibility, nor did he bring up anything from the wreck (I will go into this more in next week’s article Spence VS, Cussler: Who found the Hunley?). I can understand Doctor Spence’s frustration. While on a pleasure snorkeling trip in Jamaica, I discovered a ballast pile that is probably an unknown wreck, but I too did not have a camera (I will write about this in the future).

The 1970’s were a pre-GPS era. So, Lee took sightings from various landmarks on shore using a magnetic compass. Then as the Miss Inah went back to the dock, he carefully recorded the boats heading, speed, and time on each course, so he could get back to the site again.

The following week two divers went out to confirm that Spence’s discovery was indeed the Hunley. In early 1971, Spence went with Mike Douglas and David McGeehee to photograph the wreck. But, unfortunately the ocean currents had again covered the wreck of the Hunley. Spence did report the find of the Hunley to the government and the university, which he considered the proper authorities. Unfortunately, Lee did not report the find to the press. Which, (apparently his opinion seems to consider) would have been a “misguided publicity stunt”. (See the quote from Dr. Spence’s article below.)

Dr. Spence did not report his discovery to the press until he needed the publicity to help him persuade the GSA (General Services Administration) to allow him to recover the Hunley. If the Hunley was property of the Confederate government then the GSA had authority over the wreck (this will also be discussed in next week’s article). As a matter of fact, in Dr. Spence’s article he said the following:

“Perhaps it should be noted that between November of 1970 and June of 1975, although in frequent contact with various government officials relative to my efforts to get permission to salvage the wreck, I kept my discovery entirely secret from the media. The fact that I kept it secret and applied in conformity with the government regulations, clearly shows that my claim was not some sort of misguided publicity stunt. I did not release anything to the media about my discovery until half a decade had passed and I realized that, without public interest and pressure, GSA would never issue the necessary permit.”

(I recommend reading his article, it can be found here: http://hunleyfinder.wordpress.com/article/the-discovery-of-the-hunley-by-dr-e-lee-9a3pk7ykcgda-2/ )

Dr. Spence did get the location of the Hunley entered into the National Register for Historic Places. Dr. Spence also filed a claim in federal district court claiming the wreck (the United States does not have an admiralty court and the federal courts handle admiralty cases). In 1995, Dr. Spence donated the Hunley to the state of South Carolina. (All four of these will be discussed in more detail in next week’s article.)

Doctor Edward Lee Spence is a pioneer in underwater archaeology. His accomplishments would fill a book by themselves, but I will list just a few:

Dr. Spence found his first five shipwrecks when he was 12 years old.

In 1991 & 1992, he served as the Chief of Underwater Archeology for San Andres y Providencia, a 40,000 square mile area in the western Caribbean owned by Colombia.

"Wreck Chart" (map showing location ...

“Wreck Chart” (map showing location of the Civil War era blockade runner Georgiana, with a cross section of the wreck) This wreck is one of the many wrecks found by Dr. E. Lee Spence (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Dr Spence has worked on hundreds of wrecks from ancient times to modern, all over the world.

Dr. Spence is one of five people in the world with a Doctor of Marine Histories (College of Marine Arts, 1972).

Doctor Spence’s awards and honors are numerous, and from around the world.

He has survived numerous calamities while on sites, including: being shot at, running out of air underwater, pinned under wreckage, and caught in fish nets, to name just a few.

Lee is also a published editor and author of numerous non-fiction books, and has been a magazine editor and publisher of at least five different magazines.

Dr. E. Lee Spence with priceless, ruby studded...

Dr. E. Lee Spence with priceless, ruby studded, over one kilo, 22 kt gold sword handle once owned by 19th century pirate kings of Bali. It was part of a hoard of treasure hidden from the Dutch forces who invaded Java for the purpose of driving out the pirates. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If it were said that Dr. Spence was the role model used to create the Indian Jones character, it would not be surprising.

I would like to take a moment to thank Doctor Edward Lee Spence for all of his contributions to diving, underwater archaeology, and education.

On a personal note, Doctor Spence has been a pioneer, and casts a shadow over a field that has enthralled me since my childhood, and continues to do so today.

Job well done!

To learn more about Dr. Spence’s discovery of the H.L. Hunley we recommend Treasures of the Confederate Coast: The ‘Real Rhett Butler’ and Other Revelations by Edward Lee Spence.

Our Other Hunley Articles:

The Submarine H.L. Hunley

Clive Cussler’s Hunley

The Hunley Blue Signal Light

Spence VS Cussler: Who Found the Hunley

Back to the H.L. Hunley

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The Hunley Blue Signal Light

English: U.S. Army Capt. Andrew Fleagle, 1st B...

This is an example of flairs at night. Definately more visible than an oil lantern. (English: U.S. Army Capt. Andrew Fleagle, 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment fire support officer, observes illumination rounds fired during Operation Tora Arwa V in the Kandahar province Aug. 2. The illumination rounds were fired from M777 Howitzers and are used to help illuminate a certain area the Soldiers need to see. (Photo credit: Wikipedia))

This is not one of the articles in the Hunley series, it is an apology. In my articles I always try to walk the fine line between sharing new information and “talking down” to my readers (I don’t like it when people do that to me either). People today are so very informed about a wide variety of subjects. The problem is that sometimes I forget that some things are not common knowledge. The Hunley‘s blue light is just such a case.

Some sources inter-change blue light and blue lantern. This is incorrect. The Hunley did have a lantern on board, but they did not use the lantern to give the famous blue light signal. At that time, blue light, was a term that described a signal flare that gave off a blue light. The blue light can be seen for about 4 miles at sea and a lantern can be seen for about 1 mile. Many people who searched for the Hunley also did not understand this difference, which led them to search for the Hunley in the wrong location.

Chris Rucker wrote a very good and surprisingly short article on this topic ( here is the link http://civilwartalk.com/threads/h-l-hunleys-blue-lantern-myth.64150/ ). Chris has conducted research using the orignal ingredients for the Civil War area flare, and shared his research on YouTube.com (the video titles are in his article). Chris’ research on this topic will be shared in a longer article in the first issue of Civil War Navy magazine.

I apologize that I was not more specific in my article. Thank you Chris for sharing your knowledge and efforts with us all.

HL Hunley Replica

HL Hunley Replica (Photo credit: www78)

H.L. Hunley - Downtown Charleston, SC

H.L. Hunley – Downtown Charleston, SC (Photo credit: Jason Barnette Photography)


Hunley (Photo credit: sfgamchick)

first view of CSS Hunley since it sank in 1864

first view of CSS Hunley since it sank in 1864 (Photo credit: AN HONORABLE GERMAN)

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica)

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica) (Photo credit: hyperion327)

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica)

Civil War Submarine H. L. Hunley (Replica) (Photo credit: hyperion327)

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Our Other Hunley Articles:

The Submarine H.L. Hunley

Clive Cussler’s Hunley

Dr. E. Lee Spence’s Hunley

Spence VS Cussler: Who Found the Hunley

Back to the H.L. Hunley

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Sunday’s Article: The Hunley

Sunday’s Article: The Hunley.

The first in a series of articles about the Hunley, and our search will start in an surprising place. See you Sunday.

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Sunday’s Article: The Hunley

H. L. Hunley A Submarine Sinks a Warship

H. L. Hunley A Submarine Sinks a Warship (Photo credit: TradingCardsNPS)

English: apparently cropped from image found o...

English: apparently cropped from image found on http://www.history.navy.mil/photos/sh-us-cs/csa-sh/csash-hl/hunley.htm Photo #: NH 999 Confederate Submarine H.L. Hunley (1863-1864) Sepia wash drawing by R.G. Skerrett, 1902, after a painting then held by the Confederate Memorial Literary Society Museum, Richmond, Virginia. Courtesy of the Navy Art Collection, Washington, DC. U.S. Naval Historical Center Photograph. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

CSS Hunley

CSS Hunley (Photo credit: AN HONORABLE GERMAN)

Well I have been promising we will go back to sea soon, and Sunday 5 August 2012 is the day. Sunday kicks off a series of articles on the Confederate submarine Hunley. I will give a short background into the Hunley and touch on three big controversies around the little submarine.


Filed under New, ships

SS Bannockburn – “The Flying Dutchman of Lake Superior”

English: Photograph of the Montreal Transporta...

English: Photograph of the Montreal Transportation Company freighter BANNOCKBURN in the Kingston dry dock (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

SS Bannockburn

The Flying Dutchman of Lake Superior

The SS Bannockburn began life as another non-descript cargo ship designed to pass through the Welland Locks around the St. Lawrence Seaway into the Great Lakes. Sir Raylton Dixon & Company built the ship in 1893 in the United Kingdom; North Eastern Marine Engineering Co. of South Docks, Sunderland, built the steam engine.

The Bannockburn was 245 feet long (75 meters), 40 feet wide (12.2 meters), and had a draft of 18.5 feet (5.7 meters); she had a registered tonnage (cargo capacity not weight) of about 1500 tons. A rather small inauspicious ship built for the Montreal Transportation Company of Montreal, of Quebec, Canada.

The Bannockburn had a unusual profile for a Great Lakes freighter. Soon after she began her life as a Great Lakes freighter, other ship’s captains began to recognize the Bannockburn even before they could read the nameplate on her bow. For almost ten years, the Bannockburn hauled grain around the Great lakes for the Montreal Transportation Company. The ship became a common sight recognized by other ship’s captains and crews alike.

In April 1897, while at full speed, Bannockburn ran aground on the rocks near Snake Island light. No lives lost, but she was badly damaged.

The Bannockburn sank several months later in October 1897. With a cargo of grain bound for Kingston, Ontario from Chicago, Illinois, she struck the wall of the Welland Canal and sprung a leak taking on nine feet of water before she settled on the bottom of the lock. No lives were lost and the ship was refloated and repaired.

On 20 November 1902, the Bannockburn left Fort William, in what is now known as Thunder Bay, headed for Georgian Bay. She ran aground shortly after leaving Fort William and turned around heading back to port. With no apparent damage, the Bannockburn once again began her journey on 21 November 1902.

Later that day the famous Captain James McMaugh of the upbound freighter Algonquin spotted the Bannockburn seven miles southeast of his position. He estimated the Bannockburn was about eighty miles off Keweenaw Point and forty miles off Isle Royale. Captain McMaugh spotted the Bannockburn several times over the next few minutes, but eventually lost her in the fog.

English: Stannard Rock Light, Michigan, Lake S...

English: Stannard Rock Light, Michigan, Lake Superior (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Later that night a strong storm swept Lake Superior. At about 11:00 PM the passenger steamer Huronic identified the Bannockburn by her profile. The Bannockburn, headed for the Soo Locks, was making fine headway in the storm as the two ships passed each other. Nevertheless, the Bannockburn was never seen again during her lifetime.

The next morning the Bannockburn was reported as overdue at the Soo Locks. With the severe storm the night before this was not considered unusual. It was thought that the Bannockburn had stopped behind an island or anchored somewhere to wait for the storm to pass. As the days passed though, concern for the Bannockburn began to grow. Then on 25 November 1902, a steamship, the John D. Rockefeller, passed through a debris field just off Stannard Rock Light. No other ship was missing and there was no indication of what happened. On 30 November 1902, the Bannockburn and her crew were officially declared presumed lost. On 12 December 1902, a lifejacket from the Bannockburn washed ashore near the Grand Marias Lifesaving Station.

There had been many theories proposed for the loss of the Bannockburn including a boiler explosion. At the end of the shipping season when the Soo Locks were drained for maintenance, a hull plate from a ship was found at the bottom of the locks. Many believe this may have been from the Bannockburn. The theory continues that with a weakened hull, from the loss of the hull plate, the Bannockburn suffered a failure of its hull and sank. The ship has never been found and no one knows conclusively what happened to the Bannockburn.

Another theory as to the loss of the SS Bannockburn includes the Superior Shoal. The Superior Shoal, in the middle of Lake Superior, is a shallow area of 20 square miles. The highest point of this shoal area is only 21 feet from the surface of the lake, only 2.5 feet beneath the keel of the Bannockburn. A storm, such as the one when the Bannockburn was lost, would easily create waves greater than 3 feet. More than enough to cause the Bannockburn to run aground and sink. The Superior Shoal is also suggested as the culprit in the losses of the Edmund Fitzgerald, the Inkerman, and the Cerisoles. The last two ships disappeared on Lake Superior in November 1918.

Another shoal area, uncharted at the time of the loss of the Bannockburn, is just north of Caribou Island. The Caribou Island shoal area is also proposed as a possible grounding area for all four ships. Some believe the Bannockburn may have been swamped by waves, capsized and sank. Our only chance to discover why the Bannockburn was lost is to discover the wreck. However, even the discovery of the wreck may not explain why the Bannockburn was lost.

With any ordinary ship, this would have been the end of the Bannockburn. The ship would have disappeared into the obscurity of the past, only to periodically be resurrected by the occasional author; another small ship, lost for reasons unknown. However, the Bannockburn is no ordinary ship. Obscure in life, just one of hundreds of small ships plying the waters of Lake Superior, in death the Bannockburn has become the Flying Dutchman of the Great Lakes.

Why is the Bannockburn so revered and feared? The Bannockburn is not the first ship to disappear, only to be sighted afterwards. Submarine sailors reportedly sighted the USS Scorpion long after the ship sank southwest of the Azores. The USS Scorpion was one of six submarines, sister ships, that looked identical to each other. These other sightings were attributed to one of the Scorpion’s sister ships. The Bannockburn did not have the usual profile of a great lakes freighter. During life even at a great distance, the Bannockburn was accurately identified by her unique profile. Therefore, when the Bannockburn was spotted after her loss, there was no doubt what ship it could have been.

Some of the sightings are obvious sea stories. Sailors claiming to see the Bannockburn with skeletons on deck and in portholes manning the ship through a storm. Other reported sightings are not so easy to explain or dismiss. Some of these sightings come from men with much to lose and nothing to gain by reporting a ghost ship. Many of these sightings, over the past 110 years, have been reported in regional newspapers. When examining all of the sightings of the SS Bannockburn one group seems to rise to the surface of the unexplained. These sightings happen during or just before storms, fog, and other bad weather and seem to be warnings of danger. Most of these sightings come in the month of November as well. This group of sightings also cannot be explained as misidentifications or explained by some scientific theory.

The following is the author's description of t...

The following is the author’s description of the photograph quoted directly from the photograph’s Flickr page. “Water fills the lock to allow our boat to travel up from the St. Mary’s River to Lake Superior. ” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Many sailors through the years have viewed a sighting of the Bannockburn as a bad omen. This feeling seems to accompany the more fanciful supposed sightings, such as the ones with skeletons aboard the Bannockburn. Others regard the Bannockburn more as a warning of danger, much as the ghost of the Grey Lady of the outer banks.

The Story of the Iron ore freighter Walter A Hutchison falls into this later category. Shortly after World War 2 the Walter A Hutchison was headed to the Soo Locks in a storm. Eleven hours out of Thunder Bay the crew knew they were close to shore, but could not tell how close. They had been running close to the shore, but with a loss of their electronics due to ice, they did not know how close to shore. The wind was coming out of the northwest and would have been pushing the Walter A Hutchison closer to shore. They could steer a course more to the north, but this would put the seas on the side of the ship and could cause the cargo to shift and capsize the ship so the captain continued on his course and preferring to risk possibly running aground to a likely capsizing.

The Bannockburn had been sighted on a parallel course, but with the coming night they had lost sight of her. Suddenly a rocket exploded in the night. The crew saw the Bannockburn a hundred yards off coming straight at them. The captain ordered the rudder brought over hard to port bringing the bow around to the northeast. The Walter A Hutchison wallowed in the high waves trying to put distance between itself and the Bannockburn.

After what seemed like an eternity, the Bannockburn passed safely astern of the Walter A Hutchison. The crew continued to watch as the Bannockburn then ran aground and began to rip apart at the seams. Then the Bannockburn simply disappeared. If the Walter A Hutchison had not changed course, she would have been the ship impaled on the rocks

Did the Bannockburn appear in order to warn the Captain of the rocks ahead? Then, when the Captain failed to change his course, did the Bannockburn head straight at the Walter A Hutchison to force the Captain to change his course? We will never know. I am a man of science and always look for logical explanations, but if I am ever on Lake Superior and see a three-masted, single funnel ship the logo of the Montreal Transportation Company on its stack I am going to steer wide of her and heed the warning.

Two great books on ships of the Great Lakes (I have both in my library) are “Ghost Ships of the Great Lakes,” by Dwight Boyer; and “Ghost Ships, Gales and Forgotten Tales: True Adventures on the Great Lakes,” by Wes Oleszewski.

Aerial picture of the Soo Locks between Lake S...

Aerial picture of the Soo Locks between Lake Superior and Lake Huron between the cities of Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan, USA (right) and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario, Canada (left). Whitefish Island is just to the left of the rapids. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


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