NIPIGON, Ont. -- Chris Berner immediately knew his dive team had found a shipwreck when trying to retrieve a net for a research vessel last Saturday.
The Superior Underwater Exploration Society was aiding the United States Geological Survey research vessel the Kiyi look for a lost net in the Cloud Bay area of Lake Superior near Nipigon when they discovered the wreck.
“A lot of times when you get a net snagged on the bottom, it turns out to be a shipwreck so we kind of had our fingers crossed that we would come across a shipwreck but nine times out of 10, it’s usually rock outcrop,” said Berner, a director of the SUES.
Berner and SUES vice president and mayor of Nipigon Richard Harvey dropped down into the water but couldn’t quite find the net, so Berner said he unclipped from the line and started swimming.
“I looked over and saw a big shape in front of me and I knew right away we found a shipwreck,” he said.
It’s still early to tell the exact age and type of boat, but Berner believes it’s a 60-foot barge, probably used in the logging industry at least 100 years ago.
The vessel is a large post and beam ship; some of the beams are 12 to 14 inches square, which Berner said had stopped being made in the late 1800s.
It could take months to research the ship and discover its exact origin, but Berner said they have a good idea of which logging company worked in the area at the time.
The value of a discovery of a shipwreck lies in its history and for Berner, it’s all about the dive and discovery.
“I love diving. I love seeing something that’s never been seen before. To turn around and see a shipwreck in front of me that’s probably never been seen before, that was kind of exciting,” he said.
This is the first shipwreck discovery for Berner, but it’s the third for fellow SUES director and boat and sonar operator Robert Valley, who has been hunting down shipwrecks for the past six years.
Valley has multiple displays on his boat with two different sensors; he can watch the divers on the bottom of the lake and still scan below in a 3D-like fashion.
It’s exciting to see the wreck on the bottom and then hear the divers react, he said.
“You know they found something because they’re hooting and hollering before they even hit the surface. You can hear them, the bubbles,’ he said.
“It’s a nice feeling to find something that’s been lost.”
The SUES is hoping to clean up the site so more people can come dive on the wreck.
And this is only the beginning of the history starting to flow out from Lake Superior, said Valley.
“Especially in this area here there are so many ships that haven’t been found yet,” he said.
“We’re actively looking for them.”