Great Lakes Thumb Area Bottomland Preserve Shipwreck Documentation

Latest update August 1, 2019 Started on May 4, 2019

Investigate and document the condition of the shipwrecks in the Thumb Area Bottomland Preserve located in the Great Lakes (Lake Huron).

May 4, 2019
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In The Field

Well, it took a little longer to get this together, but here is a compilation of video clips from the Trident ROV diving on the shipwreck Albany.

The Albany (267ft steel steamer) was involved in a collision with the Philadelphia on November 7th, 1893. After the collision the Albany was taken in tow and foundered while underway. The Albany now lies a few miles away from the Philadelphia which also sank. The Albany lies in approximately 140 feet of water. Her stern is sitting upright and intact. The midsection is broken up and the bow is fairly intact and sitting on its starboard side.

The Trident performed awesome and the video quality has been excellent. We are looking forward to some more detailed documentation projects in the very near future! Thanks to S.E.E. for the support!

Thanks for checking it out. The Trident is an amazing tool. We are getting perspectives of the shipwrecks that we haven't ever thought about with the Trident ROV.

We were finally able to get out with the new Trident ROV that was granted by S.E.E. Today was a bit of learning on how to pilot to ROV. Our practice subject for today was the shipwreck Albany that sits in 150 ft of water. We will be downloading the video from the ROV and will upload it in a few days for you to check out. The ROV is an amazing tool for research on these wrecks. The wrecks are within technical diving limits, but with the ROV you can spend as much time as you want inspecting without having to worry about the decompression time you are incurring while diving. This will be very promising for us and look forward to more adventures with the Trident ROV!


Thank you to S.E.E for the support. We are excited to be receiving the Trident ROV as part of their support in our research and documentation efforts. Can’t wait to get it in the field!

We are starting to research underwater photogrammetry. eeNews reported back in Sept of 2015 the idea of gathering images from ROV's (in this case the Trident) and combine that with photogrammetry software to develop underwater 3D models inexpensively. Here is a link to that article...

To start out our investigation of the technology we are looking at free or opensource photogrammetry software to test out how viable it will be for documenting our shipwrecks and bringing that history to life to the non-diving public.

Here are a couple packages that we are currently evaluating.

1.) Meshroom - Meshroom is a free, opensource software package that on the surface (no pun intended) looks to be very promising. The software looks well thought out and easy to get started with. (

2.) MicMac - MicMac is also opensource and was developed by the French National Geographic and French National Geographic School for Geographic Sciences. The tool looks to be very powerful but have read reviews that the application is not the easiest to use. (

We would love to hear if you have any experience with photogrammetry or recommendations for us to look at. As you can imagine, creating 3-D photo models underwater has increased challenges than creating one from an object in a lightbox or aerial photography.

In The Field

This past weekend we were able to get out to the shipwreck Governor Smith to continue our work on testing new imaging equipment. The team setup two GoPro Hero 7 Black cameras with deep rated underwater housings. The camera rigs were also setup with Big Blue and Light and Motion Sola video lights.

Overall the camera rigs worked extremely well. Having both divers on the wreck with video rigs helps by almost doubling the amount of usable footage for our documentation on the shipwreck. Attached is an image gathered of Cindy inspecting inside the wreck taken by Chris Roth.

While topside we also had a discussion with Chris Roth about the importance of this documentation. A few years ago (summer 2004) the ships bell was located on the bow deck of the shipwreck. Chris was able to photograph the bell at that time (image attached). Unfortunately, by the spring of 2005 (just a few months later) the bell was illegally removed from the wreck and has been lost ever since.

The Federal Abandoned Shipwreck Act of 1987 provides necessary and sufficient statutory authority. This act prohibits the removal, alteration and destruction of abandoned property which is in, on, under, or over the bottomlands of the Great Lakes including those within a Great Lakes underwater preserve without a permit issued by representatives of the Department of Environment, Great Lakes, and Energy (EGLE) and the Department of Natural Resources (DNR).

Even though this act is in place, the enforcement of the law becomes a problem with the size and quantity of the shipwrecks. One shortfall in the act is that it does not provide resources or moneys to manage the shipwrecks or to enforce the act. It then becomes important for the general public and diving community to self police this act.

Our work will help support this through the detailed documentation of the wreck and the artifacts. Providing this documentation to the general public will raise awareness of the importance of these wrecks and build a community of advocates self policing these artifacts.

Bottom sketch of the Governor Smith on the bottom of Lake Huron by Robert McGreevy (Artist and Marine Historian).

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Today we had a meeting the Robert McGreevy (Artist and Maritime Historian) and Chris Roth about the Open Explorer project and this years plans.

In past years we worked to gather photographic documentation of select shipwrecks and Robert used that to create very accurate bottom sketches of those shipwrecks. Two years ago we focused on the Hunter Savidge and last year we worked on the Iron Chief.

Part of this years work is to help Robert with a sketch of the shipwreck Philadelphia. This will require extensive time (and dives) on the wreck photographic details and creating panoramics to help tell the story of how the shipwreck sits on the bottom of Lake Huron.

Continue to follow us as we lay out our plans for this years expeditions and targeted shipwrecks!

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Today was the 1st annual Port Austin Outdoor Expo. We were fortunate that at the last minute the organizers (Thumb Area Charter Captains Association) had some extra space and let us set up a table. We were able to display the digital imagery of some the shipwrecks we have been working on over the past couple years. Images included a panoramic of the Fred Lee, topographical mosaic of the Emma Nielson and many others. It was a great venue to educate the public on the history sitting hidden just off shore.

In the picture (Chris Roth, representative for the Thumb Area Bottomland Preserve to the MUPC, Cindy Lynch, and Michael Lynch)

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Thanks Pam! Looking forward to what this year will bring.

A little (more) background about us:

We have been diving and exploring the shipwrecks in the Thumb Area Bottomland Preserve for years now. For the last two years we have been working to help educate the public and document the shipwrecks. Its amazing how many people are unaware of the historic time capsules that are right in their back yard. The first video documentary we produced was called "Dive Log 2017 - Under the Thumb" and featured the shipwrecks Emma Nielson, E.P. Dorr, Hunter Savidge, the twin car ferries James W. Curran & John A, McPhail, and the Metropole.

We premiered this program at the 2018 Michigan Shipwreck Festival held in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Subsequently we have done this program to public groups including "Shipwreck dinners" sponsored by the Farm Restaurant in Port Austin, MI. This past spring this program was featured on the front page of the Huron Daily Tribune.

The full article can be read at:

For the 2018 dive season, we completed a second documentary entitled "Flashback - A Fresh Look at some Treasures from the Past..." This program featured the shipwrecks Iron Chief, Fred Lee, and the Arcturus. This show was premiered at the 2019 Michigan Shipwreck Festival in Ann Arbor and we will be doing follow up presentations with the public throughout 2019.

The team is currently working to determine which shipwrecks we will be focusing on documenting for this dive season and what new technologies we can incorporate to better document the condition of the shipwrecks. Things that we are looking into further is ROV technology to increase the amount of video footage and photographic images as many of these wrecks are in 200 ft so bottom time on scuba and rebreathers is limited, stitched topographical and panoramic imaging, and 3D photogrammetry technology to develop interactive models.

We also continue to search archives and records for past information on these shipwrecks. The comparison of this past data and the images and video we gather now can help us in the future document the changes in the conditions of these shipwrecks to better understand what effects time and nature (including invasive species) have on these historic records of the deep.

In The Field

Here is an example of what we have been seeing in changes to the underwater world of the Great Lakes.

The two images are of the same shipwreck and the same location on the shipwreck. The first image was taken before zebra and quagga mussels started to invade the Great Lakes.

This first image was take by a good friend of ours about 18 years ago when the shipwreck was first discovered. You can see how everything was well preserved in the cold, dark, fresh water bottomland. The rigging block is as perfect as the day the ship sailed.

The second image is one that we took last dive season (2018). As you can see, the water clarity has dramatically increased, however, the artifacts and shipwreck are now covered in many inches of mussels obscuring the detail of the artifacts. The rigging block seen in the first image is still there, it is just the round lump of mussels that we see today. As the mussels grow and die, the thickness of them continues to build year after year. We have seen evidence that the weight of these mussels starts to break down the shipwrecks over time. It will be very interesting to see how this continues to progress and how it continues to change our shipwrecks...

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With the ice on the Great Lakes finally gone and the launch docks installed at the marina's we are finally able to start this years wreck explorations. As the team (Cindy Lynch, Chris Roth, and Michael Lynch) determine what our feature documentary wrecks will be this year, the team decided on a work up dive to the shipwreck Philadelphia that is located northeast of Grindstone City, Michigan. The Philadelphia sits in 120 feet of fresh water in Lake Huron.

The Philadelphia was an iron package freighter that was built in Buffalo, NY in 1868. She was 236 feet long. The Philadelphia was involved in the collision with the Albany (also 6 miles away in the preserve) on November 7th, 1893.

This time of year the water is cold, but the visibility in the lakes is spectacular. We were rewarded with some of the best visibility on the Philadelphia that we have ever seen. It was estimated to be well over 100 feet! We were able to test out the underwater camera equipment and start working on a few preliminary panoramic images. Here are a few of the test panoramic images we were able to capture.

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For those interested in the published shipwreck locations within the Thumb Area Bottomland Preserve you can visit this webpage:

Every year more shipwrecks are found by individual local explorers and divers. With the advancements (and subsequent affordability) in side scan technology we are able to explore the area for other shipwrecks previously lost and continue to tell the history or in many cases re-write history based on new evidence found through the shipwreck inspection and documentation.

Expedition Background

We have been diving and exploring the shipwrecks in the Thumb Bottomland Preserve located in Lake Huron. Many of these wrecks are outside the limits of recreational scuba diving. Our goal is to document these wrecks to provide a glimpse into the historic time-capsules they are for the non-diving public.

Further, these shipwrecks are in an ever constant state of change. With the invasion zebra mussels and quagga mussels, the visibility within the Great Lakes has dramatically increased. However, this is at the expense of the fine details and small artifacts on the shipwrecks. Many wrecks are now covered with these mussels obscuring both the ship and its artifacts. Over time, the weight of the ever increasing mussels leads to the breakdown of the shipwrecks. A secondary purpose of our expedition is to document and monitor the condition of the shipwrecks.

Thank you Tom for your interest and following our expedition!

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