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According to UNESCO, an estimated three million shipwrecks are scattered in the oceans’ deep canyons, trenches, and coral reefs and remain undiscovered. These shipwrecks preserve historical information and provide clues about how people lived in the past. The term ‘underwater cultural heritage’ refers to traces of human existence and activity found on ancient sunken ships or retrieved cargo such as bronze statues and priceless artworks.
The Spanish treasure galleon, Nuestra Señora de Atocha, is the world’s most valuable shipwreck, estimated to be worth over USD 400 million. It was part of the Tierra Firme fleet of 28 ships bound for Spain from Cuba in 1622 and carried the Spanish Empire's wealth onboard – creamy pearls from Venezuela, glittering Colombian emeralds, and over 40 tons of gold and silver. The Atocha sailed into a hurricane off the coast of Key West, Florida, and sank. Its riches were discovered in 1985 by famed treasure hunter Mel Fisher (1922-1998).Thanks to virtual exhibitions and tours, you do not need diving skills to explore the oceans’ underwater cultural heritage. You can take a panoramic tour of Henry VIII of England’s (r. 1509-1547) favourite ship, the carrack Mary Rose, which sank in the English Channel during the Battle of the Solent on 19 July 1545. Want to see a 2,700-year-old Phoenician shipwreck submerged in the central Mediterranean? The virtual museum ‘Underwater Malta’ has a 3D model of the ship and app on Google Play. Fascinated to know what the wealth of the Spanish Empire looked like? Take a tour of Mel Fisher’s virtual treasures and the Atocha.
There are countless virtual maritime museum displays, but let us take a look at five shipwrecks with interesting stories to tell.
The Vrouw Maria was an 18th-century Dutch koff ship that sank in Finnish waters on its way to Saint Petersburg in Russia. In September 1771, the vessel left its home harbour of Amsterdam and entered the Danish channel of Öresund on 23 September. The Sound Toll Register recorded detailed information about ships and cargoes that entered the Danish Strait and listed the Vrouw Maria as ‘Dutch ship no. 508.’ Its cargo was noted as sugar and textiles, cheese and butter, books and teas for Russian nobility, as well as 27 valuable paintings bought for Empress Catherine the Great (1729-1796) from the Dutch merchant Gerrit Braamkamp (1699-1771). The paintings are estimated by art valuers today to be worth around €1.5 billion (USD 1.78 billion) and were to be included in The Hermitage collection.The Vrouw Maria ran aground on 3 October 1771 during foul weather that hit the archipelago in southwestern Finland. It took five days for the ship to sink, giving time for some cargo to be retrieved, but Catherine the Great’s paintings were lost at sea. The Vrouw Maria’s fate was forgotten until 1999 when a Finnish expedition discovered the shipwreck at a depth of 41 metres (134 feet) near the island of Jurmo in the Archipelago Sea.
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The question of ownership of the Vrouw Maria and its cargo immediately arose with four countries claiming rights: Russia because the cargo was en route there; Sweden, because the area where the ship was found was under Swedish rule in the 18th century; the Netherlands since it was a Dutch vessel; and Finland, which now owns the islands of the Archipelago Sea. It is an important question because whose history does a shipwreck represent? Does the Vrouw Maria represent common European or Dutch cultural heritage?
In 2012, the Finnish Maritime Museum put together a virtual reality exhibition (below) that allows visitors to experience Vrouw Maria’s sinking and inspect parts of the shipwreck.
Downloadable maps are available that show the plan of the Vrouw Maria. You can also visit the Vrouw Maria Maritime Museum, where you will find a detailed list of the cargo. For the adventure seekers, take a deep dive and explore the shipwreck.
The Melckmeyt (“milkmaid”) is known as the Dutch smuggler’s shipwreck. It was a 33-metre-long (108 feet) Dutch fluyt but flew a Danish flag because, at the time of its sinking in October 1659, it was illegal for the Netherlands to trade with Iceland (which was then ruled by Denmark). Icelandic commerce was controlled strictly by the Danes, but the Dutch saw an opportunity to provide Icelanders with the goods they desired, such as grain and ceramics. The Dutch sailors of the Melckmeyt posed as Danish crew.
The fluyt was the favoured vessel of the Dutch East India Company because it was built exclusively for trade.
The fluyt (three-masted ship) was the favoured vessel of the Dutch East India Company because it was built exclusively for trade, lightly constructed, and swift on the oceans. It could not outrun a terrible storm on 16 October 1659, however, and the ship sank off the remote Icelandic island of Flatey.
The Melckmeyt is Iceland’s oldest shipwreck, and it was discovered in 1992, impressively preserved thanks to Iceland’s icy waters. A digital reconstruction of the ship is available for anyone to explore and includes Johannes Vermeer’s (1632-1675) famous painting, Milkmaid, on the stern. It can be viewed by using a virtual reality headset such as Google Cardboard or on a computer or smartphone. Users can click and drag to move around the shipwreck.
Few wrecks of fluyts have been found, which makes this underwater archaeological find significant. Around 300 pieces of ceramics, mostly Delftware, were excavated along with tin plates. The shipwreck highlights the period of Icelandic economic history when Denmark ruled the island and dominated maritime commerce.
The London was a 76-gun Cromwellian warship that blew up after a gun powder explosion in March 1665. It was on its way from Chatham Dockyard, sailing up the Thames toward Gravesend. The ship was being mobilised to take part in the second Anglo-Dutch war (1665-1667), but as 17 of its cannons were being prepared for a gun salute, a gun powder explosion and resulting fire killed 300 crew. The London also carried many women, who were presumably on board to farewell the men who would be fighting.
There are no newspapers from that time period to record the event. The first edition of the London Gazette would not come out until November 1665, but diarising was an important way of recording observations and events, so we have Samuel Pepys's diary (1633-1703) to turn to. At the time, Pepys was Clerk of the Acts to the Navy Board, and his diary for 8 March 1665 recorded:
This morning is brought me to the office the sad newes of “The London,” in which Sir J. Lawson’s men were all bringing her from Chatham to the Hope, and thence he was to go to sea in her; but a little a’this side the buoy of the Nower, she suddenly blew up. About 24 [men] and a woman that were in the round-house and coach saved; the rest, being above 300, drowned: the ship breaking all in pieces, with 80 pieces of brass ordnance. She lies sunk, with her round-house above water.
The London sank in the Thames, resting in the thick silt. It was one of three completed ‘second-rate’ vessels ordered for the English fleet, built in Chatham in Kent in 1656. In 1658, it carved its name into history as part of the fleet that set sail for the Netherlands to collect Charles II of England (1630-1685), restoring him to the throne.
The shipwreck was discovered in a busy shipping lane in 2005 when a diving group happened upon the site, and its national importance was recognised when it was given protection under the Protection of Wrecks Act in 2008.
Artefacts that have been excavated so far point to how people lived on board the 17th-century ship: beeswax candles, dozens of leather shoes, a copper alloy spoon similar to today’s soup spoons, bronze weapons, handspikes, a sundial, beer tankards, and signet rings. In 2015, an extremely rare wooden gun carriage was recovered from a depth of 20 metres (65 feet). Warmer waters and temperatures bring wood-boring sea worms into waters where many shipwrecks lie, including The London, but you can take an educational deep-dive tour of the wreck.
Shipwrecks of Lake Champlain
Lake Champlain, located between New York and Vermont, is the sixth-largest freshwater lake in the United States. It is 201 kilometres (125 miles) long and 19 kilometres (12 miles) at its widest point and is home to more than 300 shipwrecks that are well-preserved, thanks to the cold water. Due to COVID-19, the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum moved online and, like many museums, is finding new ways to engage with communities.
Two of the more interesting wrecks are the Horse Ferry and the Phoenix. Both vessels highlight the importance of commercial navigation and commerce on the lake during the 19th century. In 1983, an almost intact horse-powered boat or ferry was discovered in Burlington Bay. Known as the Burlington Bay Horse Ferry, it is an example of the type of vessel that was a popular form of transportation across the lake between Vermont and New York from the 1820s to the early 1860s.Two horses propelled the 19.2 metres (63 feet) long sidewheel ferry. They walked on a large, horizontal treadwheel that turned and operated the paddlewheels. Some horse ferries would have eight to ten horses walking in a circle around a revolving wheel in the middle of the boat. Horse-powered ferries were also known as turntable “team-boat” transportation. The Lake Champlain Maritime Museum has a detailed diagram of the Burlington Bay Horse Ferry, showing the shaft and paddlewheels. The ferry is still submerged and in a fragile state, but it is the only known example of a horse ferry that has been archaeologically investigated.
The Phoenix is another wreck lying at the bottom of Lake Champlain. It was a 44.5-metre (146 feet) commercial steamboat built in 1815 by the Lake Champlain Steamboat Company.
The Phoenix’s claim to fame is twofold: it transported President James Monroe (1758-1831) when he travelled the region in 1817, and it caught fire and sank north of Colchester Shoal on 4 September 1819, becoming one of the earliest steamboat wrecks in US history. A lighted candle in the galley most likely caused the fire. Of the 46 passengers, six perished. The two paddlewheels dropped to the bottom of Lake Champlain and were discovered in 2020, but the remains of the Phoenix, with its white oak and iron hull, still lie at an inky depth of around 33 metres (110 feet). Take a tour of the steamboat wreckage with the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.
The Monterrey Shipwrecks
The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management (BOEM) in the United States recently launched its Virtual Archaeology Museum. The online museum features five shipwrecks complete with 3D models, maps, and videos. The Blake Ridge wreck is off the North Carolina coast, while the other four are submerged at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico, where only remotely operated submersibles can explore and survey.
Galveston Island was home to the swashbuckling Jean Laffite, a French privateer.
Three of those four ships lie at a depth of around 1310 metres (4,300 feet). They are known as the Monterrey Shipwrecks or Monterrey A, B, and C. It is the deepest wreck ever excavated in North America. Despite exploration with deep-sea vehicles, it is not known where the trio was headed or their country of origin. Monterrey A (which was discovered by Shell Oil in 2011) was an early 19th-century, 25.6-metre (84 feet) wooden-hulled, copper-clad vessel carrying five cannons and crates of muskets.
Little is known about the vessels, but Monterrey A was a fast, topsail schooner and possibly an armed privateer, escorting the Monterrey B as its prize. A cargo of hides and pottery excavated from the wreck suggests it may have originated in Mexico. Monterrey C carried no cargo and was fitted out for a transatlantic voyage.
The early 1800s was a tumultuous time in history: Mexico had gained independence from Spain, Texas declared its independence from Mexico, and France was busy selling Louisiana. The time was ripe for privateers. Galveston Island (off the Gulf coast) was home to the swashbuckling Jean Laffite (c. 1780 - c. 1823), a French privateer. He established a 1,000-strong privateer colony called Campeche in 1817 and received commissions from Spain, Mexico, and the United States.
A watery grave was the unfortunate fate for the three ships. Exploration has revealed an anchor was ripped from one of the ships, with the most plausible explanation being a violent storm hit the Gulf of Mexico. All shipwrecks are time capsules and tell the stories of their crew and passengers. Retrieved so far from the Monterrey Shipwrecks are over 60 well-preserved artefacts, including leather-bound books, tallow, eyeglasses, liquor bottles, decanter, fabric, ceramic jar, telescope, double-sided ivory brush, and octants.
Explore anchors, chainplates, a ship’s stove, and more at the BOEM virtual museum, or take a deep dive and see the Monterrey Shipwrecks and hear archaeologists interpret findings at the site.
The ocean floor is a museum, which can provide vital evidence about how humans lived and traded in the past, went to war, or shipped slaves. With virtual shipwreck tours, you can now glimpse moments in time.
10 of the best virtual ocean adventures
Exploring the world’s best-known coral environment, on the east coast of Australia, David Attenborough’s Great Barrier Reef is an interactive journey around this “beautiful but threatened world”. It delves in detail into some of the 1,500 fish species and 600 coral types that live on the 133,000-square-mile reef, to tell the story of one of Earth’s most biodiverse ecosystems and the damage done to it by climate change – through interactive timelapses, videos, weather maps and even a “mantis shrimp vision” tool. As part of the Netflix documentary Chasing Coral, which investigates coral bleaching around the world, the Ocean Agency has created a series of 360 degree images on Google Earth (click through the tabs bottom left to fly between locations). Also try AirPano,which offers a glimpse of a multicoloured reef near Komodo Island in Indonesia via an interactive photo.
Take a Virtual Tour of a 17th-Century Shipwreck
In October 1659, the Dutch merchant vessel Melckmeyt was preparing to sail from Iceland to Amsterdam when a violent storm hit. Crew members, one of whom died in the process, spent two days trying to stop the ship from sinking, but their efforts were in vain. The Melckmeyt, still loaded with cargo, plunged to the bottom of the frigid waters off Iceland’s Flatey Island, where the surviving crewmen were stranded for the winter.
Local divers first discovered the remnants of the wreck in 1992, Mindy Weisberger reports for Live Science. Though much of the ship had decayed over the centuries, its 108-foot lower hull was incredibly well preserved. Now, to mark the 360th anniversary of the Melckmeyt’s demise, archaeologists have launched a virtual reality experience that lets users explore the wreckage as it appears today—and see how the ship might have looked in the days after it sank.
Those in Iceland can stop by the Reykjavik Maritime Museum to tour the Melckmeyt (Dutch for “milkmaid”) with a VR headset. Individuals further afield can use a VR headset, computer or smartphone to experience the wreckage via an interactive YouTube video.
Users explore the ship as a diver, clicking and dragging to move around the archaeological site. The three-minute video begins by panning over the Melckmeyt’s ruins as seen today labels offer identifying details on various parts of the ship. Then, the scene pivots to a reconstruction of what the Melckmeyt, a type of Dutch vessel known as a flute, might have looked like when it landed on the sea floor in 1659. Keep an eye out for a reproduction of Johannes Vermeer’s “The Milkmaid,” which appears on the similarly named ship’s stern at minute 1:58.
Maritime archaeologists from the National Museum of Iceland first investigated the site of the disaster in 1993. Kevin Martin, a researcher at the University of Iceland, and colleagues from the Cultural Heritage Agency of the Netherlands conducted a more detailed survey of the wreckage in 2016, making high-resolution scans later used to create the VR experience.
According to the YouTube video’s description, the team based its simulated view of the Melckmeyt circa 1659 on a scale model of a separate ship. Likely a flute, the vessel was built around the turn of the 18th century and is now housed in the Netherlands’ Maritime Museum Rotterdam.
Vermeer's "Milkmaid" is visible on the ship's stern at 1:58 in the video (Courtesy of John McCarthy)
John McCarthy, a maritime archaeologist at Australia’s Flinders University who created the digital model, tells Atlas Obscura’s Isaac Schultz that the VR experience is best described as .5-D.” Showcasing the ship in 3D would have required a more powerful computer, thus making the project accessible to fewer people.
“We wanted it to go out into the public, and show it to people,” McCarthy says.
Experts are particularly interested in the Melckmeyt for multiple reasons: It is the oldest known and identified shipwreck in Icelandic waters, and it offers a rare example of a flute ship—vessels that once filled the Baltic Sea and were “the backbone of the wealth of the Netherlands,” McCarthy tells Schultz. “You see them in a lot of paintings, but actually finding intact shipwrecks of the type is quite rare.”
It’s also worth noting that the ship is a relic of an important period in Iceland’s economic history. As the Reykjavik Grapevine’s Paul Fontaine writes, the Kingdom of Denmark imposed a trade monopoly on the country on April 20, 1602. The measure prohibited all other European nations from trading with Iceland, funneling the country’s wealth to a select group of Danes.
According to a 2013 study led by archaeologist Nina Linde Jaspers, a Danish merchant hired the Melckmeyt to ferry goods between his home country and Iceland. The ship had strong ties to the Netherlands: It was likely built in the country and was captained by a Dutchman who operated with financial support from a Dutch merchant family. This should have barred the Melckmeyt from Icelandic waters, but as Jaspers explains, Danish oversight of the trade monopoly was not particularly rigid. Trellund is said to have sailed the ship into Iceland under a Danish flag, presumably to avoid any unwanted attention.
For years, the remains of this significant maritime wreck were inaccessible to all but a few skilled divers. But thanks to the new VR experience, anyone can discover the Melckmeyt—thankfully, McCarthy notes, “without submerging into the freezing North Atlantic sea.”
Why Spain Is Seeking to Catalog All of Its Historic Shipwrecks
For four centuries, Spain’s prodigious naval power built an empire that stretched around the globe. But not every military or merchant voyage ended well. In the first analysis of its kind by a former colonial power, Spain’s Ministry of Culture has identified 681 shipwrecks in the Caribbean and along the southern Atlantic coast of the United States. They date from 1492, when Christopher Columbus’ Santa María hit a sandbar near modern-day Haiti, to 1898, when the U.S. Navy sank the Plutón off the coast of Cuba during the Spanish-American War.
Carlos León Amores, an archaeologist, led a research team that spent five years sifting through Spanish archives to identify the doomed vessels, less than a quarter of which have been precisely located. More than 90 percent foundered in storms only about 2 percent were sunk by pirates or rival navies. More than 50,000 people perished, some of them enslaved Africans.
The ships carried diverse cargoes, from food and weapons to religious objects, but it’s the glittering products of Spain’s New World colonies that have long attracted interest from historians and fortune seekers. Already the government’s unpublished list is being called “the world’s largest treasure map.” But León Amores cautions that Spain is actually trying to stymie treasure hunters by laying claim to its “underwater cultural heritage.”
It’s not the first official shot across the bow. In 2012, Spain won a lawsuit against a U.S. salvage firm, which was forced to return 17 tons of gold and silver coins discovered in the wreck of the frigate Nuestra Señora de las Mercedes, sunk by the British near Portugal in 1804. Spanish authorities are currently embroiled in a dispute with the Colombian government and another U.S. firm over the 1708 wreck of the galleon San José, which carried gold, silver and emeralds that could be worth billions.
Still, the value of centuries-old wrecks is more than monetary. Each ship that sank between the Old World and the New is evidence of the beginnings of globalization. The real treasure is a better understanding of this powerful economic force that continues to shape the world today.
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This article is a selection from the September 2019 issue of Smithsonian magazine
About Amy Crawford
Amy Crawford is a Michigan-based freelance journalist writing about cities, science, the environment, art and education. A longtime Smithsonian contributor, her work also appears in CityLab and the Boston Globe.
A Secret Memorial Under the Sea: The Hunt to Discover the Wind Blown Shipwreck
Even after the advent of lighthouses, which provided some degree of navigational assistance, Long Island’s shores were the scene of thousands of shipwrecks. In the years since, a small group of fishermen have hunted obsessively for them. In members-only online fishing forums, they post periodic updates about their exploits. For such fishermen, their main goal is to be the first to fish each wreck, not only off Long Island but throughout the mid-Atlantic and New England region.
Among such shipwreck hunters, the sinking of the Wind Blown, a commercial fishing boat that went down off the coast of Montauk in 1984 with four young men aboard, still represents a great mystery. Some local wreck fishermen believe the Wind Blown did not, in fact, go down east of Montauk Point in the vicinity of Block Island—but farther to the south, in an area known as the Butterfish Hole.
Before he died, Tim Coleman, a fishing writer who also shared in the wreck-finding obsession, supplied the coordinates of where he believed the hull of the Wind Blown could still be found to Steven Cannizzo, a retired marine law enforcement detective who lives in Brooklyn, and whom I eventually tracked down in one of the online fishing forums.
Though the official position in US Coast Guard records lists the Wind Blown’s last-known location as latitude 40 degrees 30.1 minutes north, longitude 72 degrees 21.4 minutes west, Coleman proposed a slightly different location after several commercial dragger fishermen kept ripping their nets on a “new hang” near the coordinates in question. Coleman’s suggested position: latitude 40 degrees 54.7 minutes north, longitude 71 degrees 43.7 minutes west. A tenth of a minute can be the difference of about 600 feet.
Cannizzo decided it was high time to go investigate. During a fishing expedition a few years back, he went out with a well-known East End charter boat captain and came upon what he believed was the profile of the damaged hull of the Wind Blown on his Garmin GPS Fishfinder. Since Coleman had provided Cannizzo with a rounded-off location, it took some patience to finally locate the hull itself—or so he thought—some 1,000 to 2,000 feet away. A color photocopy he scanned and mailed to me showed thick bands of red and orange bars, which he believed indicated the presence of the 65-foot, steel-hulled vessel. It sat at a depth of roughly 30 fathoms (or about 180 feet) below the surface. After revealing the precise coordinates, he swore me to secrecy.
“The exact location is a closely guarded secret since it is rare to have a shipwreck so close to a major fishing port,” Cannizzo explained. “The Wind Blown was one of those ‘have-to-find’ spots, and many fishermen who target codfish and black sea bass would love to know where it sank.”
Cannizzo believes the Wind Blown now rests on the bottom of the Butterfish Hole, just east of the CIA Grounds. Based on his conversations over the years with highly skilled wreck and salvage divers, Cannizzo cautioned that “until a diver can descend to the bottom and return with either a photograph or physical evidence from the wreckage, it is the only way in which one can make a positive identification.”
Besides the investigative allure, such fishermen seek out wrecks because there is generally good fishing to be had. Among local fishermen, the Butterfish Hole is known as “the Aquarium” because of its tendency to attract a variety of baitfish, which in turn attract game fish—everything from bluefin tuna to a wide variety of large sharks that are targeted by top- and bottom-water fishermen. The Butterfish Hole is one of the unique ocean anomalies off the south shore of Long Island.
Created during the last ice age, it contains a large depression where both warm- and cold-current eddies form throughout the calendar year. Divers who have previously visited other nearby shipwrecks report a dramatic change in water temperature. For instance, during the summertime, while the surface water temperature may read 70 degrees or more, as divers make their way down they start to feel a noticeable chill, especially on the small exposed areas of their faces not covered in neoprene.
At the spot where Cannizzo believes the Wind Blown rests, the water temperature averages in the 40-degree range during the summer. Some shipwrecks come alive during winter others peak for fishing in the summer. The Butterfish Hole runs hot during the beginning and end of southern New England’s offshore fishing season. Located south of, and within eyesight of, Montauk Point Light at the easternmost tip of Long Island, it’s near the extremely busy inbound and outbound Nantucket shipping lanes.
Before either commercial or recreational fishermen knew about the existence of the Butterfish Hole, sailing ships in prior centuries crossed the Atlantic Ocean en route to Boston Harbor. They’d then make their way around the dangerous Nantucket Shoals to New York City, unknowingly passing right over a deep, gaping hole within sight of Long Island. But unlike the Lost at Sea Memorial located at the Montauk Lighthouse, Cannizzo thinks of the Wind Blown wreck as a second, secret memorial—its existence known only among a select few fishermen.
Though the Wind Blown’s wooden wheelhouse and the remains of her four crew members would have long since dissipated, Cannizzo holds out hope that, based on the reports of draggermen who have torn their nets over the years, the Wind Blown’s steel hull remains. All these decades later, Cannizzo likes to imagine the Wind Blown at rest, buried 30 fathoms below the surface. He sees her at the bottom of the ocean, joined by generations of lost fishermen, entombed at sea, who never made it home. For Cannizzo, it’s a reminder that you’re never home from a fishing trip until the lines of your vessel are again lashed to the dock.
Excerpted from The Lost Boys of Montauk: The True Story of the Wind Blown, Four Men Who Vanished at Sea, and the Survivors They Left Behind. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Gallery Books, a Division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. Copyright © 2021 by Amanda M. Fairbanks.
Meet the Retired US Navy Commander Who Located the Deepest Shipwreck in History
Julia Zaltzman's Most Recent Stories
Courtesy Reeve Jolliffe
Superyacht owner Victor Vescovo is used to making headlines, but this time it&rsquos personal. On March 31, he piloted his submersible DSV Limiting Factor to the deepest shipwreck dive in history and became the first person to witness the USS Johnson since it sank in a World War II battle off the Philippines in 1944. The retired US Navy Commander, who served in the US Navy for 20 years, elaborated on the dives, telling Robb Report he found the event &ldquoemotional.&rdquo
&ldquoIt was a really special dive for me,&rdquo Vescovo said, just hours after the event, while still aboard his vessel DSSV Pressure Drop. &ldquoThe first book I ever checked out of a library was a military history book, so I’ve been steeped in it my whole life. To be the first person to see the wreck of the Johnson was incredibly moving and a real privilege.&rdquo
Vescovo privately funded the expedition that successfully relocated, surveyed and filmed the shipwreck at a depth of 21,180 feet. EYOS Expeditions organized the dive. The Johnson, a Navy Fletcher-class destroyer, sank during the Battle of Leyte Gulf against Japanese forces. It is widely cited as the largest naval battle in history. Vescovo was accompanied on the dives by expedition historian, navigator and mission specialist, Parks Stephenson, Lieutenant Commander, US Navy (Ret.) and mission specialist Shane Eigler, senior submarine technician at Triton Submarines. Kelvin Murray, expedition leader at EYOS, was also present.
DSSV Pressure Drop has carried the submersible Limiting Factor to dive the deepest points of the world’s oceans. Courtesy EYOS Expeditions
The wreck was originally discovered in 2019 by the late Paul Allen&rsquos R/V Petrel under the leadership of ocean wreck explorer Robert Kraft. Pieces of the wreckage were filmed by a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), but it has now been discovered that the forward two-thirds of the wreck, including its bow, bridge, and mid-section, lay deeper than the ROV&rsquos rated depth limit of approximately 20,000 feet. In contrast, Vescovo&rsquos Limiting Factor, a Triton 36000/2 Full Ocean Depth submarine, has no operating depth limitation. It doesn&rsquot require a tether to the surface and can hold two occupants for real-time visitation and analysis of wrecks.
&ldquoRobert Kraft and the Vulcan group that came here years ago found what they believed was the wreckage,&rdquo says Vescovo. &ldquoThey discovered portions from the aft part of the ship, which were shattered and broken. We expected to see something similar, yet it appears what they filmed was the wreckage that was blown off the ship when it impacted the surface. The forward two thirds of the ship stayed intact and we were able to see all of it.&rdquo
The hull number &ldquo557&rdquo was clearly visible on both sides of its bow, along with two full 5-inch gun turrets, twin torpedo racks and multiple gun mounts in place on the superstructure. No human remains or clothing were seen and nothing was taken from the wreck.
Shane Eigler, Victor Vescovo and Parks Stephenson were all part of the voyage of discovery. Courtesy EYOS Expeditions
&ldquoWe saw the bridge and two gun mounts pointed in the same direction where they were firing their last shells at the Japanese destroyers that sank them,&rdquo says Vescovo. &ldquoIt was just extraordinary.&rdquo
It took four separate dives to locate and survey the wreck that lies in water 62 percent deeper than the Titanic. &ldquoOn the first dive, we had analysis of where it should be but we didn’t quite get to it,&rdquo says Vescovo. &ldquoWe had a minor technical problem on the second that caused us to have to abort the dive. But on the third, we actually picked up the wreck on the sub&rsquos sonar and were able to locate it. We spent as much time as we could on the fourth dive filming and taking photos.&rdquo
The entire wreck site of the 376-foot vessel occupies a concentrated small area, making it difficult to locate. But the highly maneuverable submersible was able to conduct a thorough survey of the wreck to verify its identity, construct a map of its layout and obtain high-definition imagery that can be used by naval historians.
The USS Johnson‘s forward section was largely intact after being destroyed by Japanese warships in 1944. Courtesy Eyos Expeditions
&ldquoIt was very hard to find but once we did, we went up and down the length of it and saw the shell holes from where she was hit according to historical records,&rdquo says Vescovo, who held ongoing discussions with Navy Heritage and History Command. &ldquoThe historical record isn’t clear on which Japanese ships did the most damage to her, but our preliminary analysis indicates she might have taken some of the worst blows from the Imperial Japanese Navy battleship Yamato. It’s only a hypothesis, but it would be an amazing conclusion to confirm that she did take heavy fire from the largest battleship ever constructed. A true David and Goliath story.&rdquo
In 2019, following the Five Deeps Expedition, Vescovo became the first person in history to have been to the top of all the world&rsquos continents, both Poles and the bottom of all its oceans.
But there are other voyages ahead. Three other wrecks remain undiscovered from the Battle of Leyte Gulf, and Vescovo is intent on finding them. &ldquoOne is the aircraft carrier USS Gambier Bay,&rdquo he says. &ldquoWe’ve just started to open the door.&rdquo
The 25 Coolest Shipwrecks In the World
Grab your scuba gear, because we're about to go deep&mdashunless you suffer from thalassophobia.
Humans are really good at sinking ships. So good, that the United Nations estimates that there are three million wrecked along the ocean floor. So we've rounded up 25 ships that wow us, make us scratch our heads, or even experience submechanophobia, a fear of fully or partially submerged manmade objects.
Location: Red Sea (near Egypt)
The Giannis D went by many names before it sunk. At first, the cargo ship was built as the "Shoyo Maru" in Imabari, Japan in 1969. It was eventually sold in 1975 and renamed "Markus." Then it was sold again in 1980 to the Dumarc Shipping and Trading Corporation in Piraeus, Greece, and renamed the "Giannis D."
Its last voyage departed from Rijeka, Yugoslavia, in 1983, carrying lumber bound for Jeddah in Saudi Arabia and Yemen.
Here's how the ship took on water and sunk, according to The Red Sea Project:
"On 19 April 1983 the ship was in transit in the Straits of Gubal, which is a rather narrow shipping lane before reaching the open waters of the Red Sea. Once on course for open water, the Captain turned over the helm to one of his junior officers and retired to his cabin to rest. Soon afterwards he was rudely awakened by the sound of his ship running aground. It appeared that the Giannis D had drifted west of her set course and ran aground at full speed on the northwest edge of the Sha&rsquoab Abu Nuhas Reef."
Today, the ship lies at the bottom of the Red Sea in three sections. The crumpled bow is about 10 meters below the surface.
Location: Tobermory, Ontario
Big Tub Harbour is the place to be if you're a diver. Just about three hours northwest of Toronto, the body of water is home to over 20 shipwrecks. It's sort of like the Bermuda Triangle of Ontario, Canada.
It's hard for photos to do this one justice, but the star shipwreck is easily "Sweepstakes," a Great Lakes Schooner built in 1867 in Burlington, Ontario. In its heyday, it weighed 218 gross tonnes and was 119 feet long.
In the summer of 1885, Sweepstakes was hauling coal near Cove Island by Tobermory when it somehow sustained hull damage. It was towed to Big Tub Harbour for repairs, but it was too expensive. All the valuables were stripped, and then she was sunk.
Luckily, you needn't be a diver to experience this ship in real life. Boat tours with glass bottoms routinely take tourists to visit the wreck, which lies close to the surface of the water in Big Tub Harbour. Of course, it's also a destination for divers.
Location: Lake Michigan
Ten years ago, Diver and maritime history buff Bernie Hellstrom came across two schooners that had collided and sunk into the depths of northern Lake Michigan more than 140 years ago. This happened when he was looking for shipwrecks and a depth sounder on his boat (an ultrasonic instrument used to measure the depth of water under a ship) detected an object that was over 200 feet down at the bottom of the lake.
Hellstrom later went back to the site with a custom-made camera and discovered two ships, the Peshtigo and St. Andrews, about 10 feet apart from one another. The ships had collided back in 1878, but it was thought that they had sunk in Lake Huron.
Location: Key West, Florida
Not all shipwrecks are accidents.
The U.S. Navy originally used the USNS General Hoyt S Vandenberg as a military troop transport and missile-tracking ship during World War II. In 1983, the ship was officially retired.
It was intentionally sunk in May 2009 to serve as an artificial coral reef. The ship went down 140 feet, leaving about 40 feet of clearance between the wreckage and the surface of the water. The ship formerly weighed 17,120 tons and was 522 feet, 10 inches long.
Location: Solomon Island
To call this guy a shipwreck would only be half-true since it's only half sunk in the Solomon Islands. The former cruise ship had a nasty run-in with an uncharted coral reef back in 2000 that left it in a permanent lean-with-it-rock-with-it pose.
A few salvage companies have taken interest in the ship only to find that it was ransacked of most of the goods during the Solomon Islands's Civil War between 1998 and 2003.
Location: Niagara Falls
The next time you're feeling lazy, just move your attention to this ship, which didn't move for literally 101 years until November 2019. This iron scow, unofficially named the "Niagara Scow," is a boat that two sailors nearly steered over the falls back in 1918.
Fortunately, they were rescued, but the boat remained. In fact, officials thought the boat was lodged for good.
&ldquoI thought it would be there for all time,&rdquo David Adames, chief executive of the Niagara Parks Commission, told The New York Times. &ldquoThe wreck has been out there for 100 years. It&rsquos just part of the Niagara Falls story.&rdquo
It moved 160 feet downstream after a storm surge caused winds in excess of 50 miles per hour.
Location: Chuuk Lagoon, Federated States of Micronesia
Coming in at 450 feet long, the ship&mdashwhich Mitsubishi built for shipowners Toyo Kaiun back in 1938&mdashwas used as a liner in the North American run and later carried cargo like raw silk, cotton, jute and flax.
Just a year before Pearl Harbor, in 1940, the Imperial Japanese Navy took over the Fujikawa and converted it into an aircraft ferry, complete with stern guns salvaged from old military ships. In September 1943, an American submarine, Permit, hit the ship with a torpedo. By the following year, the ship was back in service again until it was hit by yet another torpedo, this time launched by a strike bomber attached to a carrier group that included the USS Monterey and Bunker Hill. It eventually sunk in Chuuk Lagoon.
Chuuk Lagoon, itself, was considered the strongest Japanese stronghold in the Pacific during World War II, so there are a number of other wrecks across the atoll. In 1971, oceanologist Jacques Cousteau released a television documentary on the area and its remains, which quickly became a diving destination.
For the non-diver, the Eduard Bohlen shipwreck along Namibia's Skeleton Coast, a graveyard of wrecked ships, is a treat. Though, it's one you'll likely never see in-person because it's nefariously hard to get to it in the first place: you need a license and a guide with a special vehicle to go visit it and even then it's typically only accessed from the air.
In 1909, the ship hit land while stuck in a cloud of thick fog. Now, it lies nearly a mile inland.
Location: Scapa Flow, Scotland
In June 1919, during the first World War, the German fleet was destroyed by the Royal Navy near Scotland's Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands. The boats were to be surrendered and disarmed: they were being used as gambling chips in Paris while peace talks ensued.
After having been interned for a few days, the ships began to stink. They were not meant to be lived on. Most of the men were vacated from the ships, leaving a skeleton staff to run them. Not knowing that an armistice had been extended and thinking that Germany and the Allied Powers were about to go back to war, the German Fleet Commander, Rear Admiral Ludwig von Reuter, ordered that all the ships be scuttled, or intentionally sunk.
Built in England in 1864, then launched to sea three years later, the HMS Vixen was a behemoth gunboat whose hull was completely covered in teakwood, which is popular on today's boat decks. Supposedly, the boat was the slowest ironclad vessel in the Royal Navy.
Whether or not that's true doesn't matter, just the outcome&mdashafter sea trials, the Vixen and her sister, Viper, were considered too slow and were deemed unseaworthy. They were each towed to Bermuda in 1888 to serve as defense ships. By 1896, the ship's machinery and engines had all been removed and Vixen was used to block a narrow channel off Daniel's Bay to prevent torpedo attacks. In the process, friendly boats were also shooed off.
Today, the bow of the HMS Vixen sticks out of the waters it's submerged in. It's a protected wreck, now, meaning you must have a permit to scuba dive inside or take anything, though snorkeling is allowed. Glass bottom boat tours also frequent the site.
Along the coast of Oregon, you can see the ghoulish shadow of the Peter Iredale wreck at sunset. If that's too spooky, the day works, too&mdashthis thing is definitely not going anywhere.
The ship was formerly a four-masted steel barque sailing vessel owned by the British company Iredale & Porter. In 1906, the ship was leaving Santa Cruz, Mexico and heading to Portland, Oregon to pick up wheat headed for the United Kingdom when a storm hit. It instantly became a tourist hit.
While the more well-known World War II ship graveyard is Chuuk Lagoon, Palau is also home to 60 wrecks of its own, perfect for the sightseeing diver as many are relatively close to the ocean's surface.
Iro Maru, which was nearly 470 feet long, sank in 1944 during what was known as "Operation Desecrate 1," a prep mission the U.S. Navy made before overtaking Papua New Guinea. The ship is wrecked in the upright position at 120 feet below the surface at its deepest.
Loads of fish and corals have covered the wreck and made it into a home, but there is also live ammunition strewn about the deck, still, so divers should use caution if they're heading to the lower parts.
Location: Cayman Islands
The USS Kittiwake, a former submarine rescue ship, was intentionally sunk as an artificial reef in the British Cayman Islands. It was launched on July 10, 1945 and was decommissioned on September 30, 1994. Throughout its 49-year tenure, the 251-foot ship accompanied subs during sea trials and during missions where the crew would practice underwater rescue missions.
While many of its stories are still considered classified information, one of the Kittiwake's best-known stories came right after the Challenger space shuttle disaster in 1986. The Department of Defense and U.S. Coast Guard were on a massive search for the space ship's black box and it was the Kittiwake and her crew that eventually found it at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean.
Location: Sleeping Bear Dune, Lake Michigan
The James McBride was launched in 1848 on April Fool's Day. Nine years later, she took a journey to the Manitou Islands, carrying a cargo of wood. On a return trip to Chicago, the ship encountered a gale and was driven to the shore near Sleeping Bear Dune and was abandoned to the elements&mdashher owner, John Stafford, had little concern as the ship drove more profits than his initial investment of $4,000.
Known as the "Milkmaid" in English, the Melckmeyt is the oldest known shipwreck in Iceland, found just off the coast of the tiny island, Flatey. It sunk as part of a smuggler's run gone awry. The wreckage wasn't discovered until 1992. The 108-foot ship was covered beneath 40 feet of water.
Since then, archaeologists have gone nuts studying it, even creating a virtual reality diving experience to commemorate its 360th birthday.
Location: Stockholm, Sweden
The Vasa, a 17-century Swedish ship, sunk on its maiden voyage out of the Stockholm harbor. In 1628, it sunk right before the eyes of onlookers. It was supposed to be the most technical ship ever built in Sweden, but instead it ended up an engineering disaster. The gun deck was far too heavy and had been built by someone with no experience on ships.
Because the water is so cold and poor in oxygen, worms did not eat up the entire wooden ship. When it was rediscovered and raised in 1961, it was about 95 percent intact. The remains are held at the Vasa Museum in Stockholm.
Formerly a luxury cruise ship&mdashand then converted into a World War I hospital ship&mdashthe SS Maheno went into action in 1915, transporting casualties between Sydney and Melbourne. Eventually, the ship was called to the United Kingdom, where it carried patients from France to England.
In July 1935, the Maheno was purchased by an Osaka shipbreaker but never made it. The towline was severed in half during a cyclone about 50 miles off the coast. Today, it's rusting on the beach, but visitors cannot visit the wreck as it's extremely dangerous.
Location: Lanai, Hawaii
Known as "Shipwreck Beach," this spot in Lanai is known as a hazardous location for ships. With strong trade winds and big channel swells, it's not altogether surprising that over a dozen ships have been intentionally and unintentionally grounded here.
The YOGN-42, shown in this video, is a World War II-era fuel tanker. It's the main attraction at the beach as it's not even fully covered by water. From afar, it actually looks like it could be a regular boat docked near the shore. Since steel was scarce, the ship was built of ferroconcrete&mdasha frame of metal mesh or steel-alloy rebar to which a concrete mixture was added in layers.
Location: Sydney, Australia
The SS Ayrfield, a former cargo freighter built back in 1911, is just one of four abandoned ships haunting Australia's Homebush Bay. Once a former home of industry, Homebush Bay was contaminated and then revamped into a suburb. The boats are reminders of the Bay's industrial past, but only the SS Ayrfield is overgrown with trees.
Location: Navagio Beach, Greece
Beached within a cove where many tourists still gather today in Greece, a smuggler's boat looks like an art installation or an otherwise welcome guest. Beachcombers take photos in front of the shipwreck and set up their towels next to it for the day. Prior to becoming a permanent statue on this beach, though, the Panagiotis was run by smugglers carrying cigarettes and booze. Trying to escape from authorities, the ship crashed right into the cove in 1983.
Location: Bikini Atoll
Situated about 30 hours worth of travel from the closest airport in the Marshall Islands, an 880-foot aircraft carrier is sunk in Bikini Atoll, a nearby coral reef. A 1946 nuclear test blast sunk the ship.
Formerly operated by the Navy and built in Pennsylvania in 1943, the Hermes is the most famous shipwreck in Bermuda thanks to its complete structure. At 165 feet long, it's not a massive wreck, but its location is convenient for free divers, given that it's situated upright in 80 feet of water. The ship is mostly clear of marine growth, though many damsel fish have made it their home.
Location: Larnaca, Cyprus
This roll-on/roll-off ferry was meant to take ships to sea, but instead met its fate beneath the clear waters in Larnaca bay in 1980 on her maiden voyage. The ship was headed from Malmö to Syria, but never made it. As the ferry got closer to Greece, it began listing to port. A computer malfunction was allowing excess water to be pumped inside the ballast tanks. The problem eventually went away and it continued its journey.
When the water began seeping inside once more, the captain was ordered to take the ship out of Larnaca Harbor in case it sunk and could harm other ships. That night, it sank. The ship was loaded with 100 trips, which are all still loaded on its back. The ship is viewable from above the water, as it's only between 50 and 140 feet below the surface.
Location: Oahu, Hawaii
The Sea Tiger originally carried 93 illegal Chinese immigrants, but now rests just a quick boat ride away from Waikiki Beach. This boat was intentionally sunk to become an artificial reef in 1999. Since then, it's become overrun with sea life like moray eels, green sea turtles, and squirrelfish. The boat's depth comes in from 80 to 127 feet.
Location: Palos Verdes Peninsula, California
The Dominator was a freight ship that hit the Palos Verdes Peninsula in 1961 after sailing through a thick patch of fog. The wreckage is typically above the water line, making this ship accessible for non-divers.
To see this rusting hulk, start at Lunada Bay and walk north to Palos Verdes Point which is just under a half mile away.
Virtual Experiences: A Deep-Sea Adventure
If I could, I would pick up a paintbrush and paint the world in different shades of blue. I would trade my sturdy toes for webbed feet and wish for the ability to breathe underwater. But until then, I take what I can get and, for now, the only thing that keeps me from missing the vast waters are virtual tours of deep seas from around the world
David Attenborough&rsquos Coral Reef
A winning combination like no other: David Attenborough&rsquos smooth, gripping voice and the stunning Great Barrier Reef . Attracting thousands of animals each year, this reef is one of the most fragile environments in the world and one of the most popular ones too. The virtual tour is quite interactive, with short videos, quick facts, maps and timelapse. It accounts for over 1,500 species of fish and around 600 different types of corals that thrive in the reef. Our favourite bit is the &lsquomantis shrimp vision&rsquo, a tool through which you can see the world the way a mantis shrimp does.
Swimming with Sea Turtles
Sea turtles are magnificent creatures known for their long, long lives and their ability to hold their breath underwater for seven hours. We love BBC Earth&rsquos adorable turtle hatching experience and Airpano VR&rsquos sea turtles near Jardines de la Reina archipelago, Cuba.
Mysterious, stuck in time and sometimes, downright terrifying, shipwreck expeditions are not everybody&rsquos cup of tea. But we suggest you give their virtual version a chance, if not for a glimpse of what the real thing could be like. There are plenty of sites near New Zealand including the HMNZA Canterbury and MS Mikhail Lermontov. Xlvisuals Limited offers immersive, 360-degree videos of these warships and ocean liners these videos are the only way to see MS Mikhail Lermontov as parts of the warship was collapsed after an earthquake in 2016. The Smithsonian allows viewers to explore 17th-century Melckmeyt without the freezing waters of Iceland.
Diving with Sharks
Though not so scary in a virtual setting (we are all over Jaws, by now) a dive with sharks is nothing short of extraordinary. See Discovery Channel &rsquos take on the whale shark (largest fish on Earth) that was filmed on the coast of Mexico. This 360-degree video isn&rsquot very long but captures them mid feeding and allows viewers to observe them in great detail. If you are the patient type, then opt for Exploreorg&rsquos webcam stream and if you are lucky, you might get a glimpse of a shark in Atlantic of Cape Fear in North Carolina.
Diving with Jellyfish
Airpano has much under its sleeve, but our absolute favourite is their 360 degree, diving with Jellyfish in Indonesian waters. Translucent and mesmerising to the core, these jellyfish are a delight to experience virtually you can change angles and locations to observe them better. They are quite dangerous, so any experience that doesn&rsquot put either party in danger is quite unique.
WHITEFISH POINT IS A NO DRONE ZONE
For the safety and security of our patrons and property, Whitefish Point is a No Drone Zone. This includes US Fish & Wildlife Service Property/Seney National Wildlife Refuge (Whitefish Point Unit), Whitefish Point Bird Observatory/Michigan Audobon Society property is also protected as a No Drone Zone. Take all the pictures and videos you want, but be sure to leave your drone at home or in your vehicle! Thank you for respecting our No Drone Zone policy.
Magic and the macabre
From the remains of two Vesuvius victims frozen in their agonized death throes to a suspected “witch bottle,” or protective talisman filled with nails, 2020 was filled with eerie finds. Topping the charts in the category of ritual and superstition were “witches’ marks” carved into a medieval English church (the engravings featured spoke-like lines radiating out from central holes, perhaps meant to entrap malicious spirits in an endless maze) sacrificed llamas buried alive by Inca people in the mid-15th century and the 8,000-year-old remains of a child buried without their arm and leg bones, likely as part of a ceremony, in what is now Indonesia.
Researchers also found instruments, decorations and keepsakes crafted out of the bones of Bronze Age Britons’ relatives. “Even in modern secular societies, human remains are seen as particularly powerful objects, and this seems to hold true for people of the Bronze Age,” scholar Tom Booth told BBC News. “However, they treated and interacted with the dead in ways which are inconceivably macabre to us today.”
Archaeologists made plaster casts of the pair, who are thought to be a high-status older man and a younger enslaved individual. (Pompeii Archaeological Park)
The remains of Takabuti, a young woman who was murdered in Egypt in the seventh century B.C. (© Ulster Museum)