Catching the Wave - A Wreck Rediscovered

Table of Contents

Title Page
Catching the Wave - A Wreck Rediscovered
Good Legends
The night of 29-30 April 1853.
Treasure Ship?
Table of Illustrations

The anchor line jerked through my fingers again as I struggled to maintain my twenty-foot decompression depth. Looking up, I could barely see the shadow of the dive boat tossing on the building waves - it was going to be a rough ride back to the Prince Edward county shore. Beside me my buddy Barbara Carson, checked her gauges and clung tightly to the line. In another thirty minutes we would be able to ascend to the surface. Up there it was the fall of 1991. Occasional jets passed high overhead in the sunlight. Far to the south a plume of mist marked the location of the nuclear plant near Oswego.

My eyes and thoughts followed the line in the opposite direction as it faded into the gloom. Down there it was the spring of 1853 -a world far removed from the dangers of falling airplanes and radioactive clouds. Steam was the dominant power source then, but it carried its own risks, risks to which the blackened remains of the Ocean Wave beneath us bore chilling testimony.

The paddlewheel. Photo by Dan McKay. Courtesy of Northern Tech Diver.
We had descended slowly on the dive, both a little apprehensive about what awaited us below. At about 110 feet the last vestiges of sunlight prompted us to turn on our cave lights and the darkness retreated a little from the glare. Almost immediately we caught our first glimpse of the wreck - part of a paddle-wheel lying on its side directly below us.

This meant first, that we immediately knew the identity of the wreck, and second, that our bodies received an extra jolt of adrenalin, for the Ocean Wave is one of the most famous wrecks in Lake Ontario.

Upon reaching the paddle-wheel we realized that it rested on top of the overturned hull. Continuing down we found our anchor snagged on another piece of the paddle-wheel on the bottom, south of the wreck. Finning along the hull we quickly reached the stern, which we were only able to identify by seeing the rudder in the debris.

The break in the hull. Photo by Dan McKay. Courtesy of Northern Tech Diver.
The hull itself seemed to end in mid-plank, for all the stern timbers were missing. On the north side a boiler rested on the bottom nearly opposite the displaced paddle-wheel. Continuing along the north side past many of the braces for the guards, a section of timber jutting out led to part of the ironwork for the boiler. Looking underneath the hull here we glimpsed the single-cylinder steam engine. The other paddle-wheel is also partly crushed at this spot, leaving only the outer circumference arcing around the hull. A brass bar, apparently part of the pressure release valve, drooped, half-melted from the intense heat of the conflagration.

Approaching closer to the bow, metal plating fastened to the hull appeared to be covered in "rust-cicles". Silt buildup, noticeable around the stem, partly concealed the two anchors. The overriding impression was one of complete destruction, from the charred timbers to the crushed wheels and scattered machinery. There were virtually no artifacts lying about to tempt a possible souvenir-hunter. Either they were consumed by fire or dumped out when she turned over.

The absence of the stern is a little puzzling. According to testimony at the inquest, the stern was the place where many of the survivors went for shelter from the heat. Was the integrity of the hull so weakened by the fire that the stern broke off when the wreck took its final plunge to the bottom?

Another possibility exists: Newspapers in 1857 reported that the Ocean Wave had been found and that it might be salvaged. Had the early salvors indeed found her and accidentally broken off the stern in attempting to sling her into shallower water? This is not likely, however, when you consider how much publicity was made to salvage a wreck from 150 feet of water, it undoubtedly would have received widespread headlines.

My mind abruptly returned to the present. A quick check of my watch indicated that it was time for the second stage of decompression. After signalling my partner of my intentions I ascended to ten feet and prepared for another long period of the diver's version of snap-the-whip.

Rick Neilson



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This article originally appeared in FreshWater. Underwater photography courtesy of Northern Tech Diver.