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.
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.
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.
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