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View Full Version : The O.J. Walker, Lake Champlain Vermont



Rileybri
07-18-2008, 00:38
On the afternoon of May 11, 1889 John Brown supervised the loading of brick, tile and drain pipe (hollow long brick), from his brick yard on the North shore of Mallets bay Vermont, onto the deck of the 89’ schooner rigged canal boat O.J. Walker (http://www.lcmm.org/shipwrecks_history/uhp/oj_walker.htm). Normally cargo would be stored bellow deck for this heavy a load. However, as this load was just going 8 nautical miles across the lake to New York, it was secured topside to save time. This would prove an ill fated decision.

http://ina.tamu.edu/images/Lake%20Champlain/Canal%20Boats/slide%2011.JPG
(Illustration:LCMM)
The Weather had begun to sour over Burlington Vermont, 20 miles to the South. Unexpected high winds and large seas (yes I know it’s a lake. Let me tell the story my way!) Proved to be more then the deck heavy O.J. Walker could handle. It was not long before she began listing from taking on water and drifting off course. As the captain, his wife and only mate (that I know of) hastily abandoned ship in the one long boat aboard, (with out oars) the O.J. Walker rapidly listed 90* astern spilling the bricks and tile overboard. She then briefly righted her self before sinking upright and almost fully intact in 60’+/- of water where she sits to this day. The captain and crew drifted helplessly to shore no worse for the wear.


I am told that this is one of the best preserved wood wrecks of its age you will dive. I had the good fortune of being first in the water with my buddy Stephie (cool LDS shop girl cutting out of work early to actually go diving!) and thus had the entire wreck to our selves for the first three or four minutes. As stated above max depth was 63'. Temp was 67* at depth. Vis was fair to poor at 10-15 (before the muck darters landed) then 5-7' at best as the "silt-0-cline set in. I was also using my new to me ST72 for the first time and LOVED IT!!

http://ina.tamu.edu/images/Lake%20Champlain/Canal%20Boats/slide%2014.JPG

(Illustration: LCMM)

As we descended the mourning line and followed the guided line to the wreck its self I was amazed to see basically an intact wood schooner! It was spookie to see windlasses and turn buckles and lines still in there original wriggled locations. As you rise up the bow of the boat from the guide line to the top deck (about 7-10') you see the massive anchor still safely secured to the deck. The looking out of the darkness two massive masts begin to take shape. Strewn all over the deck are piles and pieces of red of brick and terracotta tile. The mane sheet droops lazily from the aft most mast, tangled in the remains of one of the two booms. Then out of the darkness the silhouette of the helm, still in place and intact (minus the outer most wring of wood) came into view. As I hovered behind the wheel with my buddy looking down the Walker from stern to bow, with the masts (toppled) rigging in place, I could not help bit feel like we were cursing with full sails on the bode lake.

http://www.lcmm.org/images/img_shipwrecks_history/img_shipwrecks/oj_wheel.jpg

(Photo LCMM)
All in all it was an amazing dive and my deepest to date. In keeping with my theme of "learning from every dive" here is what I took away from this one. I need a better primary light. I was actually one of only three lights on a dive charter of seven? The other two were the DM and my buddy. At 60'in the lake is DARK and COLD!! This was the dive I truly experienced "task overloading". I had borrowed a friends camera (no strobe big mistake) with me and once on the wreck attempted to take a photo or two. Between my light now dangling off my wrist, and the camera strap floating everywhere, and trying to focus while holding my trim and depth was just too much. I quickly clipped the camera off out of my way for the wrest of the dive and just enjoyed the scenery! Lastly with a ST72 and 2400 psi and my buddy using an AL80 at 3000 psi we ended with a bottem time of 33 minutes, including our 3 at 15 (first in last out!!!!), I ended with 750 psi and 950 in the AL. We came up more due to cold and low viz than running low on air. Like I said and amazing dive and one I highly recommend doing if you are ever in the area.

Thanks for reading this if ya got this far,

Cheers,

Brian D.

Crimediver
07-18-2008, 08:26
Neat looking wreck. Nice report. I also am a big fan of the steel 72 tanks.

MSilvia
07-18-2008, 09:50
Cool report Bri, and good call stowing the camera. The best cure for task loading is less to think about!

Rileybri
07-18-2008, 10:09
Cool report Bri, and good call stowing the camera. The best cure for task loading is less to think about!

Up till that point I had purposefully kept my diving very simple and clean. I brought the camera with the some intent of getting one particular shot of the Helm. I had not accounted to any other factors other than that one shot. Needless to say I found out very quickly that regardless how easy it is to take a photo above water; it is the exact opposite when at 60' below lake level. I can see how some people get into trouble getting to focused on a particular diving goal and lose sight of the basic stuff like staying alive and maintaining consistent buoyancy. I will bring the camera out aging to my "practice" dive location and work out the bugs there and try again. Shooting with out a strobe on the Walker was a lesson in futility any way I sliced it any how so I was not going to get my shot regardless of my diving or task load. Oh well lesson learned. Diver evolution in progress!

cheers,

Brian D.

jamie b1111
07-18-2008, 10:16
Nice post Brian,
I love how you give some of the history of the wreck because it brings it to life. The O.J. Walker is not to be missed if you make it to Lake Champlain and it my favorite dive in the lake. I would recommend anyone diving it bring a good light so you can check in the cabin windows and cargo holds. I am not sure if this was mentioned but I think you still need to fill out a special registration to dive this sensitive site. Thanks again Brian for inspiring me to get back on it this summer.
Jamie

Rileybri
07-18-2008, 10:51
Nice post Brian,
I love how you give some of the history of the wreck because it brings it to life. The O.J. Walker is not to be missed if you make it to Lake Champlain and it my favorite dive in the lake. I would recommend anyone diving it bring a good light so you can check in the cabin windows and cargo holds. I am not sure if this was mentioned but I think you still need to fill out a special registration to dive this sensitive site. Thanks again Brian for inspiring me to get back on it this summer.
Jamie

Welcome aboard Jamie I am glad you got around to joining the mad house! You are so correct about having a GOOD light with you for this dive. the 4 other divers on my charter defiantly missed out on a good portion of the wreck by not having a light with them. OTOH it was extremely funny watching them follow our light beams around the wreck like moths and a flashlight.
In addition there is a seasonal registry for diving the Historic UW Preserve that needs to be filled out before diving them. There are two wrecks (O.J. Walker and the Water Winch) that require sensitive wreck registration before each dive on them. Otherwise once you are registered for the season you are good to go. Registration is free!!

MSilvia
07-18-2008, 11:29
Needless to say I found out very quickly that regardless how easy it is to take a photo above water; it is the exact opposite when at 60' below lake level.
Which reminds me... I got the new camera and housing in the mail yesterday!

I suspect after that dive you may have a greater appreciation for the whole "point and shoot" thing.
:smiley2:

Rileybri
07-18-2008, 11:59
Needless to say I found out very quickly that regardless how easy it is to take a photo above water; it is the exact opposite when at 60' below lake level.
Which reminds me... I got the new camera and housing in the mail yesterday!

I suspect after that dive you may have a greater appreciation for the whole "point and shoot" thing.
:smiley2:

Actually I never had a lack of appreciation for point and shoot cameras. I own one! I just have a greater appreciation for DSLR's now. My problem on this dive was never with the camera or my ability to use it; it was with using the camera and diving a wreck in cold dark water at the same time. As with most things scuba related, it will just time practice and time to master. I am in no rush and would rather do things correctly in time than incorrectly and dangerously to soon........Diving first photography later!

btd