Diving the Gunilda
Written by: Michael Lynch
|A stitched panoramic of the Gunilda from some historic pictures of the ship.|
"Writers note: Our dives on the Gunilda were back in 2014. We have had this footage and always wanted to complete this blog. Hopefully (years later), you still enjoy it. :-) "
Ever since I heard about the Gunilda after being scuba certified, I knew I wanted to dive her. This has been a dream for many years and has taken a lot of time and training in order to get here. Back when I become a basic open water scuba diver, the thought of diving the Gunilda seemed out of reach (in fact, WAY out of reach). The Gunilda sits in 270 feet of water on the north shores of Lake Superior.
The Sinking of the Gunilda
|The Gunilda stranded on the showl prior to her sinking (Near Rossport, ON).|
The Gunilda was a luxury yacht from New York that was touring the great lakes back in 1910. The ship was built in 1897 by Ramage & Ferguson in Scotland. The ship was owned by William L. Harkness. He was a business investor and also an heir to the Standard Oil Company. One of the flaws of the incident was that Mr. Harness refused to pay a local pilot to captain the vessel while sailing the Great Lakes. The North Shores of Lake Superior are known to have many shoals around the various islands. While piloting the Gunilda near Rossport, ON, the vessel went aground on McGarvey Shoal. After the grounding the passengers were safely brought to shore in Rossport and a note was sent for a tug to pull the Gunilda off the shoal. The James Whelan answered the call. Once seeing the Gunilda perched on the wreck, the captain of the James Whelan recommended that a second tug be brought in to stabilize the Gunilda before being pulled off of the shoal. Mr. Harness refused to pay for a second tug, so as ordered the captain of the James Whelan pulled the Gunilda off of McGarvey shoal and she immediately began to take on water and sink to the bottom. As the Gunilda was sinking the James Whelan cut the tow lines in fear that the Gunilda would take the James Whelan with her to the bottom. The ship was deemed a total loss and Lloyds of London paid out a claim of $100,000 for her loss. The date of loss was August 11th, 1911.
|Image of Fred Bonnelle|
An amazing historical find...
In 2014 before our dives on the Gunilda, a photo album of Gunilda surfaced from an estate auction in New York City. The photo album showed the Gunilda during the 1902-1909 years. This was just 2 years before its loss in Lake Superior. The finder (Rémi Frayssinet) scanned the photos in the album and shared them with the site owners of therebreathersite.nl. Those historical scanned photos are used here for reference and provide a really unique perspective from the Gunilda during its sailing days to how she sits in the cold dark depths of Lake Superior. It was always my intent to re-stage a few of the pictures on deck in the exact same location on the wreck. We just need to schedule some more dives to the Gunilda to do this task. :-)
Our Dives on the Gunilda
So, many training classes after that initial Open Water Scuba Diver certification, Cindy and I are now a Closed Circuit Advanced Trimix Rebreather diver. We were invited by Ron Benson of Silent Explorers to a planned trip that he had planned for August 2014 to the Gunilda. This was all the incentive we needed for me to complete my bucket list dream of diving the Gunilda. So, we signed on to the trip and started planning our dives as well as doing warm up training dives at both Gilboa Quarry in Ohio and the shipwrecks of Lake Huron.
At the time I did not realize, but our dives coincided with the date of the sinking of the Gunilda. We were scheduled to dive on August 9th, 10th, 11th, and 12th. The sinking of the Gunilda was on August 11th, 1911 (103 years earlier)!
The Cousteau Society once visited the wreck of the Gunilda and claimed it was the most well preserved and prestigious shipwreck in the world. This statement is so true! The Gunilda is such and amazing ship with so much detail and is in unbelievable condition!
For me, this was my first dive on the Gunilda. Cindy had many previous expeditions to the Gunilda, so she was able to provide some great insight as to what I should expect for this dive. We met at the dock in Rossport at 7:30AM and loaded the boat with all the gear. The boat left the dock about 8:00AM. The Gunilda had mooring lines in place on both the bow and the stern. Greg Such tied us into the bow mooring for our first dive. Since we were planning on shooting pictures on this dive, the rest of the team agreed to allow us to splash first in order to get the best possibility of clean photos. There is a heavy silt buildup on the wreck. Any movement near to boat causes this silt to get kicked up and reducing the visibility for photography.
Rolling off the boat I was filled with excitement. Cindy and I both dive Titan rebreathers. Our diluent in the rebreathers for this dive was 11% Oxygen and 45% Helium (11/45). For bail out gas we carried 11/45, 20/30, 50%, and 100%
The descent to the wreck was exhilarating. At about 100 feet, it was like the lights were turned off. The water went from a deep green to completely black. At this point I clicked on the video lights for the camera rig. The only thing visible was the down line to the wreck. Down... Down... Down... Then at about 230 ft, the wreck came into view. Since we were first down, Cindy clipped off a strobe to the down line in case anyone had issues finding the down line on the ascent off of the wreck.
Cindy and I discussed our dive plan and photography shot plan prior to the dive. Since we were moored to the bow, we started off with Cindy posing for pictures on the bow. We then headed aft to the beautiful Gunilda bell. Cindy did a great job of posing here, but unfortunately, I was unable to get good quality pictures at the bell. We will need to plan other shots on the bell on future dives as this is a premier location for photography of the Gunilda.
After viewing the bell, we continued aft up an over the upper bridge. The artifacts on the Gunilda are breathtaking! The spotlights are intact with glass still in place. The Binnacle and Wheel are in prefect condition. Its like the ship is ready to continue its journey across the Great Lakes. With the ship sitting in the deep dark cold water of Lake Superior, the ship is free of any zebra mussels. This is unlike any of the wrecks in Lake Huron that have masses of zebra mussels encrusting every square inch of the external structure of any wreck lying on the bottom.
Take a dive with us on the Gunilda! Our dive video posted on YouTube.
Pictures from the Dive:
|In this original image from the Gunilda you can see the bell that Cindy is posing next to in the image above.|
|Upper helm of the Gunilda. Compare this to the original image below.|
|Original photograph from the upper helm of the Gunilda. You can see the telegraph and funnel in this image.|
|Cindy viewing the upper helm of the Gunilda. Compare this picture to the one above showing the Gunilda under way.|
|Cindy at the upper helm engine telegraph.|
|Cindy swimming down the port side deck of the Gunilda.|
|Cindy on the port side deck. Look at that amazing woodwork on the Gunilda.|
|Inside one of the rooms of the Gunilda.|
|A mostly intact skylight. Amazing condition after the sinking.|
|A view along the port side of the Gunilda.|
|Looking inside the galley.|
|Beautiful room layouts within the Gunilda. A fan and mantle clock still sit above the fireplace.|
|Cindy at the stern wheel.|
|An original picture from the Gunilda. Compare this to the picture above with Cindy by the stern wheel and the image below.|
|Stern deck of the Gunilda. See the above image for comparison while the ship was sailing.|
|Cindy inspecting inside one of the deck skylights.|
|Another mostly intact deck skylight. See comparison image from the Gunilda deck below.|
|An original photograph from the Gunilda showing the deck skylights. Compare the forward skylight to the one above with the ship on the bottom.|
|Waiting out the deco time after the dive. Pictured Cindy and Shawn.|
With the continued advancement in scuba and rebreather technology, the Gunilda is within the reach of more and more technical divers. If you have the experience and get the opportunity the dive on the Gunilda is worth every minute!