Lemon Shark in Bora Bora

Lemon Shark in Bora Bora

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Scuba DIving the Wreck of the George A. Marsh Kingston Ontario, Canada

The George A Marsh.  Seldom will you ever find a more beautiful shipwreck than the George A. Marsh.  The Marsh was a 135’ three-masted schooner built in 1882 at a shipyard in Muskegon Michigan.

  Originally it was built as a Lumber carrier and took her name from a predominant Chicago lumberman.  She was sold in 1914 to a businessman from Belleville Ontario and was used primarily as a coal carrier until she met her end during a violent storm on Aug 8th 1917 a few miles from Simcoe Island near Kingston Ontario.  GPS info: 44*07.690’/076*36.260. 

   She had set sail from Oswego NY with a cargo consisting of 500 tons of goal destined for a hospital in Kingston.  Though she had made the trip dozens of times in the past this voyage was a little different as the summer was at its peak and the weather was supposed to be favorable so Captain John Smith had allowed his crew to bring their families aboard for the trip.  The captain himself brought his own wife and 6 children along.

   In all there were 14 souls aboard that fateful day. As the newspapers reported later 12 souls, 7 of them under the age of 9 years would perish including Captain Smith, along with Mrs. Smith and their 6 children. 

She foundered in 85’ of water and the newspapers showed pictures the top portion of the masts still standing high above the surface until they were later blown off by the Army Corp of Engineers as they posed a threat to navigation.  Many a rumor surrounds this particular wreck, for example it is said that the remains of many of the victims were still in the wheelhouse until an overzealous engineer decided to lay a charge of dynamite that toppled the structure and emptied the remains across the deck and on the lakebed. 

It is said that novice divers had several times found bones and brought them to the surface only to be told that they were to remain on the wreck as it is considered a gravesite.  It is rumored that some divers finally relocated the remains not far from the wreck to prevent them from being disturbed.

  Another story suggests that Captain Smith actually survived the tragedy and in his grief at losing his family secretly moved to Oklahoma never to sail again. Only to reveal his tragic story in 1927 shortly before he died, again.  What would a shipwreck be without mystery? 

 My own experience trying to dive the George A. Marsh is a bit of a tale as well.  I had tried to dive this wreck at least 6 times before I actually got to see her for the first time.  

  On one trip we left Collins Bay under a bright cloudless sky for the almost 30 mile trip to the dive site only to find ourselves caught in a fog so thick we could not even see past the bow of our 32’ cruiser and we were forced to turn back. 

 On another attempt a faulty fuel gauge left us stranded in the middle of lake Ontario until we were towed into port by a fellow diver’s boat.  Again we tried and from the time we left our slip in Collins Bay with a modest 1-2 foot swell we were battling waves that were almost 7 feet and threw our sturdy boat around like a cork.  It was almost as though the wreck of the George A. Marsh was not going to let us visit. 

 Finally after 7 attempts over 3 years plagued by weather, seasickness, and mechanical issues we eventually got to the wreck and what a remarkable dive it was.  The ship is marked with a Buoy that rests in a large block just off her starboard side amidships.

Her 3 large masts lay across the deck where they have rested since they were blasted away. So many years ago.  The Bow is facing north and it is in incredible condition with the lines still running along the bowsprit almost as she is still ready to catch the wind a deliver her cargo loaded almost a century ago. 

 There are plenty of deadeyes to be found and several belaying pins still in place.  Also the remains of a lifeboat that indicates how quickly the ship went down Towards to stern you will find one of the best preserved ships wheels I have ever seen though it shows some signs of tampering.  It appears that at one point someone has fixed some chain to the wheel to prevent some thoughtless souvenir hunter from destroying a valuable piece of maritime heritage. 

 Also you will find the old cook stove complete with pots and pans laying ready to cook a meal that will never come.  If you swim off the transom and take a look at her stern you will see the sleek craftsmanship of an era in shipbuilding that is gone forever.   It appears that the cargo is still in tact so penetrating below decks is not possible.

Take a minute to look around at the large schools of fish that like to make this wreck home.  Also be aware this wreck is pretty silty so you want to practice your best buoyancy control.  Just a few bad kicks and you will reduce your visibility in no time. 

 Believe me this wreck is such a great dive that you want to enjoy it to its fullest.  There are several charter boats that make regular trips to the George A. Marsh and I would defiantly recommend that any dive trip to Kingston includes a couple dives on this wreck.  One of the greatest wrecks ever!