Sunday, September 19, 2010

Burning Sunlight

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan - Calm to 2 feet. That’s what the forecast reads. We are up early, at the dock, loaded and heading to the Rock of Ages reef for my favorite (and hopefully best) dive in the park. Big day, three big shipwrecks to shoot.
The seas continued to lay down as we motored out Washington Harbor and headed past the Rock of Ages Lighthouse to the wreck of the Chisholm. This is the money shot for Isle Royale (so much so, it’s actually is on my business card!). Starting at about 110ft a massive dark feature begins to take shape. As you descend, at first glance it looks like a massive box, towering off the bottom maybe thirty feet high. Descending along side of it you begin to notice ornate embellishments in the ironworks along side the pipes, pistons, boilers and gears which are all laid out in a functional design. You soon realize this is an engine. Not just any engine, but a double-expansion, inverted, vertical, direct-acting steam engine with cylinders of 30 and 56 inches in diameter and a 48 inches stroke…which, as a photographer not and archeologist, means absolutely nothing to me except its massive. As you finally reach the bottom at about 150’ you find the engine still attached to the bottom of the hull and connected to the shaft and propeller as if in some museum display. One can even see the Roman numerals carved into the stern post marking current depth, or draft, of the vessel in its days afloat.
Chisholm Engine - 2009

I dropped to the bottom, flashed the OK? to Steve then checked the handset on my rebreather. Good to go all the way around. Slowly making my way along the base of the engine, down the propeller shaft and around to the propeller a rush came over me. The adrenaline of a great shot in the making. The fact I was at 150’ only added to the high. Steve and I stayed at the prop for a bit, set up a couple shots with a diver for scale then moved back to the engine area. The greatest challenge of this site, as with so many at Isle Royale, is capturing the scale. As I tipped the camera toward the surface, the glow of the ambient sunlight above separated the engine from the blackness it sits in. It just looked massive. No diver needed, this thing is huge! As Steve was diving traditional open circuit SCUBA, our bottom time as limited to 25 minutes to minimize decompression. Some of the fastest 25 minutes of my life. My favorite dive site, my favorite camera system…it was hard to say goodbye and head to the surface. Even though it had blown for so many days on the shoot, I ascended with a smile on my face. That would make the highlights reel. 
Chisholm Prop - 2009

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