Monday, September 20, 2010

The Emperor is Calling

Isle Royale National Park, Michigan - After spending three hours underwater and nearly 12 on the boat the previous day, it was a bit difficult to pull out of bed this morning with a skip in my step psyched to jump back into Superior for another dive. The wind was still down, so back to the north shore we were heading to dive the stern of the Emperor.

The plan was for a “short” day, say 12 hours. One dive on the Emperor, pull a few of the mooring buoys, and head back to Windigo to start the logistical train rolling of getting off the island.

The ride up the north shore in the Lorelei (the classiest dive boat in the NPS) was picturesque. For 2 ½ hours I tried to position myself in the sun on the back deck to absorb any amount of warmth available. Nothing worse than being cold, then suiting up only to get colder underwater. With a stop back at the Amygdaloid Ranger Station to suit up (and use the prettiest outhouse on the island…again) we headed for the Emperor stern mooring ball.

When we arrived on site, the ROV was not functioning, so scratch that off the shot list. The plan was for Steve Martin (no, not that one) to do some poking into the stern cabins while I was shooting and Becky was lighting. Down the line we descent. I got my orientation on the wreck and started swimming aft. As planned, Steve worked into one cabin after another looking around. I was rolling. We rounded the fantail, or stern, at 140’ and shot the impressive anchor lashed to the railing and the three spare props that were each as big as a minivan. As we swam along the starboard side and I saw Steve looking into a cabin. I could see from his light there were bunk beds inside. The cabin looked familiar from photos I had seen. I moved in, turned the camera sideways and passed it thought the doorway. Smoothly, I panned across the room. The white painted wainscoting wall were still pristine. The metal framed bunk beds were intact with mattress springs still present. Beneath the beds on one side of the cabin the drawers were open. Laying on the floor was a pair of leather boots, resting in the sediment. This, I thought, was the fireman’s cabin. I had seen pictures of the room, but I had never been in it. I recalled that three fireman had lost their lives on Emperor. Those boots. Its always the human connection that brings these shipwrecks to life. The grand scale of the machinery, the massive ornate structure of an engine or the girth of an anchor still hanging from its chain suddenly seems far less immense. Those boots. For me, deep in the waters of Isle Royale, those boots had the most impact. Time to re-cut the highlights reel. 

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