Deep Sea Detectives
on board the Nordic Diver
In July of 2005, Deep
Sea Detectives chartered Bill Prince and the Nordic Diver to film an
episode about the Car Ferry Milwaukee. Bill arranged for Ken Wagner to be on
board and in the water as a guide for both Richie Kohler and John Chatterton.
Richie Kohler and John Chatterton were aboard for two days.
Deep Sea Detectives had done most of their homework in advance, but we had some surprises for them. We debunked some of their theories and added some information they were unaware of. The primary purpose of the episode was to find out why the Car Ferry sank and what really did happen that day in 1929. We all know that the boat sunk due to flooding, but what was the main reason. Was it the sea gate, rail cars not lashed down, a crack in the hull, water coming through the coal grates or something else not yet known?
Deep Sea Detectives researched the last few years of the car ferry’s history to see if that would point to some facts. Then they filmed the vessel as it is today to investigate the facts that had been found out. Some of the items they were looking for were:
1. The rail car jacks and chains to lash them to the deck.
2. The rail track clamps.
3. The Sea Gate, what might have caused it to get smashed and bent. Moving rail cars or the high waves.
4. Were the hatch covers closed over the coal bunkers and engine room grates.
Richie,John & Bill on the Nordic
5. Was the boat underway.
6. Any other know or unknown facts about the sinking
Deep Sea Detectives first dive was primary around the stern of the boat and the flicker. They did find some of the items they were looking for and had some surprises too.
They were trying to find any of the more than 150 rail car jack stands and the chains to lock the cars in place. They were unable to find any. They were looking for rail clamps. They also didn’t find any of these. Could these pieces of gear have been taken by scuba divers, or did the crew remove them to try and push the cars off the deck? They investigated the sea gate and to them it looks as if both rail cars and the huge waves could have done the damage that started the sinking process. They also entered a short way into the flicker (lower deck crew quarters) and they saw some of the damage the flooding cause before the boat went down. After the flicker they went to the underside of the wreck and looked at the huge propellers and went forward to see the rail car crushed under the starboard stern. At first they didn’t know about this rail car under the hull. It was informed to them for the first time as they arranged the charter with the Nordic Diver with other unknown facts.
After the dive they debriefed and planned a much longer dive for tomorrow. The second dive was to enter the boat at the boiler room, go into the engine room and exit back out onto the main deck. They wanted to film the damage and general condition of the inside. They also wanted to see some of the other facts Nordic Diver had given them:
• That the boilers were disconnected and empty of steam when the boat sank.
• The forward bulkhead was smashed out and ripped into the compartment ahead.
• The coal bunkers were almost completely empty.
• A large crack in the hull on the port side, was it due to the high
Just one of the many train cars
seas or from sitting on the lake bottom.
• Steel beams in the engine room (12 inches by 12 inches) have compression bends.
The dive was planned out and was started, first to the boiler grates on the main deck level over the coal bunkers to see if there was a hatch cover(s) or a means to close a hatch cover. The hatch cover would stop any water that was on the main deck (also called the car deck) from entering the boiler’s area and flooding the boilers. None was found. They entered the coal bunker through a broken grate, the entering the boiler room through the coal shoot. They found lot’s of slit on the lower level and went up to the cat walk at the top of the boiler. They saw for themselves that the crew had removed the inspection hatches on the forward two boilers. Without these hatches, no steam could be contained within the boiler, so when the cold lake water hit the boiler it would not blow up. Did the crew do
this in there last few
minutes to try and save the boat for future salvage and return to service?
We looked at the after boiler and saw that the steam pipes were broken off at
the top to let the steam so the boilers wouldn’t blowup as the boat sank.
They saw the busted up forward bulkhead and found an intact glass sight tube for
viewing how much water was in the boiler. They also saw the crack in the
hull that travel through all the support frames that were riveted across the
They then entered the engine through a small hatch in the bulkhead. They were able to see the large triple expansion steam engines, the dynamos for electricity, the fuse panel and many more objects and artifacts. They were interested in the grating over the steam engines. Did they have the hatch covers (as the Steam Ship Authority had stated) on or not? They found that no covers were on the grates. This meant that as water covered the main deck from the smashed sea gate, it could also enter the engine room. With water in the flicker, engine room and boiler room, there was no way the Car Ferry Milwaukee could stay afloat. The rest of the dive was spent around the stern again looking for more clues.
Ken going through the water tight door
from the boiler room to the engine room
After the dive, a long debrief went on with all the new information that was revealed.
To find out what Deep Sea Detectives thinks what happened, you will have to see the show for yourself. The Show will air in late December or January, when the date is released it will be posted on the site.
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