The Great Lakes: Gateway to the Gates…

A few short months ago, I wasn’t clear that I would be able to get a reasonable camera to shoot the underwater saga of the scientific aspects of the expedition as it unfolded in northern Lake Michigan.  We were lucky enough to squeeze just enough out of the budget for the project to put together a camera package from Budget Rentals in Florida, who gave us a really great rate for the duration of the expedition.  These folks prepped the camera up real nice, shipped it to Traverse City via Delta Airlines, and made sure it arrived on time.  Many thanks to Eden and the team there.

Everything you can fit in a Ford Focus

Amazed at how much “stuff” fits into the back of a Ford Focus hatchback.
David J. Ruck – Rubangfilms

It’s a difficult piece of gear to lug around, especially when you remember that if you are using the super-wide dome port, that’s a $6000.00 piece of glass leading the way.  When I was shooting, I’d always insist that whoever was handing me the camera leave it on until the very last moment before handing it over the deck of the boat.

GoPro atop the Gates snaps a photo every 10 seconds during dives.

GoPro mounted atop the Gates Housing took a photo every 10 seconds during dives.

I had a Gopro Hero 3 Black Edition mounted atop the external monitor on the Gates housing, set to take a photo every 10 seconds.  This was a great way to document the dives as well as provide a way to gather 12 megapixel photos along the dive.  (Screen grabs of the video would only be 1920×1080)

Diving near the beam.

David diving near the “cultural artifact”.
Jim Nowka – Great Lakes Exploration Group

The housing needs to be well-maintained.  One cat hair gets on the o-ring and you could have disaster.  Luckily, I didn’t have that problem!  Every time the housing was opened, the  o-rings were checked, and carefully resealed.  Using an underwater camera is like having a special needs child.  You really have to make sure about 15 things are in place, exactly where they need to be, knobs aligned, etc.   Even then, you may have missed something and something could go wrong.  Gates has a reputation for being “bulletproof” and in this case, I’d say that is about 99% true.  It was the focusing issue on day one, where I couldn’t get either auto or manual focus to work that I had my doubts.  I never did figure out what was wrong with the thing…  that was even more upsetting.  How would I make sure it didn’t happen again?  You have to be careful of the focus ring on the EX1.  It pops forward or backward to turn it from auto to manual/auto.  What?  That might be what happened: it was in the wrong position?

All in all, I can’t wait to use the GATES/EX1 again.  Just a joy, once you get passed the fact that using it can be like one of those newer, complex video game controllers.  But once it all makes sense, shooting underwater is a pure joy I’d soon like to repeat.  Your world narrows down to a manageable number of factors and you can truly get lost and completely enjoy the subjects you’re shooting.

Someone please ask me to do this again!

Great Lakes Exploration Group

Divers considering their ascent after taking measurements on the beam.
David J. Ruck – Great Lakes Exploration Group


The Search for Le Griffon: The White Whale of the Great Lakes?

White Whale Herman Melville Moby Dick

Le Griffon: The White Whale of the Great Lakes?

Someone told me “look out for the whales in Lake Michigan” before I headed off on this trip.  The Great Lakes are free of whales, but there might be a parable involving whales to this story…

A White Whale.

Since the Griffin went missing, over 40 expeditions have been launched to identify the final resting place of the fabled ship.  La Salle was the first to search for it.  Documents suggest he found a hatch or a piece of the decking, but nothing else.  Some say the Indians burned the ship.  Others, that La Salle’s crew sunk the ship after stealing the furs it carried.  Most accounts suggest it sunk in a furious storm, the likes of which the French sailors had never encountered… and never would again.

The lowest estimate of shipwrecks in the Great Lakes is 6,000.  Archaeologists in the state of Michigan have suggested that number should be 10,000 with the possibility of total shipwrecks being upwards of 15,000.  Le Griffon is presumed to be the first…

History continues to rewrite itself.  The French dive team has stated for the record that they believe the  wooden object is likely a bow sprit or part of a mast.  As the team works to preserve and or extract the wooden beam from the depths, perhaps cellular analysis can place the tree that made this object somewhere along the shores of Lake Erie.  If that’s the case, there is a very good chance that Libert has found Le Griffon.


A canoe cuts through the waters off the Garden Peninsula, near where the team has been searching for La Salle’s missing ship.
David J. Ruck – Rubangfilms

Steve has been searching for the ship for the last 33 years, tirelessly.  An entire team surrounded him and his wife as they have spent countless days over the years searching the waters off the Garden Peninsula for clues, signs, anything that would fit the stories Steve was assembling from the research.  Mountains of research:  Le Griffon existed.  It sailed on the Great Lakes.  It left Washington Island off Green Bay, Wisconsin.  It never reached Fort Niagara.
Over 40 expeditions since it sunk.  Few answers.  New questions.
People will continue to search for Le Griffon.  What La Salle was doing in the New World will continue to unfold and be understood more clearly.  Perhaps the next expedition will reveal something promising, something missed… or maybe, like Moby Dick, the Griffon is not supposed to be caught.
Divers ascend after a dive.

Life-Changing, Mind-Bending: Exploration

French Archaeologists inspect the wooden timber.

French divers look for clues in the construction of the wooden timber on the bottom of Lake Michigan.
David J. Ruck – Great Lakes Exploration Group

Let me just say that this has so far been one of those dream-like experiences.  You prepare for months – and for many of the people involved in the project, they have been preparing for years or even decades you might measure – and now here we are.  Surrounded by top archaeologists from the U.S. and France, expert commercial divers in Great Lakes Diving & Salvage….  we are waving flags from our respective country, celebrating history, and the efforts of today’s explorers in Steve Libert and the entire team.

We still explore, don’t we…?

I’m a relatively young guy and in just this week I’ve had my work seen on pretty much every major news network, print newspaper, online newspaper in every major outlet around the globe.  Some people wait their entire careers for that level of syndication or to accumulate appearances of their work in as many sources….  I’m humbled, baffled, surprised, shocked, and in all honesty I’m in such a remote location right now that I haven’t been able to notice aside from a Google Alert on my phone in the evenings… no TV here…

It’s a great feeling to have the gear start to feel like an extension of your person.  The Gates housing and EX1 combination are very complex, but also remarkably simple and elegant.   It takes beautiful images and leaves you with plenty of control.  If the budget is there, this is the go-to rig for this and similar work.

Gates Underwater Housing and EX1 after the Dive

After a test dive with the Gates/EX1.
Randall Thompson – Rubangfilms

The crews are still digging deeper and deeper into the lake bottom to find what they hope is the hull of a ship – the Griffin?  Le Griffon?  Something else?  I believe they are thinking that this item is a bow sprit, which has separated from the rest of the ship.  The ship may be in the area.  How did the bow sprit – if that is what it is – get buried so deeply in the sediment, likely hundreds of years deep in the sediment! I don’t know the answer to these questions.

Diver descends on the hole

French divers disappear down a muddy hole, trenched beneath the object believed to be a bow sprit, possibly of Le Griffon.
David J. Ruck – Great Lakes Exploration Group

And we keep exploring!  In the next day or two, the commercial teams may uncover more evidence that this is the final resting place of Le Griffon – or they may not.  Either way, working with these extremely talented and friendly people from around the globe on a high-profile expedition has been rewarding on so many levels.  It’s been a pleasure to be the visual liaison to the world with photos and video.  And, quite frankly, I’m still surprised it’s gotten as much attention as it has.  I’ll report back in a day.  We have some exciting things happening tomorrow and I’ll be diving with the camera again!

Thanks, everyone.

The French Connection

Yesterday was a two-dive day. Today we did one.

It was the most pleasant day yet. Putting on the gear, setting up the camera, waiting for the dive master to tell me to jump in… This seems as routine as it could get I suppose.

Great Lakes Diving & Salvage

The dredge boat sits above the site as the scientific team approaches on another vessel.
David J. Ruck

The Gates Underwater Housing and the EX1 are proving to so far be a bulletproof setup. Save for Day 1 when for unexplained reasons the focus failed right after entering the water and I spent 40 minutes being pissed at my equipment at the bottom of Lake Michigan. That hasn’t happened since.


Ken Vrana, serving as Dive Master on a dive to take specific measurements of the beam.
David J. Ruck

One of the most valuable lessons learned is to wear ankle weights when you have the Superwide Dome Port on the housing. It might otherwise want to tip you forward and then you’ll be wrestling to get a steady shot without fighting the camera. Though it is much improved with the positively-buoyant collar as well.

French Divers explore the stie

French Divers examine what they believe is a portion of the bow sprit of a very old wreck, possibly Le Griffon.
David J. Ruck – Great Lakes Exploration Group

I’ve been having a great time, diving daily, getting comfortable with the gear, making some really great friends with some truly amazing people from around the world, and doing what I love: going on an adventure with a camera in-hand.

Michel L'Hour, Olivia, Erik, Reid

Reid Lewis and the French Dive Team after a scientific dive with the author.
Lindsey Sitz – Rubangfilms

More to come as we continue to examine the site!

Down we go…

Commercial Divers Descends into Lake Michigan

A commercial diver from Great Lakes Diving & Salvage plummets into the depths at the site.
David J. Ruck – Great Lakes Exploration Group

Diver inspects the beam.

Jim Nowka inspects the wooden artifact at the bottom of Lake Michigan.
David J. Ruck – Great Lakes Exploration Group

Jim Nowka inspects the wooden object

Featured in the New York Times, this photograph is of diver Jim Nowka on a morning shake down dive at the site.
David J. Ruck – Great Lakes Exploration Group

Details to follow.

Leaving the dive site.

Jim Nowka begins his ascent after a shake down dive on the site with cinematographer David J. Ruck.
David J. Ruck – Great Lakes Exploration Group

Commercial Diver from Great Lakes Diving & Salvage

A commercial diver prepares to plunge into Lake Michigan.
David J. Ruck

David J. Ruck, filmmaker, on the site.

David J. Ruck turns the camera over to Jim Nowka for a moment to be photographed at the wooden feature.
Jim Nowka – Great Lakes Exploration Group

This is not what the data suggested

Today we learned that the wooden beam, stuck in the bottom of the lake, just keeps going down, down, deeper and deeper. The commercial divers and archaeologists have been busy clearing away dirt, rock, and zebra mussels from the base of the beam. The data from the scientific surveys suggested that we would only have to dig two feet. They have so far dug about eight feet into the sediment and the beam keeps going.

Great Lakes Diving & Salvage over the wreck site.

Great Lakes Diving & Salvage, contracted to perform the dredging and lifting operations on the wreck site of what may be the Griffin.

Above is the commercial diving operations boat, The Viking, hovering near the site.

Archaeologists search for clues in the mud.

Archaeologists working on the site search for clues in sediment brought up from the lake bottom.

Above, archaeologists sort through sediment excavated from around the dredging operations.

Commercial Diver from Great Lakes Diving & Salvage gets ready to dive.

Divers from Great Lakes Diving & Salvage gear up to head down to the site to perform dredging operations near the exposed artifact in Lake Michigan.

Commercial diver from Great Lakes Diving & Salvage prepares to plunge down to the dredging site.

Commercial Diver Jumps In

A commercial diver from Great Lakes Diving & Salvage jumps overboard to sink down to the site in Lake Michigan.

Jumping in.

Archaeologists search for clues

Archaeologists observe a video monitor with a feed from the commercial diver’s helmet, working on the wreck site down below the boat.

Archaeologists observe the video feed from the commercial diving operations, looking for evidence of cultural artifacts.

Hopefully tomorrow we’ll be jumping in again with the underwater camera.

French Divers Explore Potential Site of Le Griffon Shipwreck

The temperatures on the surface hovered in the high 50’s above the wreck site today. Only about 10 degrees warmer than the Lake Michigan soup surrounding the site.

Olivia Hulot takes notes on the archaeological site.

Olivia Hulot of the French Ministry of Culture takes scientific notes on a special slate designed for underwater use.
David J. Ruck – Great Lakes Exploration Group

The French Dive Team heads back to the surface.

French archaeologists from the Ministry of Culture in France head back to the surface after a dive to the site.
David J. Ruck – Great Lakes Exploration Group

French Archaeologists on the site

Michel L’Hour and Olivia Hulot make observations on the possible wreck site of Le Griffon.
David J. Ruck – Great Lakes Exploration Group

Today the French archaeologists entered the water for the first time since the site’s discovery in 2001 and I was there to film the encounter.

More to come on their first impressions.