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Documenting local ‘Shipwrecks’

2011-06-26T00:00:00Z Documenting local ‘Shipwrecks’By Meg Hagerty mhagerty@poststar.com Glens Falls Post-Star
June 26, 2011 12:00 am  • 

Queensbury resident Bob Benway likes the thrill of the hunt.

He may not stalk big game animals in Africa, but he has pursued the hulking frames of vessels that lurk below the surface of Lake George.

The underwater photographer and videographer, along with Saratoga Springs underwater archeologist

Joseph Zarzynski, discuss their most captivating findings in "Lake George Shipwrecks and Sunken History," published by The History Press.

"Below the surface of picturesque Lake George are cultural resources that help tell the full history of the colonial soldiers, boaters, visitors and others that have lived here. Journals, diaries and primary literature can only tell part of the story," Zarzynski said.

"When you combine the results of underwater archaeological investigation with the known archival record, you get a much better understanding of the lake's bountiful chronicles ... and I think this enriches us as a people today."

Within the book's 160 pages, readers can glean

information on some of

the discoveries made by Bateaux Below, a non-profit organization which has been preserving shipwreck sites

in the lake for over 23 years.

The compilation of articles appeared in the Lake George Mirror from 2004 through last December.

Benway and Zarzynski first began investigating shipwrecks in Lake George after taking a three-day workshop on underwater archaeology in 1987.

A group of six from the class, including the two

authors, was interested in finding out more about the underwater history of the lake and formed Bateaux Below.

They eventually uncovered the 260 year-old Land Tortoise radeau shipwreck, a 52 foot-long British vessel outfitted with seven cannons, a discovery which Benway said was "extremely significant."

"It was the only vessel of her kind ever found. She's listed on the National Register of Historic Places and also a National Historic Landmark, which is only one of six shipwrecks ever listed on that rating," he said.

Benway recalled being at the Adirondack Museum at Blue Mountain Lake in 1988 with Zarzynski while researching old newspaper clippings on bateaux, British transport vessels.

They found an article from July 1960 in which a couple of men, one of whom was a Pan Am pilot, launched a submarine in Lake George to go down and take photos of the then newly-discovered shipwrecks.

Benway said a picture showed the 14 foot-long, 3,700-pound submarine being lowered into the lake and towed to a dock on the east side.

The next day the men discovered that the submarine disappeared and that the tow lines had been cut.

Plane flyovers for weeks after yielded nothing.

"You just don't disappear with a 14-foot-long submarine that's painted bright

yellow. There's no way someone could have removed that sub without being seen," he said.

During a reconnaissance dive in 1995, the authors

uncovered the submarine, and though they record and document all of their finds, Benway declines to give information about their locations.

"We're protective of these wrecks. Ninety-nine point nine percent of the divers will not damage it, but there's that one-tenth of a percent that will," he said.

Benway said through "Lake George Shipwrecks" he wants readers to know about the lake's maritime history, lest it be lost forever.

"They're all great stories, and if no one knows they're out there, what good are the stories?" he said.

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