The Ghost of the HMS Ontario

Jun 16, 2008 5:19pm

On Halloween night in 1780, Lake Ontario must have been a fearsome place.  The storm that blew across was enough to sink the HMS Ontario, a British sloop only five months old.  It’s estimated that 120 people died, though the British, doing badly against the American revolutionaries, tried to keep it quiet. Six bodies washed ashore the next summer.  Aside from some debris from the sinking, that was the only sign of the ship for 200 years. Now it’s been found, in several hundred feet of water, by two men, Jim Kennard and Dan Scoville.  They’ve posted word of their find, as well as images, HERE.  And video of the ship, in remarkable shape after two centuries, is HERE. For Kennard in particular, finding the Ontario has been a 30-year labor of love.  He began looking, in his spare time, when he was a young engineer at Kodak.  But the technology of the time was not good enough for amateurs — even in the best sense of the word — to find a wreck some 500 feet down. Six years ago he met Scoville, who was working with side-scan sonar.  They went out on Lake Ontario, often at night so treasure hunters wouldn’t watch them and figure out where they were up to.  "You’d be amazed what people will do," Kennard told me.  A week ago they came across a wreck.  There are many in the Great Lakes — but not with 18th-century crow’s nests on their masts. The ship is deep enough that sunlight never penetrates.  The water is cold.  There have been few microorganisms to eat away its timbers.  What do you do with a treasure once you’ve found it?  You leave it there.  The men say they would like to make a documentary from the hours of underwater video they shot with a robot submersible, but the wreck is a gravesite, they say, and British property as well.  They say they’ll keep its location and depth a mystery.  (Image courtesy Kennard and Scoville/

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