Project Coordinator, Martin McClellan...
Recent Project Report - August 18, 2002
It certainly has been an exciting summer. We have had 4 successful dives on the SS Tahoe. Every dive has been constructed from the previous and of course the first, as you all know, took 3 ½ years of diligent and patient construction. The entire New Millennium Team is incredibly proud. The teamwork it takes and the professionalism and alertness that it takes to complete one of these dives is incredible. The maturity one must possess to dive this deep at altitude, maintain focus and complete tasks with meaningful objectives, is intense. The dedication and professionalism that one must possess to support these divers is impressive; almost beyond words; indescribable.
We just completed our fourth ascent from the SS Tahoe and our goals for this dive were many. We had the support of Gary Trimble and Robert Neives from Lockheed Martin Perry Technologies once again and the dive day was a success. Gary and Robert overcame mechanical difficulties with the ROV and were able to obtain some more great footage of the SS Tahoe (while Brian and Martin were decompressing) and allow our research to gather more great data on the current state of the SS Tahoe. As for the Dive Team, our primary objective was to conduct a safe dive and with the intense professionalism and readiness of the "Teams" 13 member support staff, we accomplished that primary goal. Our secondary goal was to film the smoke stack and obtain images from deck level along the starboard side heading back to the bow; we fell short of time here. Third, to place the dedication plaque upon the SS Tahoe .which we did accomplish but we will need to do some aesthetic adjustments to it on a future dive. Finally, we wanted to learn... and did we ever on this dive.
First and foremost, as a dive team, we learned that we have developed into a highly efficient and trained "TEAM" of divers. Everyone plays a vital part in this process of deep technical diving at altitude and everyones presence has been critical to each of our four successes and to the numerous "successful failures" that we have had along the way. There are over 200 man-hours involved in the planning and conduction of just one dive to the SS Tahoe. On the day of the dive, which begins at about 4:30am and ends about 4:30pm, there are anywhere from 15 20 team members and boat crew working under conditions that require extreme professionalism and attention. This dive could not have been done on August 29, 2000 as we had originally planned. It took those extra 2 years of training and dedication to develop the knowledge, professionalism and diving maturity required of the 15-20 people it takes to complete one dive to the "Queen of the Lakes" resting place some 400 feet deep in Lake Tahoe. As a team we are incredibly proud of our accomplishment.
Another learned comprehension is that the deep tech divers can not have that many tasks to accomplish in a 5 ½ minute time frame. It places too much stress and anxiety upon them and is compounded with helium, nitrogen and the incredible responsibility they have regarding the maintenance of depth, time, ascent rates and the hours of decompression directly ahead. In divers with less experience and diving maturity, this is a recipe for disaster. For the divers of New Millennium, with the 3-½ years of training, experience, learning and developed maturity this situation has become a platform for a learning experience that allows our future dives to be safer, better, more productive and efficient.
Finally the state of the SS Tahoe. But first one must digress a bit so that we can properly bring you the current information on the SS Tahoe, her present state, location and condition.
One of the most exciting opportunities this project has had is the opportunity to work with and develop friendships with many professionals. First, is our chance meeting with Captain John Shearer of Tahoe Sport Fishing and his welcoming invitation for us to dive off of his fishing vessels; others at the lake wanted nothing to do with divers. We are not sure that if he had the knowledge then that he has today if he would have still welcomed us but nevertheless, he did and he and his crew have been critical to the success of this project. Second, would have to be the email New Millennium received from Gary Trimble (Lockheed) back in 1999 for without the intelligence and infrastructure development that Gary and his assistant, Robert, have delivered to this project, we would not be diving the SS Tahoe today! Other opportunities that we have had are also important such as meeting with, interviewing and having the blessing to conduct this research project directly from Bill Bliss. Talking with and discussing the actual event of the night of her sinking from the only living eyewitness of her scuttling, Jerry Saxon. And most recently, was our chance encounter and meeting with Mr. Fred Turner. Fred is a private citizen planning to build a 14 foot working scale model of the SS Tahoe, also as infatuated with this wreck as we, and contributor to New Millennium in that he has provided this dive team with drawings, photos and schematics directly from Union Ironworks that have allowed us to better understand and more safely plan and film our dives upon the SS Tahoe. There are many other associations that we have formed and they will become more visible as our project continues.You see, the SS Tahoe is in great shape and we know this because of a combination of all the above people and what each of them have added to the success of this project. The divers can only spend about 4-5 minutes on the wreck and there is just way too much on this ship to really do much it this short timeframe. The divers are bringing back some great information but more is needed and that is where people like Captain John, Gary, Robert and the rest come in. The other objective of our most recent dive this past Saturday, August 17, 2002, was to obtain more video documentation from the ROV and for the ROV to film the divers diving the wreck. Well we had some mechanical difficulties and ironically, the high tech piece of equipment, the Phantom 500 ROV, that made this dive possible, was unable to make the dive with us as our "third" buddy [stay tuned as this will happen]. However, due to the mastery and genius of both Gary and Robert, they were able to get the ROV into the water and operable. Unfortunately they missed the divers by about 10 minutes. As the ROV hit the bottom and was getting oriented, the divers were off the bottom and heading to their first decompression stop at 260. One might beg the question, "why didnt the divers just wait for the ROV". Well because the original estimate of repair time was a couple of hours and in a couple of hours time at Lake Tahoe can mean 2 to 3 foot white caps and the 200 man-hours of work already 90% committed would have to be abandoned and the dive aborted. At a cost of $3000 for the day, no one wanted this. So the divers went. But the ROV did dive the wreck and what we found was amazing. Basically she is in great shape. Her bow [350 feet] points 357 degrees to the north and her stern [460 feet] aims 177 degrees to the south. She does not sit perfectly vertical as she has a slight list to the port side. Most of the roof on the wood super structure above the aft pursers office and passenger lounge (cabin) and the forward smoking room along with the complete pilot house are gone. The boilerstack is still standing but it has been bent and folded quite impressively at its base due to the violence it underwent during the sinking and sliding down the Glenbrook shelf. The forward air funnels are still very much intact but the aft air funnels are missing (from a previous ROV expedition, we know one is off the starboard side about 50-75 feet away from the wrecksite). We also know that the stern dug into the sandy bottom quite viciously as she slid down the 32 degree slope as there is an obvious build up of sand that has created quite a mound around the back 20 feet of the wreck. In fact the rudder is about 10 feet high, maybe 12, and you can only see about 2 feet of it sticking out of the dirt on the Port side. Most, if not all of the overhead shade awning on the aft deck is lying on the deck and strewn about on the bottom and much of the wall structure surrounding the aft lounge (cabin) has fallen but remains on the ship but at a severe angle. You can see the life raft davits but they hang inverted from the roof structure that is also perilously hanging off the edge of the wall structure that has fallen. It is quite a wonderful site. Much damage was done by grappling hooks like the one we recovered June of 2001 as you can see pipes, railing and wall structures bent at angles not consistent with her sinking. You can also see gouges and chunks of wood removed from the teakwood rails. But aside from that, the violent event the SS Tahoe encountered on the night of August 29, 1940 and the early morning hours of August 30, 1940 has been overcome by her as she sits proudly on Tahoes bottom.
It has been an amazing journey. One we have all shared passionately. One we have all sacrificed for. One that continues. We have been asked, "What is next?" Not an easy question to answer but we can give you some ideas. One more dive this year on the wreck; hopefully a stern to bow dive. More compilation of video, interviews and underwater shots for the documentary. Begin producing the documentary film. Speaking engagements for dive stores and clubs and historical societies and museums. Locating the Nevada, the Meteor and the Marion B and of course continued fundraising as we are just about broke!
We hope you are enjoying this project as much as we are in bringing it to you. Keep watching and returning to our website as we have much, much more to come!