Ghost Ships Festival explores Great Lakes mysteries, new discoveries
A weekend trade show celebrating the Great Lakes storied maritime history will feature a special talk about the recent discovery of the L.R. Doty, the largest previously unaccounted-for wooden ship sunk in Lake Michigan.
The L.R. Doty lay lost at the bottom of Lake Michigan until last summer when Capt. Jitka Hanáková, found the 300-foot-long wooden steamer 20 miles off the coast of Oak Creek in murky water as deep as the ship is long.
Hanáková will deliver this year's keynote speech at the annual Ghost Ships Festival.
Born in the Czech Republic Hanáková moved to Milwaukee in 1999 to take a job as a business analyst. She stumbled into the sport of Scuba diving, but quickly achieved certification as a technical diver and went on to captain her own boat and started exploring some of the remains of the more than 10,000 estimated vessels that dot the bottom of the five Great Lakes with her dive charter business Shipwreck Explorers.
"I just came across the sport by accident talking to some people that were telling me about these shipwrecks in the great lakes. It just never occurred to me to think about that," said Hanáková, "I just fell in love with the sport. It became my passion."
The discovery of the L.R. Doty was a long time in the making. The area where it would later be found first grabbed explorers' attention after a commercial fishing boat snagged its nets on a deep obstruction and reported it to Milwaukee charter Capt. Jerry Guyer. Because of the site's depth and distance from the shore, it remained on the back burner.
The vast improvements in technology for making deep dives made the site a more attractive candidate for exploration and in 2010 relocated the site after an extensive search of the area.
"I had approximate numbers and again there was very nice weather and I told the guys 'Hey let's go check it out. I want to see what's out there,' And we did that and some way we discovered the wreck," said Hanáková, "I had to go down and do a search pattern again until I found something on my fish finder, and again I had a very big bump. I could tell right away it was at least 200 feet, just from how long you could go over it you got a feel from the surface. I was pretty much speechless at that point because it's such an exciting feeling."
Visibility was poor at the depth of the wreckage making for erie dive conditions.
"It was a little bit murky. It almost felt a little spooky," Hanáková said.
What they found in the deep dark dive was beyond their wildest expectations.
"Imagine the name board that use to be on the ship fell upside down, hidden from the light and the mussels that often cover the ships and you can clearly read L.R. Doty on the board in yellow letters," Hanáková said.
The discovery has drawn interest from outlets like National Geographic, which sent a film crew out to document the story of its discovery.
The L.R. Doty is protected by Wisconsin law as a publicly owned historic wreck site and salvage from it is prohibited without a permit from the state. However, the wreckage is sure to become a popular technical dive target in the years to come.
Besides Hanáková's speech about the L.R. Doty this year's festival will also feature exhibits, workshops, and presentations that cover many aspects of Great Lakes maritime history and scuba diving and interaction with leading dive industry professionals, extreme explorers, maritime historians and Great Lakes authors.
The festival takes place Friday and Saturday at the Wyndham Milwaukee Airport Hotel and Convention Center, 4747 S. Howell Ave. Tickets can be purchased for $25 at the door.
"It's a huge honor to be able to share this story," said Hanáková, "I think it's very interesting. People always like to hear about different stories ... Each ship has its story and when you think about all the ships missing out there there are so many stories out there yet to be told."
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