Wednesday, Oct 17, 2018
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Workshop to focus on underwater archaeology

Volunteer group studies shipwrecks


The Anthony Wayne, also known as the General Wayne, which sank in 1850, was found in 2006 about six miles off Vermilion, Ohio.


Before the Lake Erie coastline had cities, it had ships that transported people and goods -- including many vessels that sank to the lake's floor.

Although this portion of Ohio history is of sight for many, Lake Erie's maritime past is still attainable.

The Maritime Archaeological Survey Team, or MAST, is a nonprofit group of volunteers who study and document Lake Erie shipwrecks.

Made up of scuba divers and land-based researchers, the group has a membership of more than 250 who research the ships and preserve the information for others.

This weekend, the group has scheduled a workshop for those interested in helping survey these pieces of sunken history by teaching the basics in underwater archaeology.

"It expands our understanding of our submerged cultural heritage," said Carrie Sowden, MAST coordinator and an archaeologist for the Great Lakes Historical Society.

"That's a fancy way of saying, these areas of Ohio, their expansion doesn't exist without the lakes being there. And incumbent with that are shipwrecks."

Ohio established a law protecting its shipwrecks in 1992.

The law governs the management of certain "submerged property" and prohibits the uncontrolled recovery of items from the lake.

Although the legislation protects the ships, the role of documenting Ohio's shipwrecks has been taken on by volunteers.

Jack Papes of Akron joined MAST in 2003 during a quest to learn more about area shipwrecks.

A scuba diver, Mr. Papes said he wanted to learn more about the shipwrecks that he glided above when he was under the water.

Mr. Papes now shares his knowledge with new members as a speaker at the group's annual workshop.

"Obviously, not everyone can look at these [shipwrecks], so what the group does is go down for information to bring back," Mr. Papes said.

"With the information, people who don't dive or someone who has an interest in another genre, like artifacts, can still be involved," he added. "You can translate the information into different levels of study."

MAST was formed in March, 2000, by a group who had taken underwater archaeology courses from various agencies and recognized the need for a single volunteer-based group.

The group works annually on a project, but of the approximately 1,400 shipwrecks in Lake Erie, fewer than 10 have been surveyed.

Some of those surveys have been used to create dive slates.

The work on others has been helpful in garnering enthusiasm about Lake Erie shipwrecks.

"Everyone is responsible for getting a piece of the plan. As the project continues throughout the summer, you can see the plan come together," said Mike Mossman of Cleveland, who joined the group more than five years ago.

"There's a whole lot of people who live in this area and don't realize that the Great Lakes were such a major thoroughfare for industry," Mr. Mossman added.

"Some of these ships are researched extensively already, [for] some there is not much that we know. But each has its own story to tell and a place in Great Lakes history."

Working in collaboration with the Great Lakes Historical Society, MAST is made up of a diverse group of volunteers who each brings something to the effort, whether researching, drafting, diving, organizing, doing artwork, or writing.

The only requirement is participation in the annual workshop.

This year, to celebrate the historical society's move to Toledo, the workshop is to be held at the maritime center on Front Street.

Participants will then use the freighter SS Col. James M. Schoonmaker, formerly the SS Willis B. Boyer, to practice measuring and drafting a ship.

The Schoonmaker is the showcase exhibit of the Great Lakes Maritime Museum, which is expected to open in May, 2013.

At least 41,000 visitors are expected each year, up from a few thousand who visited the society's former site in Vermilion.

"The more shipwrecks we survey, the more we'll learn," Ms. Sowden said. "There's so much history [in Lake Erie] to investigate. These ships were what helped this area develop."

More information on the MAST workshop, as well as registration forms (cost is $125) are available online at or email:

Contact Erica Blake at: or 419-213-2134.

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