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Island scuba divers discover mystery shipwreck

Four divers, Arjan Stutvoet, left, Conrad Kippenhuk, Laura Brake and Kelly Campbell, discovered a shipwreck off the shore of Rice Point in the Northumberland Strait. They believe the wreck is the Ferguson, a dredging barge that sunk in the area in the 1920s.
Four divers, Arjan Stutvoet, left, Conrad Kippenhuk, Laura Brake and Kelly Campbell, discovered a shipwreck off the shore of Rice Point in the Northumberland Strait. They believe the wreck is the Ferguson, a dredging barge that sunk in the area in the 1920s.

Through the murky waters of the Northumberland Strait, Laura Brake, Kelly Campbell, Conrad Kippenhuk and Arjan Stutvoet follow the anchor line to the sea floor.

Within minutes of realizing what they’d found, the divers give each other underwater high-fives and signal with their hands.

“I never expected to see a wreck,” said Campbell.

“When we got there it wasn’t easy to see. But we explored the spot and discovered wreckage, steel and wooden structures and the outline of a ship’s hull.”

Brake added, “It was incredible. It will be a highlight in my diving career. Many divers don’t have the chance to find a possibly unexplored wreck in Island waters.”

“It was complete euphoria. We search for wrecks every time we go out, but we never expect to find one.”

On Sept. 14, the group had gone out with Duck MacDonald to dive for scallops. Years ago, MacDonald, a fisherman, had spotted the anomaly on his plotter equipment but never investigated.

Upon mentioning it to the group, the divers decided to take a look.

The new discovery sits in roughly 70-75 feet of water about seven miles from shore off Rice Point.

After exploring the wreck, the divers went back to the surface to decide their next move.

“We had never gone through anything like this before, so there were a lot of questions as to what we should do and who we had to tell,” said Campbell.

They decided to keep the discovery between themselves in order to research the wreckage and try to determine the identity of the ship.

On Tuesday, Campbell published a post of the PEI Scuba Divers Facebook page announcing the discovery to the public and identifying the ship as the Ferguson, a dredging barge that sank on June 18, 1926, claiming the lives of six of the 10 crew members on board.

“We’re not 100 per cent sure that it’s the Ferguson. Unless we find something on the wreck, we may never be certain. But I have a strong feeling that it is the Ferguson.”

While researching the wreck, Campbell found newspapers articles of the sunken ship as well as a coroner’s inquest report.

Moving forward, the divers are hoping to set up charter divers for Island divers and divers from out of province who would be interested in exploring the site in the coming weeks.

Brake said, “The diving season in our waters is usually summer season into September. So we’re getting into the end of the season depending on what diver you are, so we really want to make it available to those while we can.”

Conditions on the wreck site are challenging due to the depth, overhead structures, low light and poor visibility due to sediment in the water from the surrounding silty bottom and the current in the Northumberland Strait. 

This leaves divers a very narrow window to safely explore the wreck each day.

“We’re hoping to set a mooring line that will lead divers to and from the boat and then guidelines they can follow if visibility is poor,” said Campbell.

Brake added, “We’re really excited to see divers from the Island but also from the national and even international community have the opportunity to explore the area. The most important thing to remember is Kelly’s advice, ‘leave only bubbles, take only pictures’, because we want divers for years to come to be able to explore the site unaltered.”

millicent.mckay@journalpioneer.com

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