Sdie Trip Summary
Brockville, between Rockport Ontario, and Alexandria Bay, New York
The story is a tragic tale of love and loss. In 1900 the proprietor of New York’s opulent Waldorf Astoria Hotel, George Boldt, started building a castle for his wife, the love of his life, Louise. The Boldt’s and their children spent four summers living in the Alster Tower, one of the first buildings to be completed as workers continued their efforts on the 120 room monument of love which included a power generating station, drawbridge, playhouse, clock tower, Italian garden, elevator, gazebo, bowling alley, billiard room, hennery, underground tunnels and the best of everything money could buy.
Then in 1904 Louise passed away suddenly and George sent a telegram that all construction was to stop immediately. The 300 workers put down their tools and the unfinished structures commenced 73 years of deterioration. Roofs collapsed, walls crumbled, and vandals helped speed the decay to the point it was about to be condemned for being too dangerous even though it was unoccupied. In 1977 the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority purchased the property from the US government for $1 and set about investing many millions in restoration efforts that will continue for years to come.
It’s hard to imagine the destruction when you enter the first floor. Perfect walls, immaculate flooring, pristine woodwork and gleaming brass are everywhere. It’s only once you reach the upper levels of the six storey castle where they have preserved what some of the rooms were like before restoration began, with large photos showing how close it was to all being demolished.
If you’re a diver and you have visited the wrecks around Rockport then you’re already very familiar with Boldt Castle since this is where the boats come to have passengers clear customs during the summer in the post-9-11 era.
A number of ferry boats do nothing but take people across to the castle, which was originally designed as a summer home. Be warned, this place is to “summer homes” what climbing Mount Everest is to “casual Sunday walks”. It’s gorgeous, huge, and totally unfair unless you have a couple of your own collecting dust somewhere just as nice. Built on five acre Heart Island, hearts abound throughout the structure from outdoor planters to wrought iron and masonry work. Across a short stretch of river is the boat house located on Wellesley Island, designed to hold three yachts including tall masted sailing vessels based on the size of the doors. The largest of the slips is 128’ long and 64’ tall.
The castle has been visited by over five million guests since being taken over by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, including 750 weddings, and is well worth your visit during their open season from May through October. More information can be found at their gorgeous website.
Upright and broken up
Frightening. Scary. Intimidating. Dangerous. Daunting. Terrifying. The wreck of the Muskallonge, named after the most fearsome freshwater fish of all time, is none of these things.
The "Muskie" is broken up, laid open and a piece of cake to dive, aside from the occasional piece of seaweed that could float down the river, attack you and attach itself to your mask causing… aw heck, just can’t seem to make this wreck exciting no matter how hard I try. This is a nice, simple, easy dive, good for many skill levels. Early in the spring the current can pick up a considerably but for the majority of the summer this is a pretty decent second dive, easy to see the entire thing within the confines of a bottom time reduced from previous nitrogen loading.
When the visibility is less than ideal you can reach the mooring block and be looking at a great deal lot of nothing. Let the current carry you a little and you’ll soon get hit by the bow which is slowly trying to lie flat on the bottom. Her boiler, winch and engine are still there, along with a few million abandoned periwinkle shells (I don’t believe they were cargo, this just appears to be where old periwinkles go to… not be periwinkles anymore).
The little tug, originally name the Vigilant, had a boat in tow but decided to object to having to go to Toronto by catching fire. The captain’s efforts to save his vessel by running it aground succeeded in breaking the ship in half, causing it to sink in deeper water - if they’d had the show "America’s Funniest Home Videos" back then, that effort might have won him a prize.
The Lillie Parsons is one of those medium wrecks that is nice to do once or twice and then is easily forgotten in the depths of your log book. Being upside-down there is not an incredible amount to see, but the dive itself is more than just that.
It is possible to penetrate at the stern, amble over the load of coal she was carrying and take a look around but there is not much inside to keep your interest aside from the occasional eel - if you don’t like eels don’t say I didn’t warn ya (on one dive the guy ahead of me turned and swam out so fast I thought his butt was on fire, turns out he has a thing about eels). Warnings abound from many sources that penetration on this wreck is not recommended and it could slip down the wall at any time although the current is effectively pinning it to the rock ledge. Exercise caution. There isn’t much to see inside other than the bottom of the overturned hull and a mound of coal anyway.
The Lillie generally features plenty of current, and access is usually obtained by one of two ways. The first entails docking your boat, hiking across tiny Sparrow Island and going hand-over-hand down the chain which starts on shore and leads to the wreck. Be prepared to use two hands to get down the chain, particularly the first 30′ as the current is stronger to wards the surface. Or, your boat can drop you slightly up river and you can drift into the wreck by following the contour of the island at around 50′.
If you drift into the wreck too shallow you will encounter the sizeable anchor chain and all will be well, but if you’re too deep you’ll encounter a fair bit of nothing unless to drift all the way down to the wreck of the King (which some people do on purpose) but it starts at around 140′, with the maximum depth of around 230′ - the King blew up when lightning struck the large quantity of dynamite on board which was being used for deepening/widening the shipping channel, so the King is mostly found in little pieces.
On the Lillie, aside from the overturned hull there’s the… hull. It’s mostly a hull. Did I mention that it’s pretty much just a hull? If I were writing a tourist brochure about the wreck I’d be sure to mention the masts (one it is lying on top of and the other is in deeper water towards the stern), the chain which has been located on the shore-ward side of the wreck to make it easier to swim up current and helps preserve the wreck by eliminating the need to pull on the wreck (hard to do since it’s mostly a hull). If you attempt to pull yourself along the rocks which litter the bottom you’ll find they’re fake and nearly weightless - ok, they’re not fake, they’re the Lillie’s cargo of coal, but they will provide a good laugh if you catch someone trying it. There is also a large tray of genuine artifacts mounted to the port side which is neat to poke around in and a true testament to how much divers in the area are committed to ensuring these wrecks are for appreciating, not stripping.
When you’re done playing with the "rocks" and have seen all there is to see of the stunning hull and you want to end your dive all you have to do is stop - unless you’re inside the wreck the current will carry you along and several minutes later you’ll fly across a rope to follow up to the lee side of the island where your dive boat will (hopefully) be waiting for you. Getting blown past the rope is not recommended since the active shipping channel is very close and unless you wanna be freighter-bait it is not recommended to pop up in the middle of it.
The Lillie does make for a very interesting night dive (the best time for eels). A light should be brought along at any time of day in order to look around inside but don’t expect to see much, it’s mostly to keep from bumping your head or scaring the eels away.
Brockville or Rockport, Ontario
Upright listing to starboard, down a slope
The Jodrey is THE technical-level wreck in Southern Ontario. It attracts divers from all over, and for good reason: there are few places in the world where you can dive a modern freighter over 600′ long. To put that length into perspective, it is over two and a half times longer than the Keystorm, Rockport’s other great freighter dive.
Similar to the Keystorm it lies down a steep slope, starting at 140′ and going down to 235′ at the break where it starts to get shallower. Due to the depth and darkness it’s a hard wreck to get a read on, allowing you to only see as much of her as your light can illuminate (unless the visibility is particularly good).
The pilothouse on this style of freighter is towards the bow which means some of the most interesting parts of the wreck are also the shallowest part of the forward section. Going deeper you will find the iron ore loading mechanism and cargo holds. As if the wreck and location did not present enough challenges, divers have strewn it with lines, perhaps in an effort to aid their navigation (which does not seem necessary at all). Great care should be taken to avoid these lines, and if the line seems to move by its own accord, it might be one of the resident eels.
The only lines that are actually useful are the two that run from the shore to the stern of the wreck. It is possible to get dropped in downstream of the Coast Guard station and find the lines which start at 30′ and end at the port rail just forward of the stern at 130′. Following the lines can be a bit of a challenge as the current can be ripping, forcing you to go hand over hand for some of the trip to the wreck which takes between seven to ten minutes depending on the flow. Or, you can swim down the wreck, letting the current carry you to the stern, and then exit via a stern line. For some divers the stern is more interesting than the bow, and I would have to agree. The prop, rudder, anchor, funnel, radio tower, and rear cabins make for some interesting pokin’ around with plenty of damage evident.
For those who are really up for a challenge when diving the bow try to find the chain locker and take a look inside there, tight squeeze but a pretty darn interesting place.
Half upright listing to starboard, half upside down
For a ship that was only about 150′ long the Oconto managed to find a rather creative way to scatter itself across the bottom of the St. Lawrence Seaway, with some of it right side up some upside down (potentially due to two failed salvage attempts, and two slides into deeper water).
Lying in 180′ of water where there is perpetual current, this is not a particularly easy dive, but well worth it for those properly trained. Large sections of rail are still in tact, and other items of interest include the two precariously tangled anchors at the bow, boiler, one remaining blade of the prop (evidence of the collision), and a sizeable portion of overturned hull that can be entered.
There’s also a small rowboat which is wedged between the two main hull sections. Since it’s made of metal with an aluminum gunwale I can’t see how it could be original from the Oconto. This could be part of the source for the belief of some people that there are actually the remains of two wrecks here. My guess is this little boat sank up river and was carried by the current until it found somewhere to rest… but it’s at 180′, it was likely narced out of its little mind and didn’t know where it was. It kinda reminds me of some divers I’ve seen on this wreck.
Alexandria Bay, New York
Upright on starboard side
The Islander is the kind of wreck most people will do once and consider that enough - typical of most ships that burned before sinking. There is nothing truly spectacular here but it could be worth seeing once.
A 60′ section of the bow and mid-section remains, containing the engine and some frames, but little else. Divers have collected much of the broken pottery, plates, bottles and shoes that remain, and created a pile on the starboard side towards the back of what remains.
The number of decent shore dives in Southern Ontario is very small, and people are always asking about a cheap alternative to renting a boat. Well, here ya go.
Just off the shore in Rockport, in front of the Boathouse Restaurant and hotel, is a site that just about anyone can do. There are the remains of an old wreck called the Sophia, a rowboat, ladder, propeller, what could be a barge, miscellaneous bottles and even a kettle.
If you are really adventurous you can make the swim to the Kinghorn from this location, but it is a lengthy swim from shore and there can be a slight current.
Brockville or Prescott, Ontario
Sunk in a collision, dynamited for practice, and in a current at shallow depth for more than a century, you’d expect that there would be little left of such a wreck. But the Rothesay believes differently. Once called the "Greyhound of the St. Lawrence" for her speed and graceful lines, the paddle-wheel steamer still makes for a nice dive, which can have some current to contend with.
The signature item of this wreck could be the sizeable twin boilers but is likely the remains of the two paddle wheels (see upper left photo). Just forward of the wheels the wreck has been flattened by explosives, and there is considerable damage to the lower stern (from the collision) and the lower portion of the bow which allows you to look up through the structure of the ship.
After colliding with a tug (which also sank) and her barge which did damage to two separate areas, it was believed the Rothesay could be raised and repaired, but high wind and waves tore the ship apart within days.
If you’re up for a challenge, see if you can find the information plaque on the wreck, which is visible in one of the photos on this page. Save Ontario Shipwrecks has produced a diagram of the site which can be seen at http://www.saveontarioshipwrecks.on.ca/Diverguides/dguide5.html - while it may appear from the drawing that the paddlewheels are still upright, that is not the case. A buoy and a line from shore make the wreck easy to find.
Situated just a couple hundred yards from the dock in Rockport, this wreck was (re)found in 1995.
Still the source of much debate, some no longer believe it is really the Kinghorn and the leading contender for the true identity is the "dith Surwell. Well, at least it was until someone suggested the Surwell (or Cirtwell) was a fishing tug that has yet to be found, and that this particular wreck is the Sophia (which actually lies not far away). Due to the sources who say it is the Kinghorn (namely wreck guru Rick Neilson), my money is on the Kinghorn.
Sitting upright in 88′ this is an aging steel hull with no superstructure. It has several openings on the upper deck (one reportedly from an anchor dropped a little too close to the target) so there is a good deal of light penetration into the hold which can be explored easily provided you have good finning technique (if you don’t you will be in the middle of a silt storm and other divers may finally have a use for the dive knives they have been carrying around for years). The upper deck is collapsing at a steady rate, and any penetration should be done with great caution if at all.
Close to the down-line is a "Canadian" toilet, still in relatively good shape (this item which was clearly not original, has since been removed). Plates and cups are scattered around the upper deck and inside the hold on the stove, many having reportedly been "returned" (read: planted) here (so if you take one thinking you have a genuine artifact, you are most likely sadly mistaken but other divers will take the opportunity to laugh at you, and then turn you over to the local constabularies since removing items from Ontario wrecks is illegal).
Don’t miss the ship’s wheel lying on its side on top of the stern, then find and the windlass, bilge pump, stove and rudder assembly which make for a decent amount to see. The wheel is now devoid of all its wood, but a sizeable portion of the steering gear is still attached and reaches nearly to the bottom of the hull. A small stove what was once on the deck, then in the hold, now appears to be missing entirely.
It sounds more like something you’d find on a bad sketch comedy show: pirates (some in Indian costumes) storm onto a nearly new ship and kick everyone off, only to find out they have no idea how to start the engines and decide to set fire to it for kicks. Such is the short life of the one-year-old Sir Robert Peel.
If you were looking for a way to create a valuable and in tact shipwreck for divers, I suggest that after examining the remains of the Peel, you don’t burn it. There’s not much left, aside from the boiler (which is now minus a lengthy section of tubing courtesy of a dive boat anchor while we were just feet away from it - see pictures of the magic flying tubing below). The boiler (or what remains of it) sits at about 60′, and there is one main section of the hull which bottoms out at almost exactly 130′.
On your way down to the main parts of this wreck you are looking for anything worth looking at. The boiler is not overly exciting (even when part of it flies over your head) and the little that remains of the hull is as boring as a piece of hull can get when its every detail is covered in a thick layer of zebras mussels. There is what looks to be a length of smokestack and some upright equipment I cannot identify (then again I have trouble identifying myself when using the wonderful photo on my drivers license). By the time you reach the bowsprit at the deepest point it’s almost a relief that the trip has not been an entire was of… everything. This wreck has the distinction of being the worst I have dived so far in Brockville. I have no plans to visit it again, ever. If yer in this neighbourhood go see the Vickery instead. If you are looking for a second dive after the Vickery… do the Vickery again.