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Guest Contributors...           Edwin R. Scollon

Diving Lake Champlain...
The Valcour Bay Research Project-X (a)

Recovery Preparations

Phase 2

June 28-29, 2001

In partnership with...

A ceremony celebrating the 225th anniversary of American independence and the Battle of Valcour was scheduled for June 30, 2001.  The ceremony would coincide with the recovery of the artifacts that the VBRP had encountered in their two-year study.  Both events would take place upon the deck of the Lake Champlain Transportation Companyís ferry Adirondack.  As VBRP members arrived at Peru Dock the day before, they had plenty of work ahead of them.  The smaller artifacts had to be gathered and packaged and the cannon pieces were yet to be rigged.    

The initial plan was to bring the artifacts directly from the bottom of the bay to the Adirondackís decks just prior to the ceremony.  With the forecasted arrival of a low-pressure system, strong south winds and high seas, it was readily apparent to the VBRP team that other arrangements would have to be made.  If weather conditions deteriorated before the ceremony, as projected, a recovery from the Adirondack would be difficult.  Furthermore, the difficult recovery of the heavy cannon would unnecessarily endanger the passengers upon her crowded decks.  Fortunately, Lake Champlain Maritime Museum Executive Director, Art Cohn, had already made arrangements with the U.S. Coast Guard to assist the team with the recovery.  A fifty-foot buoy-tender and a smaller support craft were on the way from their Burlington, Vermont station.  The plan was now to secure the artifacts upon the buoy-tender.  The next dayís ceremony could then be conducted within a sheltered bay of Valcour Island.

Before the arrival of the U.S. Coast Guard and before the weather worsened, VBRP members carefully gathered, packaged and recovered the smaller artifacts.  They also deployed a series of buoys to assist the buoy tender in taking position once it arrived.

The buoy-tender had transported a large mooring pad upon her deck.  Once the tender arrived, her crew went to work.  All that was left for the team & crew to recover were three pieces of cannon and the large fragment of its carriage.  With buoys marking the positions of the cannon, the Coast Guard crew deployed the mooring pad at a safe distance.  The buoy-tender was then secured to the pad and remained as a work platform for the VBRP divers.

 VBRP diver, Todd Bissonette, recovered the carriage fragment and carefully brought it to the buoy-tender and its crew by hand.

LCMM Executive Director, Art Cohn; LCMM Project Coordinator, Pierre LaRocque; and VBRP diver, Steve Nye, went to work at recovering the remaining pieces of cannon.  Art and Pierre performed the difficult lift and Steve filmed the operation.  To recover the smaller piece of cannon first reinforce, Art and Pierre deployed a lift bag; larger, lift-pillows were used to recover the cannonís cascabel and its muzzle. Rope rigging secured the cannon pieces to the lift bag and pillows.  Once they were securely attached, Pierre slowly inflated them with compressed air from an additional scuba tank that he had secured to his side.  Their buoyancy, created by the trapped air, generated the lift to free the pieces from the bayís bottom for the first time in 225 years.

The cannon pieces were brought to the surface, one at a time.  Once the lift bags broke the surface, the divers swam the pieces to the buoy-tenderís stern.  They were then secured to the winch of the buoy-tenderís hydraulic lift and safely brought on board.  As weather conditions worsened, the Coast Guardís support craft moved into position and assisted the divers with towing the heavy muzzle to the buoy-tender and her awaiting crew.

Thanks to members of Burlingtonís U.S. Coast Guard station, the difficult recovery was made without risking the safety of the VBRP team; and their presence nearly negated the challenges presented by the dayís poor weather conditions.  Once all were safely aboard, the buoy tender-anchored in the shelter of Valcour Islandís Butterfly Bay and awaited the next-day arrival of the Adirondack.

Click on the thumbnails below to see full-size images of the preparations.

All underwater photos by Steve Nye. Prep photos and on deck images by Jerry Forkey.
© 2002 Valcour Bay Research Project and The Lake Champlain and Lake George Historical Site

Members of the VBRP team congregate at Peru Dock.  Clinton County Historical Association Museum Director John Tomkins shows off the new and official VBRP shirt, as the U.S. Coast Guardís buoy-tender and support craft arrive from Burlington.

LCMM diver Art Cohn assists LCMM diver Pierre LaRocque with positioning lift bag after it has been secured to the fragment from the cannonís first reinforce.  The bag is filled with the air of an additional tank, secured to Pierreís left side.

With enough buoyancy to overcome the weight of the cannonís fragment, the lift bag ascends to the surface.  Once at the surface, Pierre and Art escort the artifact to waiting U.S. Coast Guard crewmembers.


LCMM divers Pierre LaRocque & Art Cohn return for the cannonís cascabel.  Pierre performs the lift by deploying a lift pillow.  Art controls the cascabelís ascent from the bayís floor by a line secured to the top of the lift pillow.

Weather conditions donít improve.  Increasingly high seas make the teamís escort of the cascabel to the buoy-tender a difficult task.  Lines are secured to the lift pillow and the buoy-tenders hydraulic lift winches it onboard.

Art Cohn & Pierre LaRocque return to the bayís floor for the final phase of the artifact recovery, raising the cannonís muzzle.  Rigging the muzzle properly is critical to bringing it safely to the surface and aboard the buoy-tender.  As Pierre carefully inflates the lift pillow, Art assists in maintaining the positions of the pillow and its rigging.

The muzzle begins its ascent from the bottom.

As the lift pillow breaks the surface, Art inspects the cannonís rigging and insures that it is still secure.  Pierre calls for assistance from the Coast Guardís smaller support craft.

The support craft arrives; Pierre is thrown a line and pulled to the stern of the buoy-tender.  Pierre then secures the lift pillow to the buoy-tenderís powerful winch.

The cannonís muzzle is winched aboard and placed on a cradle, custom built by VBRP member Roger Harwood.  The Coast Guard support craft crew secure the divers gear.


LCMM Director Art Cohn and VBRP Videographer Steve Nye reflect on their dayís work.  LCMM Archaeologists Adam Kane and Pierre LaRocque take a few moments to get their first unobstructed view of the cannonís muzzle.  The cannon is returned to the water in Valcour Islandís Butterfly Bay, where it will remain secured to its rigging at the buoy-tenderís stern.  With all safe and secure, Art Cohn looks on.  He can now turn his attention to the next dayís event: the celebration of the artifact recovery, and of the 225th anniversaries of the Battle of Valcour Island and American independence.


Continued here: The Raising of the Cannon...

Back to the VBRP HOME PAGE

 IMPORTANT NOTE: Artifacts on the bottom of the lake are the property of the People of the States of New York and/or Vermont by law. It is illegal to remove or damage them under State Law(s) without the appropriate clearances and permits. Removing them and transferring them across state lines violates Federal law & makes one liable to Federal prosecution.

Other links about Valcour Island and the Battle of Valcour within
The Lake Champlain and Lake George Historical Site

The Battle of Lake Champlain
: The American Revolution on Lake Champlain

View a copy of the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum's Official Cannon Raising Commemoration Program- Click HERE.

Also of interest: LCMM's Valcour Island Battlefield Preservation

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