With the 100 year anniversary of the Gunilda running aground (August 21, 1911), and subsequently sinking during salvage. I thought it was an appropriate time to add a bit of history to how the bell of the Gunilda came to be missing and how it was recovered.
I was fortunate to dive the Gunilda for several years before it became the popular attraction that it is today, and through the years it was sad to see bits and pieces damaged, hand rails broken, or doors torn off hinges…but the saddest year was in 2000 when we made the first dive of the season and saw that the bell, that adorned the bow, had been stolen! I was heartbroken as the bell of the Gunilda sitting in its place of honor was a majestic thing to see, and one of the “shiny” things that is most coveted by wreck divers, and for me shooting hi8 video, it was a focal point to the video. Well as it turned out it was not actually stolen, but sitting in the silt on the lower walking deck. I found out later it was accidentally knocked off the bow base when archeologist Scott M. was testing the integrity of the base. Divers for years have been wrenching on the bell as you can see stress marks in the goose neck, and of course the cracked bolts (see picture). When we discovered the bell resting in the silt below the bow deck, we immediately concocted a plan to replace it to its proper place on the next trip.
Back in the early years, the myth of “Archeological Permit”, the random searches by OPP, SOS member Ryan LeBlanc, visits by MNR to confirm our permits were valid, No Touching The Wreck or Disturbing the Silt as dictated by permit, and scrutiny of locals watching us with spotting scopes was just part of diving the Gunilda. So when we concocted a plan to put the bell back on the bow deck base, we knew it had to be done in total secrecy.
The next trip we choose to charter a local, Don Neilan (deceased), who had a nice little tug boat with small but reasonable stern and dive ladder. We did not announce our plan to the group of divers we invited along as it was just too dangerous with the chance of a slip of lip. On our first dive the objective was to sneak a bag of tools containing a drift pin to drive out the ½ bolt out of the 3” solid bow deck base, hammers, wrenches, sockets, etc…. this was quietly put over the stern and lowered into the water so we could retrieve it and take it down the stern mast mooring line. My dive buddy and I got into the water, and looked for the bag, then looked at each other…. who tied the bag to the rail??? Oh, S hit! The Gunilda being in total blackness 260 feet down, it was almost pointless thinking we could find this heavy bag of tools but we gave it a try. While swimming along the starboard side, looking in the mud, on the companionways, etc. I happened to look up and see the tool bag resting on the tip of the starboard life boat arm that hangs out over the ship– only in real life could something so preposterous occur but it did!
I don’t know the true weight of the bell, but I would guess it weighed 60 – 70 pounds and working in the dark, silt, narcosis… it was a job that took a couple dives to accomplish. First driving the broken bits of the bolts out of the deck, then the top of the carriage bolt out of the bronze base so we could get a accurate measurement for replacement bolts. Here is a hint when shopping for bolts in Schreiber hardware store in a country that did adopt the metric system: don’t ask for 13mm carriage bolts as they only stock imperial sizes? What are they for you ask, oh nothing important. Well for lack of authentic material (bronze) we were forced to choose common steel, but the thought was there.
Now I know this sounds totally cockeyed to a divers forum about shipwrecks when the front page is typically reserved for stories like the fantastic recovery of the Andria Doria bell, etc. But the point is that I was a founding member of a Great Lakes shipwreck preservation organization that had ideals for saving and restoring sunken wrecks, and I guess I like to see the shiny things on Great Lakes wrecks that will last for a few hundred more years if left undisturbed.
Now on the 100th anniversary I look forward to shooting video with my HiDef video system and if luck prevails the bell will be resting in its proper place. And I’ll dig around in the silt below the bell, starboard side, as I know there is still an expensive socket that we dropped or by chance someone may have already discovered?
The bolts are the only artifacts from the Gunida that I have ever removed, although I have been asked by Ned several times to donate any items to his museum, and now that I admitted this insignificant fact, it will probably result in the Mounties chasing me down next visit to Rossport :-)
First photo shows the Gunilda bell leaning forward from years of divers trying to remove it
Second photo shows bell missing and the oval outline
Third photo shows the bell sitting in the silt below the raised deck
Fourth photo shows the bell mounted back in place
Divers name withheld