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2019 - Pretoria - Closing Report

Phil Kerber | Published on 8/5/2019

Closing Report:

Our plans this year were to search for any other pieces of the wreck that weren’t discovered, using our new sonar. Then, dive to monitor how the boiler securement chains and mounts were holding up and to begin documenting the undocumented section of port side hull next to the boiler. We wanted to do the sonar work at the beginning of the Project to allow time to dive on any prospective sonar ”hits.” We knew from our work here in previous years that approximately 100 feet of port side hull is still unaccounted for.

The 2019 Pretoria Project crew included Co-Leader Tim Pranke, Phil Kerber, Jim Christenson, Mike Mack, and Jack Decker. The proper permits for diving on this historic wreck had been procured through the Wisconsin Historical Society (WHS) back in March. Tim filed the Float Plan with Silver Bay Marina just prior to departure.

We left Silver Bay Marina, the morning of August 1, on an Easterly heading to Outer Island, a six-hour trip. The Pretoria lies about a mile and a half north of Outer Island and just outside of the Apostle Islands National Lake shore boundary (hence the permit from the WHS.) Discussion among the crew was on the possibility of finding missing sections of the wreck and parts of the wreck. Last year’s discovery of the power steering mechanism was quite a thrill.

As we arrived at the wreck site, the waves were a bit too high for effective sonar work. So, we dove on the boiler and the small undocumented hull section next to it. The boiler was still attached to the bottom. The chains were as tight as when we put them on, 2 summers ago.

As we headed to our dock for the night, Tim flipped on the sonar just to see what could be seen. About 1000 ft. from the main wreck, some straight lines appeared on the sonar screen, indicating a large section of possible wreckage! Our plans for the next day changed immediately!

Tim was the first one down to see this section of the wreck in the 114 years since it went down. As we each took our turns diving on this section, we were all amazed at the size of this section. As a bonus, the rudder was laying on top of this section.

We spent the next several dives measuring and preliminary documenting this lost section. The overall length of this section is 102 feet. The rudder measured out at just over 32 feet long; standing it upright, it would be about as tall as a three story building! Tim has been learning photogrammetry and has some great images of this section.

We spent time on the boiler and section by the boiler, documenting that section and measuring back to known points on the already documented main wreck. This is to triangulate the location of the section by the boiler to the main wreck.

The final day, Monday, August 5, we left Outer Island and the Pretoria for home. We decided to swing by and dive the wreck of the Sevona. An interesting dive since the Sevona went down in the same storm as the Pretoria and had last docked at the same last dock as the Pretoria. On the way to the Sevona, a passing thunderstorm caused us to pull into a cove on the south side of Bear Island to wait for the storm to pass. We saw some spectacular lightning strikes and heard some close-by thunder. After the storm passed, we continued to the Sevona. The current was flowing, and we got one dive in.

In all, we performed 35 dives for a total of over 34 hours of dive time on the Pretoria. The weather was terrific, so we were able to stay every night at Outer Island Lighthouse. The boiler remains secured. The steering mechanism is still impressive. More pieces of the puzzle have been found and wait for complete documentation. Though we have yet to see the resident bear(s) on Outer Island, the week after we left, the island was closed to campers due to bear activity.