When James Fenimore Cooper was writing about the Adirondack Mountains in "The Last of The Mohicans," back in 1826, I doubt if he could have imagined what the area would look like today: tons of campgrounds, swanky hotels, and leisure activities of every nature doting the once virgin landscape. I’m pretty sure he never envisioned scuba divers descending to admire 200-year-old boats on the bottom of Lake George. Too bad, he always enjoyed a great adventure.
Having recently been certified by PADI, it was my desire to see more of the underwater world that led me to Lake George, a thirty-mile-long lake located in the Adirondack State Park in upper New York state. I planned a long weekend of luxury pampering at the famed Sagamore Resort, located right on the lake. I saw no reason why I couldn’t do my underwater exploring, and eat great food, receive massages and visit the steam room at the Sagamore spa. Call it the best of all worlds.
Lake George in August is a busy place. Parasailers drift over head as boats of every size zip around the surprisingly clear water. Standing on the dock of the Sagamore with my bag of diving gear, I spotted Rich Morin who operates two 5-star-PADI dive centers in the area pull up. With him was Chris Hubbell, an IDC Staff Instructor at the Morin Dive Centers. Before I knew it we were speeding across the lake to our first dive site.
I got certified in the Caribbean, so diving in a lake was foreign to me. The type of gear needed in a lake where the water temperature can drop 20 degrees in 40 feet in the summertime–is a whole different story! The wetsuit I put on was heavy gauge, and I needed twenty-four pounds of weights to get me to the bottom. Add the hood and heavy gloves and I had a diving ensemble that would make a seal jealous.
After Rich and Chris went over the dive plans and hand signals with me, we entered the water doing backrolls off of the side of the boat. I swam to the anchor line which led down to our first dive site. The Lake George area is rich in American history. And scattered along the bottom of the lake are hundreds of boats: canoes, paddle boats, schooners, and a floating gun battery that dates back as far as 1750. Most can be viewed around the 40 to 60 feet depths.
Our first dive was to The Sunken Fleet of 1758, eight warships called "bateaux" sunk during the French and Indian War. Actually there are seven original bateaux, the eighth is a replica built by the local high school students and sunk at the site in 1997 in order that divers could see what the bateaux originally looked like.
The bateaux were operated by six men crews. They were 35-feet-long, made of pine with simple oak frames, and were used to carry troops and supplies. They were usually propelled by either using long poles or oars. The bateaux were used by both the English and French as their principal warship, during the war.
The bateaux are scattered over a 450-foot area. We swam along a rope that guided us past each boat. Only the ribs and some planks are still visible. Stopping to survey the boats, I really got the sense of what it must have been like to row one of these small boats in the dead of night across Lake George. Even now as they lay on the murky bottom, they have a proud silence about them. After viewing all seven bateaux, we made our way back towards our boat.
Diving to see wrecks at the bottom of dark lakes is quite different from reef diving in the Caribbean. I had a greater sense of man’s history and folly viewing these sleeping rusted relics.
Back on board, we headed out towards our next dive site, The Forward Underwater Classroom, which was fifteen minutes away–and about thirty-five feet down. We raced past a large steamboat, the "Minne-Ha-Ha," carrying hundreds of people sightseeing. There are a number of cruise ships that sail Lake George during the summer.
After arriving at the site we checked our gear, went over our dive plans, then backrolled off the side. Rich was always close to me, giving me the okay sign, and making me feel that I was in good hands with him as my guide and buddy.
I was starting to appreciate the heavy wetsuit I was wearing as I felt the drop in water temperature around my face where I was not protected.
We kicked along the muddy bottom, a number of fish coming by to check us out. Then I saw the Forward, a 45-foot- long wooden launch that spoke of an earlier, grandiose time in the history of Lake George. The Forward was built around 1906, and was one of the earliest gas-powered launches on the lake. The family that owned the Forward, was also involved in backing Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927.
The Forward is in good shape. She still looks sturdy and proud. Her large steering wheel, and two gasoline engines have held their age well. We drifted around her a few times, enjoying her beauty and grace.
In 1997-1998, a trail system was created for divers to visit several stations near the Forward including vegetation and geology signage, a zebra mussel monitoring station, a fish observation zone, and a Secchi disk for divers to measure water visibility. Spending the rest of our dive time checking out the Underwater Classroom, I got a real understanding of the importance of the ecosystem of Lake George.
Rich motioned to me that it was time to join the "other world" again.
Up top, after getting out of our gear, I learned that both of the Morin’s Dive Centers, in Glens Falls, NY and Rutland, VT, offer instruction in every PADI certification course, from Open Water Diver, to training the local firemen and police in underwater rescue. If you’re thinking of diving in Lake George, and need gear or a buddy, you can reach Rich and Chris ator call 800-924-DIVE. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention, Rich and Chris like to travel to exotic dive locations to feed sharks-fortunately for me Lake George doesn’t have sharks, I think.
I returned to The Sagamore, knowing that I had barely scratched the surface when it came to seeing the sunken treasures on the bottom of Lake George. Ten minutes later I was soaking in the Jacuzzi at the Sagamore spa, my body again submerged in water-this time, just a bit hotter.