Traverse City sunken boat

Thanks to Record Eagle for this:

TRAVERSE CITY — Refloating a boat from a depth of 178 feet is no simple task, but a team of divers pulled it off — or up — recently in West Grand Traverse Bay, located in beautiful Traverse City, Michigan.

Divemaster Joe Duperron said it took 3 days and a lot of planning to get the boat that sank in June 19, 2020 from its spot on the bottom to Elmwood Marina. He was hesitant to get involved with the project after initially being asked, but agreed after boat owner Todd Elsenheimer contacted him.

Todd Elsenheimer, who owns the Maxum 2800 SCR Cruiser, said that’s been his plan  after his boat took on water during a family outing. There were 10 people onboard that day, all rescued from the water by a U.S. Coast Guard diver.

The Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy wanted the boat off the bottom — the boat had up to 70 gallons of fuel, plus oil in the 7.4-liter engine and hydraulic fluids inside that all posed an environmental threat, Duperron said. He talked with EGLE employees, plus the boat’s insurer about paying for the salvage effort.

Traverse City sunken boat

“So we created a dive plan, which took some doing in order to bring it up, because doing it by crane was pretty impractical with where it’s at given its depth, because the boat was at 178 feet,” he said.

It took some time to plan the salvages and insure the dive, and 4-foot waves nearly scuttled the trip when Duperron and company were ready to try it on Labor Day, he said.

The bay calmed down later, so Scuba North owner and seasoned technical diver Bob Thorpe descended to the boat to attach cables to it for holding lift bags, Duperron said. Thorpe also attached a tow cable.

It’s not the deepest Thorpe has been over 20-plus years and what he figures to be roughly 7,000 dives, including some salvage dives, he said. But it’s the deepest he’s ever been to retrieve a boat.

Thorpe was at the bottom for about an hour and took an hour and 10 minutes to ascend, he said. He paused every 10 feet starting at 90 feet underwater and waited as part of a process to ensure nitrogen bubbles didn’t form in his bloodstream from the massive pressure change.

Traverse City sunken boat

Recreational divers can’t go any deeper than 130 feet, Thorpe said.

Instead of compressed air, Thorpe breathed a mix of oxygen, helium and nitrogen, allowing him to spend longer at the bottom and ascend without an even lengthier decompression process, Duperron said.

Thorpe said he played a small role in the operation, and he and Duperron were just two team members.

Next, it was diver Dusty Klifman’s turn to go to the boat and attach air bags, Klifman said.

Those bags lifted the boat 40 feet above the bottom, then the salvage crew towed it to shallower water where the boat could rest on the bottom, Duperron said. That way, divers could reposition the lift bags. They did that three more times until the boat was under 8 feet of water tied to an oil dock piling.

Klifman said dive partner Aubrey Baker helped with the lift bags during the three-day process of getting it back to shore.

“Basically this thing has been down there for a couple of months, and we were all just wondering, when the heck is it going to get out of the water? Then thankfully it came together,” Klifman said.

Traverse City sunken boat

Small amounts of fuel did escape the vehicle while being towed, but the salvage team quickly cleaned it up with absorbent material, Duperron said.

There was one problem when the boat turned over while being towed underwater, Duperron said.

That resulted in the windshield being smashed, and Elsenheimer said the boat’s new anchor was removed as well. He had several buyers lined up based on pictures showing the condition of the boat on the bottom.

“I called some of the people that were interested in buying it and let them know that it was free, because the windshield was so badly damaged and it had been dragged on the floor of the bay,” he said. “I just didn’t feel good about selling it at all, so I just gave it away.”

Duperron said the boat was in surprisingly good shape, considering the job’s aim was salvage and not recovery.

Elsenheimer was frustrated by what he characterized as a lack of communication from the salvage team, an assertion Duperron strongly denied.

More investigation once the boat had been pumped out didn’t reveal why it sank, Duperron said.

Elsenheimer and nine others were aboard on June 19 when he noticed the engine making strange sounds, he previously told the Record-Eagle. The engine compartment was filling with water when he checked and the engine stopped working so he couldn’t boat to shore.

He radioed the U.S. Coast Guard for help, and a diver rescued everyone on board, as previously reported.

Elsenheimer said he doesn’t think the boat sank because 10 people were on board, as some have suggested. Seven of the ten were teenagers and the boat was yacht-certified.

EGLE spokesman Nick Assendelft said the department previously sent Elsenheimer a violation notice but is satisfied now that the boat’s off state bottomlands.

Klifman originally found the sunken boat and filmed and photographed it using a remote-operated vehicle (ROV), he said — that same piece of gear was vital in monitoring underwater work during the salvage, Duperron said.

Klifman posted those photos and videos online for his underwater photography service he calls Blueyes Below, he said. Hundreds of thousands viewed and sharing the images of the boat sitting upright on the bottom.

Now, the saga’s over, Elsenheimer agreed.

“I’m sorry the whole thing happened, I don’t know what I could have done differently,” he said. “It’s unfortunate but the chapter is closed, hopefully for everyone on this.”

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