Dive team prepares to visit S.S. Tahoe
Resting more than 400 feet beneath the surface of the lake, Steam Ship Tahoe, a luxury transport ship that carried people, mail and supplies around the lake in the early decades of the 1900s, should expect a visit from divers in August to commemorate the day it was submerged 60 years ago.
New Millennium Dive Expeditions, a newly formed technical diving team based in Reno, has executed 16 training dives in the lake in preparation for a dive on the steamship and plan to continue training as long as they attract sponsors.
“We haven’t received any funding yet,” said Martin McClellan, who’s been diving since 1979 and is leader of the dive team.
The stern of S.S. Tahoe sits a half-mile offshore and 463 feet deep in Glenbrook Bay, an area on the eastern shore of the lake. The bow of the ship rests at 385 feet.
The New Millennium team still plans to dive on the Tahoe in August, but they need to make a certain number of practice dives, each to a greater depth, before they can dive to the bow of the ship, McClellan said.
When the team dives to the vessel in the cold water and high altitude of Lake Tahoe, a 10-minute stay with the boat will make their ascent last nearly three hours.
The team’s ultimate goal is to make a series of dives on the ship during which they would shoot video, make a three-dimensional map of the area and set up a plaque to commemorate the vessel.
“It’s coming down to the wire here,” McClellan said. “We’ll be a team ready to do this dive, but what we can do is still up in the air.”
The team needs to set three anchors in the lake so they can set a diving platform directly above the S.S. Tahoe. They also need a portable decompression chamber.
McClelland said about $50,000 is required for his team to get in the deep-dive practice it needs to make a dive at the end of August.
The S.S. Tahoe, a steel ship, was beached near Tahoe City years ago because it had become too expensive to operate or remove from the basin.
“It was called the Queen of the Lake because it was so big,” said historian Lyn Landauer. “It was 169 feet long and 18 feet wide. It was actually longer than the steamers on the lake today.”
Vandals drove William S. Bliss, grandson of Duane L. Bliss, the original owner of the vessel, to buy back the ship in order to preserve it. He planned to submerge it at a depth of 100 feet in Glenbrook Bay on Aug. 29 and 30, 1940, so it could be seen in the clear water yet remain out of reach.
The plan went awry when the Tahoe slid from a bank sinking 300 feet deeper into the lake. The location of the ship remained a mystery until fisherman rediscovered her in 1970.
Since then remote cameras have been sent to her resting place and have shown the ship upright and in good condition.
“There have been no dives to the depth we’re going in Lake Tahoe, ” McClellan said. “Until recently the technology wasn’t available to plan or do this kind of dive.”
The low air pressure of Lake Tahoe, which sits at 6,229 feet, will make the 385-foot dive equivalent to a 550-foot dive at sea level.
A breathable mixture of oxygen, helium and nitrogen will enable the men to make such a deep dive, said Don Owens, one of the team’s safety divers.
In March, a 3-foot submarine, a prototype of the Lockheed Martin Corporation, observed the Tahoe. The images it captured are helping the team plan their underwater journey.
“It’s in great shape,” McClellan said. “It would float if you could get it off the bottom. It’s sitting upright like she’s at the dock.”
Images obtained by the Lockheed Martin submarine can be downloaded at http://www.diverssupport.com/sstahoe.htm.
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