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Divers spend more than five minutes with S.S. Tahoe

Gregory Crofton, Tahoe Daily Tribune
Provided by New Millennium Dive ExpeditionsBrian Morris, left, and Martin McClellan take an image of themselves during their third dive to the Steamship Tahoe on Saturday.
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Number three.

In glassy water on Saturday, New Millennium Dive Expeditions made its third descent to the Steamship Tahoe, a vessel intentionally sunk about a mile out from Glenbrook Bay in 1940.

Two divers spent 5 1/2 minutes at the ship, reaching as deep as 390 feet beneath Lake Tahoe. They swam along a roofless pilot house and a luxury lounge before making a U-turn in front of a smoke stack that stands halfway along the 169-foot steamer.



The divers, Martin McClellan and Brian Morris, said their best vantage point came as they crossed over to the starboard side of the steamer and began an ascent.

“It was like standing in front of a two-story building,” McClellan said. “All you could see was ship. It was an incredibly fascinating dive.”



The divers identified sections of the ship more readily because a Nevada resident, Fred Turner, provided them with a blueprint of the steamer about a week ago. Turner had a copy of it because he plans to build a 14-foot model of the vessel.

At the wreck, which sits wedged in sand and engulfed in 39-degree water, McClellan shot video, while Morris, a decompression expert, kept track of time they could burn at such a depth.

Because they went so deep, and stayed for more than five minutes, they had to endure two hours and 10 minutes of ascent time to allow for the special gases required, a mixture of helium, oxygen and hydrogen, to leach from their bodies.

“Longest I’ve done in my life,” McClellan said. “How do you handle something that boring, that mundane? I got so hungry and got so cold. I just kept thinking about what we had just done … and about getting to the cold pizza in my lunch box.”

The dive team, based in Reno and organized as a nonprofit group, has covered recent expenses with the sale of a boat donated to them last year. Each dive costs about $2,800. In total, they’ve spent about $50,000 on training, equipment and actual dive time.

They are planning two more dives this year. During each dive McClellan expects to shoot more video for a documentary he’s working on.

The team’s next dive is scheduled Aug. 17 when they hope to descend to 400 feet before they tie an aluminum plaque to the ship’s bow. The plaque reads: “Dedicated to the Bliss family for their contribution to Lake Tahoe presented by New Millennium Dive Expeditions.”

The Bliss family owned the steamer, one of four vessels to cart people, supplies and mail around the lake beginning in 1896. Business for the steamer dried up after a road was completed around the lake in 1935. One steamer, the Emerald, was cut up and sold for parts.

The Nevada and the Meteor were submerged at the deepest parts of the lake. The Tahoe was docked at Tahoe City until vandals persuaded the Bliss family to sink the boat in about 80 feet of water at Glenbrook Bay so it could be seen but not touched.

The ship eventually slid deeper into the water than planned, coming to rest where Glenn Amundson, a South Lake Tahoe engineer, located her in 1963.

Anyone who wants to support the team or look at more underwater photos of the ship should go to http://www.diverssupport.com/sstahoe.htm.

— Gregory Crofton can be reached at (530) 542-8045 or at gcrofton@tahoedailytribune.com


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