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"Gunilda" - capturing the magic of an unusual shipwreck

Recently, an unusual wreck from the early 20th century – the “Gunilda” – has hit the headlines of mainstream media around the world. All thanks to the breathtaking photographs taken by the American Becky Kagan Schott. Her unquestionable talent, sensational eye and superb skills have brought the full magic of the sunken steamer back to
Published: May 8, 2018 - 15:22
Updated: July 22, 2023 - 16:46
“Gunilda” – capturing the magic of an unusual shipwreck

Recently, an unusual wreck from the early 20th century – the “Gunilda” – has hit the headlines of mainstream media around the world. All thanks to the breathtaking photographs taken by the American Becky Kagan Schott. Her unquestionable talent, sensational eye and superb skills have brought the full magic of the sunken steamer back to the surface.

Diving on this over 100-year-old wreck is a real challenge. The conditions in the Upper Lake, at a depth of 80 metres, are favourable for the preservation of the wrecks lying in it, but they pose a serious challenge to the human body. For this reason, Becky only had 25 minutes to explore and photograph the “Gunilda”.

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It was enough. When admiring the results of the effort and the frames captured, one cannot have the slightest doubt about it. With the sinking of the ship in 1911, the sumptuous interiors came to a standstill and time stopped for them. Today they still look spectacular, but there is no denying that for all their beauty, there is a hint of darkness and eeriness.

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[blockquote style=”2″]”Visiting it was akin to being lost in time, and it was quite eerie. I had never seen anything like it. For me it was a surreal experience,” recalls Becky Kagan Schott[/blockquote].

The steamer “Gunilda” was built at the end of the 19th century, in 1897, in the Scottish shipyard of Ramage & Ferguson Ltd. According to the vessel’s plans drawn up by the designers from Cox & King, the ship measured 59.4 metres in length and 6.25 metres in width, with a draft of 3.8 metres. The triple expansion steam engine allowed “Gunilda” to reach a speed of 14 knots.

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The magnificent ship was owned by an eccentric and wealthy resident of New York – William L. Harkness. It was his misguided decisions and miserliness that led to the sinking of the vessel in 1911. Harkness decided not to hire a local pilot while navigating Lake Superior, the largest and northernmost body of water in the Great Lakes complex of North America.

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Without a man who knew the basin, the surrounding islands, the shoals and the dangers hidden beneath the surface, it was clearly an ill-conceived economy that resulted in the ship crashing into the coastal rocks. Fortunately, there was no tragedy and despite the damage, all the passengers (and they were very wealthy people) were transported to shore.

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In the cabins, however, all the travellers’ belongings and valuables were left behind, which… went down with the steamer on 11 August 1911. Such a turn of events could have been avoided, but once again the stinginess of the owner showed itself, as he refused to pay for a second tug to secure the damaged Gunilda. As a result, the steamer and her valuables were lost for many years in the depths of Lake Górny.

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Over the following decades, the wreck was the object of many people who tried to reach it. The first diver to see the ‘Gunilda’ with his own eyes was Chuck Zender. In 1967, diving on compressed air, he reached the wreck, resting at a depth of… 80 metres! He described his dive in several magazines, including the estimated value of the valuables inside the wreck, amounting to $3.5 million.

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In the following years many attempts were made to reach the wreck and explore it. With the development of diving technology, attempts were made to adopt new, often pioneering solutions, which would make it possible to reach the sunken valuables. The results were various, including the most tragic, but this is a story for a separate article.

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Source: greatlakesunderwater.com, therebreathersite.nl
Photo: Becky Kagan Schott/Liquid Productions

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About author

Tomasz Andrukajtis
Editor-in-chief of the DIVERS24 portal and magazine. Responsible for obtaining, translating and developing content. He also supervises all publications. Achived his first diving certification – P1 CMAS, in 2000. Has a degree in journalism and social communication. In the diving industry since 2008.
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