By Selene Muldowney
“If I could spend 23 hours a day underwater I would!”
Becky Kagan Schott is an underwater cinematographer, photographer, artist, and story teller, but not the ordinary, in fact, she is rather extraordinary. Schott is very passionate about her work, as a self-described explorer she has mastered her art of capturing the images of shipwrecks in a unique way – she tells their story – visually. Her art pays homage to the voyages these once vibrant ships, steamers, schooners, and freighters undertook.
Schott grew up in Florida, started diving at 12 years old and shortly discovered a unique interest in caverns. Without a driver’s license, transportation, or the funds to boat dive, she found herself tagging along to the fresh water springs where caverns became her passion – her second home. She has always had a unique interest in the water, her curiosity of what lay beneath the surface soon became an obsession. Schott knew from an early age what she wanted to do: document her explorations of the underwater world.
She is an Emmy Award winning underwater cameraman, photographer, and technical diver. Her work profiled on major networks including National Geographic, Discovery Channel, and the Travel Channel. Along with her husband David Schott, they own Liquid Productions INC., and underwater video production company that has become famous within the industry for succeeding in exceptionally challenging aquatic environments. Of course, in order to fill a niche resume, Schott holds an impressive array of certifications including tri-mix and cave diving. Schott is also an instructor with SDI and TDI, a technical Instructor, and a Rebreather Instructor. This impressive list of accomplishments undoubtedly combined with her natural creativity and passion accounts for her rapid success.
Schott has been diving and exploring the underwater world for the past 23 years, her travels taking her everywhere from her local Pennsylvania waters to the icy cold waters off Antarctica. While she has been fortunate to explore new underwater realms, encounter interesting marine life, documenting historic wrecks in Japan, rappelling into caves, or filming under the ice in the Bering Sea, Schott always returns to one of her favorite diving locations; the Great Lakes, where she has been documenting her explorations of the shipwrecks as they lay in their watery graves.
“I have been fortunate enough to dive some of the most incredible places I the world and yet one of my favorite locations is the Great Lakes. I have always enjoyed exploring shipwrecks – it is like diving in an underwater museum. These wrecks range from schooners from the early 1800s to steel freighters sunk just 50 years ago. Each shipwreck holds a mystery and has a story waiting to be told,” states Schott passionately.
One of her recent travels to the Great Lakes took her on a journey to Lake Huron, one the Great Lakes of North America. Lake Huron, like the other lakes giving the Great lakes its namesake, offers divers the rare opportunity to see, touch, and experience, up close and personal well-preserved shipwrecks. Mostly due to the frigid clear waters, maintaining a consistent temperature of 3438 degrees at depths of over 100 feet. Like all Great Lakes, the ecology has undergone significant changes in the past century including the complete eradication of many native fish species. Many species that can be found include round whitefish. ruffe, sea lamprey, smallmouth bass, walleye, white bass, white perch, white sucker and yellow perch. Lake Huron also boasts heavily forested areas, including 10,000 acres of pine, aspen and hardwood forest in the Huron-Manistee National Forests. The area is also home to what scientists believe are some 7,000-year-old petrified trees that are underwater.
While Lake Huron is in itself beautiful and awe inspiring; her waters clear, her topography inviting, the pièce de résistance that draws divers, photographers, videographers, and storytellers to this lake are the numerous shipwrecks – beacons of history – underwater museums. They are nearly infinitely preserved by mother nature yet mother nature’s incredible strength and violent rage brought many of these ships to their watery graves. Each ship, has a story to tell and Schott is determined to tell it through her lens. There are an estimated 200 vessels, from an 1844 sidewheel steamer to modern freighters, resting in “Shipwreck Alley.”
The wind picked up, waves were crashing onto the 600-foot-long steel freighter, battering her steel hull mercilessly. It was soon clear to the crew that the 70-mph wind and the swells that topped the height of the ship, 20 to 25 foot waves, would overcome the SS Daniel J. Morrell. On November 28, 1966, she sank, taking with her 28 of its 29 crewmen and plunging them into the dark and frigid waters of Lake Huron. At 2am the crew was forced onto the deck, where many jumped to their deaths in 34 degree waters. Shortly after, at 2:15 am the ship was ripped in two in the violent seas and the remaining crew members loaded into a raft on the forward section of the vessel. Soon after as they waited for the bow to sink, crew members spotted what they thought was another ship. Moments later it was discovered this mysterious object looming toward them was in fact the Morrell’s aft section now barreling at the men. One sole survivor made it 37 hours on a raft before being rescued.
Imagine the terror those men faced as the plunged into the darkness, mother nature their mortal enemy. Today her aft and her bow rest peacefully in roughly 200 feet of water and situated approximately 5 miles apart. Her looming figures a reminder of the storms that can seize a ship – the strength of the winds that blow through the region, the lake waters calm one moment and at times violently raging.
“I want people to see these images that I believe will capture their imagination and possibly inspire them to want to learn more. I am drawn to the stories of survival, the mystery, and the discovery, often tragic, yet their stories waiting to be told,” states Schott.
Schott typically will spend a week at one location to capture the images of these hauntingly beautiful sites. Schott spent a total of one month in Lake Huron, forty hours of it underwater.
“I dive with rebreathers at those depths, my favorite is the Megalodon Rebreather from Innerspace Systems. I like it because it is built in the USA, sturdy, durable, and incredibly reliable. We don’t have a lot of bottom time at that depth – usually 25-30 minutes and the we take about an hour to an hour and a half to decompress,” Schott continues.
Another of Schott’s favorite dives is a much older wreck, a stunning sidewheel steamer Detroit. She sank in 1854 and sits upright in about 200 feet of water. This Pre-Civil War era ship’s paddle wheels are intact and an incredible site to behold.
“The Detroit is a unique wreck; the wood is still intact and if you swim along her side and look back she looks perfectly preserved – almost as if she could be on her way – another trip across Lake Huron.”
The wooden steamer is considered the most intact side-wheeler in the Great Lakes. Built in 1846 she was a 157-foot long cargo ship. On May 25, 1854 in dense fog she collided with the bark Nucleus and sank just 15 miles off Point Aux Barques. There was no loss of life. The upper cabins are gone but the hull, sponsons, side-wheels, and walking beam steam engine are all intact although covered with Quagga mussels.
Schott has many other favorites across the Great Lakes and in Lake Huron. Follow her work and discover alongside her the incredible stories often left untold – well – left in history books. Her images are mesmerizing and hopefully inspiring to others as they yearn to learn more about what story these hauntingly beautiful images tell.
In addition to Schott’s work with television networks and literature, her images can be found through a number of social media sites.