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Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival Honors Maritime Culture, Exploration

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By John Tapley

Snuggled in the United States’ Midwest, the Great Lakes have served as a cultural beacon and economic vector for local and countrywide development. Grit and drive moving them ever forward, countless seafarers made passage through this mighty body of water – some were successful in their endeavors; others not so fortunate. Today these tales are found littered throughout the waters; and researching, discovering, and illustrating them is no small feat. Sharing the excitement of shipwreck discovery and honoring the tireless work of dedicated explorers and researchers, the Great Lakes Shipwreck Festival (GLSF) is launching its 37th year.

Taking place on Saturday, March 3 at the Morris Lawrence Building of Washtenaw Community College in Ann Harbor Michigan, the 37th annual GLSF will wow audiences with tales of adventure and share the meticulously ins and outs that make shipwreck exploration possible. Opening at 9 a.m., the festival will offer a swath of shipwreck and maritime knowledge: presentations lead by wreck diving luminaries; exhibitors representing local dive shops and scuba gear manufacturers; artists and photographers illuminating the imaginations of visitors through evocative imagery. While the festival primarily features diving adventures throughout the Great Lakes, it also offers visitors opportunities to enjoy exotic sights and destinations from tropical environments as well.

This year’s event offers 14 different programs from 12 presenters, including Joan Forsberg, Ric Mixter, Jim & Pat Stayer, Rudy Whitworth, and David Trotter. A cornucopia of topics and subjects ranges from the evolution of dive computers, to recently discovered vessels, to the everyday lives of cuttlefish.

“The presenters do a very professional job highlighting discoveries,” explains GLSF Committee Chairman Russell Haeberle. “There’s a lot of research that goes into it: when you find a wreck, the next task is to identify it, and find out when it sank and why. There’s a tremendous amount of history in the Great Lakes: depending on which book you read, there’s somewhere between 4,000 to 5,000 shipwrecks.”

“It’s a challenge [that] requires a considerable amount of dedication and is not the most exciting endeavor in the world,” he continues, “[but] after hundreds of hours searching to find that virgin shipwreck no one has seen since its sinking… that’s where the excitement comes in.”

On average, the day-long festival has shared the thrills of local and exotic scuba research and exploration with 400 attendees per year, ranging from adolescents to the Sea Hunt generation. This wide age spectrum is reflected in the show’s keystone figures as well – the works of ship explorers and researchers from Millennials to Boomers are honored through the festival.

“We have individuals who have been doing this for many years, such as Dave Trotter; but there’s also a younger group coming along: going out and searching for new shipwrecks,” Haeberle says.

The GLSF is organized by the Ford Seahorses Scuba Club and the Ford Sea Lancers: two local dive clubs, which have recently merged. For more information on the event, including a full list of presenters and exhibitors, visit https://greatlakesshipwreckfestival.org.