Diving for Hidden Treasure

  • Diving for Hidden Treasure

    While her high school students were researching historic shipwrecks off the coast of Long Island as a class assignment, Sayville High School Marine Science teacher Mrs. Cindy Giannico made an important discovery herself—a hidden treasure in the likes of a colleague.

     

    Sayville Technology teacher Bill Vogel is also an advanced-level technical diver, certified for over 300-foot dives, and has more than eleven years of experience diving for wrecks in Long Island coastal waters. Some of his most notable dives include the “Mt. Everest of dives, the Andrea Doria.

     

    Tapping Mr. Vogel’s experiences, Mrs. Giannico reversed the field-trip concept and brought shipwrecks, complete with artifacts and equipment from his numerous dives, into the classroom. Joining them were the Marine Science students working on shipwreck projects from the two other Marine Science classes taught by Mr. Anthony DeAngelis and Brian Daleo.

     

     Mr. Vogel was enthusiastic and knowledgeable about his favorite subjects, the handful of famous wrecks off our shores, and gave new perspectives to their tragic stories of collision or war that brought them down.

     

    Among the more familiar names, Mr. Vogel spoke about his dives to the U.S.S. San Diego, an Armored Cruiser 6,  which was brought down by a German submarine U.156 in July 1918, and today still lies listing and upside down about eleven miles southeast of Fire Island inlet. He described the importance of remaining alert while diving, especially because navigation through a dark hull, strewn with bulkheads, machinery, and ship stores, is dangerous.

     

    Mr. Vogel informed the students that it is often a blind search for artifacts because of the silt that is disturbed during the dive. A diver has to develop tactile awareness in the absence of vision. The human hand can recognize man-made objects such as the straight edges of a brass nameplate or a brass button embedded in cloth. While certain large items, like brass portholes, clean up nicely and are considered a good find, Mr. Vogel admitted he was fooled by something big, a piece of porcelain pottery that turned out to be fragments of  a toilet bowl.

     

    Yet, success is measured in amazing recoveries, little pieces of history that survived the shipwrecks.  He asked the students to imagine the odds of fine china not breaking during the violence of a storm-tossed wreck, or after the ship crushes into the ocean floor, remaining intact and still bearing the ship’s logo when it is recovered hundreds of years later. For Mr. Vogel, several of his great achievements are three intact teacups, logo and all, he recovered from his dives to the Andrea Doria.

     

    In addition to the years and levels of training, Mr. Vogel showed the students essential tools and equipment that is indispensible for safe diving. Mastering the use of equipment such as air tanks with different mixes is a matter of life or death. “If I make a simple mistake and put a wrong regulator in my mouth, I could die.” He emphasized that no mistake is simple when you life depends on it, and many a seasoned diver has had a tragic end because of one wrong move. While the crowbar, sledge hammer, and flashlight might help him extract artifacts from the deep, more important is how he extracts himself from the depths of the sea. He uses the lifeline to help him find the trail back to safety and his air-bladder vest is readily available should he make emergency ascents.

     

    Thanks to Mr. Vogel’s passionate interest in technical diving, the Marine Science students, along with Mrs. Giannico, Mr. DeAngelis, and Mr. Daleo,  grew in greater appreciation for one of Long Island’s local treasures, the undersea world of shipwrecks.

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