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Kathi and Dennis McCarthy’s Discoveries …


We have a policy at TI Life that stories must relate to the Thousand Islands section of the St. Lawrence River and be about the River, either above, on, beside or below. And, it is the underwater slant that gives us the opportunity to meet Kathi and Dennis McCarthy.

Dennis grew up on Skaneateles Lake, where he joined the diving community (Another Lloyd Bridges…”Sea Hunt” convert). In the early 1970’s he ventured to the St. Lawrence and Lake Ontario.  Diving was popular but was not ideal as it is today for capturing with a camera because it was long before Zebra Mussels provided their cleansing system.

“I must have seen Kathi, because we both belonged to the same diving organization. We have photos of each other [sometimes only our sleeves] at a Dive Seminar in Brewerton the winter before we met.”  says Dennis.

Weekends on the River allowed them to meet above water and in 1975 they married in Rosiere, Cape Vincent, had 2 children, and have been involved in hundreds of dives and discoveries. Now retired, they live on Beadles Point, Cape Vincent and we Islanders can take full advantage of their passions. Because, even though both are certified divers, they each bring other talents to the River. 

Kathi loves to research the region. She has found several historic out-of-print, pamphlets and/or local history books and turns to Dennis to do his magic with “Print on Demand” publishing processes. They are still active members of the Thousand islands diving community and are the owners of Blue Ledge System Inc. which recently published five books.

One book is a reprint of the The Old Fort: Carleton Island in the Revolution, originally published in 1889 and written by “Carleton” alias Major James H. Durham. Kathi’s discovery of Durham’s research comes at an opportune time as there is renewed interest in Carleton Island and its historic Fort Haldimand. (Ian Coristine’s January Wallpaper puzzle featured an aerial photograph of the island. See (hyperlink) for the many interesting comments). The Fort’s land was donated to the Thousand Islands Land Trust in 1986 and several important archaeological studies have been completed over the years. In addition, several university students from Queen’s University pursued their masters thesis with Fort history over the years.

Kathi writes the introduction to the book, describing, “Major James H. Durham moved to Cape Vincent in the late 1870’s.  When he became interested in the ruins on Carleton Island and the group of stone chimneys on the bluff above its north bay he publicized that they were the outline of a large military fort with its barracks and magazines. People had different ideas about when and who actually built the fort. He undertook the writing of the Old Fort to clarify the island’s names and to identify the fort’s builders and its history.”

The second, Shipwrecks of the Thousand Islands, was launched in 2010, with authorship by Dennis, and Skip Couch1, a local scuba diver from Clayton.  This is an important reference book described as, “a book that documents the lost fleet of ships that lay on the bottom of the St. Lawrence River.  They are casualties of war conflict, natural disasters and human error.  The ships are presented with period photos from Corbins River Heritage, the Thousand Islands Museum and private collections as well as period newspaper accounts.  Site descriptions, underwater photos, side scan images and GPS coordinates provide a view of how the wrecks look today.”

Both Dennis and Kathi are not only intrigued by our local history, they are determined to correct past published mistakes and often take the time to uncover primary-source material.

One of their favorite stories relates to the 30-year search to identify a local shipwreck originally identified as the HMS ANSON. In the mid 1970's, the New York State Diver's Association received a permit from New York State to excavate a shipwreck in North Bay of Carleton Island.

Dennis and diving partner, Michael Hughes of Syracuse, began a quest that took many twists and turns over the next three decades. However, using the process of elimination by hunting through the records of all ships known to have plied the mighty St. Lawrence River when Fort Haldimand was active, they eventually  discovered that the sunken ship was originally the French ship L’Iroquoise2.

 

Dennis tells the story… “The Iroquoise Project had both US and Canadian volunteer scuba divers. To measure the wreck, the US divers showed up with tape measures in feet and the Canadian divers had tape measures in meters. Our volunteer for processing the data was Nick Rule in England. So we had a grand time keeping the meters and feet straight. After reviewing Nick’s data, the frames of the vessel seemed to be near two feet on center. While obtaining some information from France, Cdt. Alain DeMerliac informed us that the frames were exactly 2 French feet on center, obviously built before Napoleon established the meter.”

 

Dennis and Kathi are working on several new books. Out this spring will be “A Scrapbook of Early Scuba Diving in the 1000 Islands” done with Skip Couch. This book contains excerpts from the 1970s and 1980s Clayton Diving Club’s publication The River Rat Gazette and many photos. Also this year they plan to publish two other books one on the Mystery of the North Bay Wreck in Carleton Island and the other the story of the identifying and surveying the Iroquoise for the 250th anniversary of its sinking in 1761.

Below are just a sampling of the McCarthy discoveries…
Photo by Jerry Wahl ©

Dennis McCarthy inspects one of the frames of the Iroquoise in 80 feet of water off Niagara Shoal.  A complete story of the survey and identification, with remarkable photographs and an in-depth review can be found on the web page for the St. Lawrence River Historical Foundation

Photo by Jerry Wall © SRHF (St. Lawrence River Historical Foundation)
Photo © Dennis  McCarthy

View of the French and Indian War ship, Iroquoise.  Niagara Shoal

Photo © SRHF     
North Bay Wreck Photo © Dennis  McCarthy

View of the end of the keelson of a Revolutionary War period shipwreck known as the North Bay Wreck, Carleton Island.

Photo © SRHF
Photo © Dennis McCarthy, Islander

Bow of the Steamer Islander, located off the Cornwall Store, Alexandria Bay

Photo © Dennis McCarthy
Photo © Dennis McCarthy, Islander

Diver on the Steamer Islander, Alexandria Bay

Photo © Dennis McCarthy
56-Chevy © Dennis McCarthy

1956 Chevy located off of Grindstone Island

Photo © Dennis McCarthy
Photo © Dennis McCarthy, Maggie L.

Diver on the deck of the Schooner Maggie L. Located off Clayton, NY.

Photo © Dennis McCarthy

 

By Susan W. Smith, susansmith@thousandislandslife.com

Note: A Scrapbook of Early Diving in the 1000 Islands, will be published in April 2011.  It will be available at:  Corbin River Heritage Studio

Sport scuba diving in the Thousand Islands and Clayton, NY area began in earnest around 1959. From then on many amazing discoveries have been made by divers encountering history just feet below the surface. The Clayton Diving Club was formed in 1967, incorporated in 1968. It went on to buy land, had several dive boats and for over 30 years operated as an active dive club.  It published a newsletter, the River Rat Gazette.  In this book, excerpts from different River Rat Gazettes and stories by Clayton Diving Club members are used along with pictures from Skip Couch, Dennis & Kathi McCarthy and others to give readers a glimpse into the exciting and interesting first years of sport scuba diving in the Thousand Islands.”

 

1

Skip and Don Martin from Brockville, Ontario, had previously compiled the popular "Divers Guide to the Upper St. Lawrence River" which included photography by Mike Williams of Kitchener, Ontario.

2

A complete story of the survey and identification, with remarkable photographs and an in-depth review can be found on the web page for the St. Lawrence River Historical Foundation: http://home.netcom.com/~srhf/

 

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Comments

Melissa
Comment by: Melissa ( )
Left at: 9:08 AM Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Very Neat...great story...beautiful pictures!
Herb Swingle
Comment by: Herb Swingle ( )
Left at: 9:31 AM Tuesday, March 15, 2011
Outstanding story and photos!!! Your historical photos are tremendous and make your mind wander into yesteryears!!!!
Robert  r.
Comment by: Robert r.
Left at: 8:41 AM Tuesday, November 21, 2017
Hello Dennis and Kathy

How are you ? I am fine , retired ; i am stil interested in naval archeology!

Let me know about you ! you seem going pretty well !

Bob

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