Discovery Deep: Mapping the Radeau

By Frank StopaRadeau 1

This past September, a team of divers and support personnel brought the ‘Oldest Intact Warship in North America’ out of the depths of Lake George, New York - not literally, but virtually, for everyone to see, enjoy and appreciate.  The team was from Discovery Deep, a Washington, DC-based non-profit foundation.  “Discovery Deep began as a group of divers, initially on the East Coast, seeking to add to the world’s knowledge of our maritime history and to support scientific research of our oceans and waterways,” explained CEO Frank Stopa.  “We are ‘citizen scientists’ contributing to a better world, one dive at a time.” They used a combination of innovative computer mapping technology and good old-fashioned hard work to do the job.

“Diving to the site in the murky, forty-degree water of the lake over fifteen dives wasn’t impossible,” commented Discovery Deep CEO Frank Stopa, “but it certainly wasn’t pleasant, warm water diving.  Add to that the task of collecting video imagery of every inch of the wreck and now you have a challenge.”

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The wreck, known as the Radeau, the French word for ‘raft’, was a floating gun platform, outfitted with a main mast and sail, and thirteen oars.  It was intended to patrol the waters of Lake George, part of the British supply lines in their American colonies, and to protect Fort William Henry located at the present day town of Lake George.  On October 22, 1758, the British Army sunk the Radeau in twenty feet of water, expecting the winter ice to conceal it.  They’d hoped to raise it once the ice melted.  Unfortunately, the platform slipped down an unexpected incline, over weighted with ballast, and gently settled in 105 feet of water.

Unable to raise it from that depth, the Radeau lay forgotten until 1994 when Joe Zarzynski and several colleagues discovered her using side scan sonar.  Zarzynski and his team dove the wreck and studied her until about 2005.  Alas, she’s been sitting in the lake since then, under appreciated, and basically forgotten as a piece of early American history.  That’s when Discovery Deep found out about her.

 “Mohamed Hafez, Kevin Moore and I conceived the expedition the previous September after a wreck diving trip,” explained Stopa.  “We wanted to do something that had never been done with the wreck.   We decided to produce an interactive 3-D tour that would show off the Radeau to divers and non-divers alike, offering the chance to fully appreciate the historic site sitting two miles north of the town.”

Radeau 3

The small team that by now had settled on the name Discovery Deep recruited divers, cultivated sponsors, forged relationships with a charter operator and dive shops, and found 3-D mappers.  Then, they launched a crowd funding campaign to pay for it all.  All of that preparatory work aimed to get the team to the lake and onto the wreck in June 2015, the month with the best visibility at depth.

“The window of opportunity is fairly narrow.  Too early and the water’s much too cold,” noted Moore, Discovery Deep’s Chief Financial Officer.  “Too late, and the algae growth reduces visibility.  We were fortunate; Frank and I had ten feet of visibility during our initial reconnaissance dive in May, and then were rewarded with 25 feet in mid-June when our team made the dives.  Still, the limited visibility called for extra careful movement.  You could easily silt up the wreck for the entire day if you didn’t pay attention to your fin kicks.”

Once Discovery Deep completed the diving, the team spent hours working on the mapping phase of the project.  They reviewed, edited and processed the video.  In the end, they broke down the video into short one to two-minute segments to make it easier to use in the mapping software.

Radeau 2

“We chose to work with Mike Postons of 3Deep Media.  They’ve done some of the best 3-D renderings of shipwrecks anywhere,” noted Stopa.  “When we looked for mapping options, this was an obvious choice.  We wanted the best and we got it.”

Since their adventure in Lake George, Discovery Deep has grown rapidly.  They began collecting environmental DNA samples in support of shark research at the University of Salford in the UK.  They’ve put planning in place to explore historic sites in the St. Lawrence River.  And in 2016, Discovery Deep will begin mapping shipwrecks and documenting their biodiversity off the East Coast, as well as launching educational programs for children on marine life on the Pacific coast.

Discovery Deep is on the web at and on Facebook.

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Ocean Geographic Explorer (OGX) is a diving adventure resource with a special focus on marine photography and ocean conservation. Our content is divided up into six primary categories: Travel, Sea Science,  Equipment, Photography &Video, Conservation, and Lifestyle. We endeavor be a portal for people with all levels of interest in the marine environment  to learn about and become part of a community of like-minded ocean lovers who enjoy sharing their knowledge of and experiences in our fascinating ocean world.

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