No I’m not talking about making a new dive site by sinking a ship with a rocket. I am talking about a lost shipwreck that was found by a rocket.
This article began while researching popular wreck sites for our book Divers Guide to the Thousand Islands: Cape Vincent and Clayton”. We started at Tibbetts Point and worked our way down River, recording many popular dive sites.
The first wreck site was that of the Arizona that is located just off Wolfe Island about a mile above the ferry landing. One day we found newspaper clippings from a 1922 and 1923 edition of the Cape Vincent Eagle and the Watertown Daily Times. Each ran several articles on the burning and disposal of the steam barge Arizona.
The Arizona was one of the oldest steam barges on the Great Lakes when it was lost. She was launched in 1868, had been rebuilt several times and was in good repair when she stopped at Cape Vincent on December 6th, 1922. She was on a return trip from Brockville, Ontario and heading to Oswego, NY.
The Arizona, measuring 188 feet long by 33 feet in beam, caught fire on December 7th at the Cape Vincent breakwall.The raging fire onboard prevented her from being towed into deep water and she sunk at her moorings. In June 1923 the hull of the Arizona was raised from the break wall and fitted with pontoons so it could be moved to a location outside the navigation channels. It was then sunk using 200 pounds of dynamite.
There was no actual location given, nothing to indicate that she was sunk two and a half miles up river from Cape Vincent off the Canadian Wolfe Island shore.
Even though the wreck lies in Canadian waters, it is a popular dive site for many American scuba divers. Having to stop at Canadian and US customs does not deter divers from diving this site. For that reason we wanted to give its complete story.
Thus we were curious - how did the first divers know it was sunk two and a half miles up river? We questioned our co-author Skip Couch, one of the first scuba divers in the Thousand Islands.
Skip said that he’d have to think about how the wreck was first located and he’d get back to us.
Several days later he called us and said that he watched a program on the History Channel about WWII Germany testing V2 rockets by firing them out over the Baltic Sea.
He then remembered, “That’s how we found the Arizona,” he said, “We were recovering test rockets that were being fired from a launch pad in Cape Vincent shot out over the St. Lawrence and landing near Wolfe Island, Canada.” “It was in the 1960’s and some college was testing rockets which would go several thousand feet in the air. One of the first scuba divers, Captain Gordon Hutchinson was hired to recover these rockets when they parachuted back & landed in the River. I was one of the crew and when I went to recover one of the rockets, I found it sitting on a shipwreck”.
We have to admit we were skeptical at first, so we said to Skip, “Right!. Are you sure a Rocket! A rocket fired here in Cape Vincent?” “Yes!” said Skip, “The blockhouse is still there.”
And after doing some research we realized it was true.
So here is the story:
Following Skip’s disclosure, we drove out to Tibbetts Point Road to the location that he remembered. Then we started researching who was doing the rocket firing.
From newspaper accounts, we found that in the early 1960’s there was a lot of interest in rockets and the space race. Clarkson University student, Tom Fitzgerald, a Cape Vincent resident, was a rocket enthusiast. As a member of the Clarkson Rocket Society, he set up a launch pad on his family’s property. For several years, a large sign was on the vacant Fitzgerald property on Tibbetts Point Road proclaiming it as "Cape Carnival", the amateur rocket testing site for Clarkson Rocket Society. That was when I remembered seeing the sign. After talking to several people in Cape Vincent, we were able to locate Tom.
In July 2011, we spoke to Tom Fitzgerald while he was visiting Cape Vincent. He told us that for several years he and his friends launched rockets from his family property on Tibbetts Point Road across from Wolfe Island, Ontario, Canada. The Rocket Society employed Captain Gordon Hutchinson to sit in a boat and his hired crew of scuba divers that included Skip Couch, would dive into the River and recover the rockets after they sunk.
During one of these recoveries, Skip found the rocket resting in the burned out hull of the Arizona. Yes Skip was right – a cold war era rocket test found a 1000 Islands shipwreck.
MASSENA OBSERVER, THURSDAY, April 18, 1963
FAR OUT CLARKSON MEN PLAN TO LAUNCH ROCKET WITH ALUMINUM MOTOR
Potsdam: The Clarkson Rocket Society plans to launch a series of special rocket projects at the Cape Carnival Launch Site, located on the Tibbett's Point Road at Cape Vincent. Dates set are April 20 and 21.
The initial firing of the series is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. on Apr. 20. It will be a second attempt with the Knight vehicle fired a year ago by the club. …The knight is a six-foot vehicle quipped with parachutes and transmitter. The most powerful of the series, the Knight develops 1050 pounds of thrust.
The second firing by the Clarkson College of Technology students is scheduled for 3:30 pm April 20. This project, labeled "Windswept," will be an attempt from a platform suspended at a great height by a hydrogen balloon.
This experiment is designed to test the feasibility of high altitude balloon launches in a populated area.
The final launch for the afternoon is scheduled for 4:15. It is labeled "Torch II." This rocket vehicle is smaller than the six-foot Knight, but is a sleek high velocity vehicle.
After it is proved out, it will be incorporated into project "Windswept."
The Clarkson Rocket Group will spend Saturday evening processing their data from the day's launches, and will come-back with two more launches Sunday afternoon
The first, set for 1:30 p.m., involves an elaborate Torch type rocket which is well stocked with telemetry contains an oscillator, two parachutes, marker dye and a smoke trail. This vehicle has been developed and tested over the span of a year's time.
The final project is a special vehicle developed by two Clarkson graduate, mechanical engineering students. This project was devised to prove the feasibility of using aluminum metal as a structural material for a rocket motor.
All projects, except for the balloon launch, are being sent out over the St. Lawrence River and the expended vehicles will be recovered by Captain Gordon C. Hutchinson, a professional skin diver from Clayton.
By Kathi McCarthy
Kathi McCarthy, and her husband, Dennis are active members of the Thousand islands diving community and are the owners of Blue Ledge System Inc. a local publishing house. One book, edited by Kathi, 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. To see a TI Life profile of this very industrious couple, please see our March 2011 article, Kathi and Dennis McCarthy’s Discoveries … also you can search Dennis McCarthy for his popular TI Life articles.