The  Kad'yak Shipwreck Saga

Guest Opinion by Steve Lloyd

This editorial appeared in the Kodiak Daily Mirror on December 16, 2003.
Copyright (c) 2003 by Steve K. Lloyd.

Anytime a career bureaucrat says, “It’s time to clear the air” you should get out the rain gear. Bradley Stevens’ claims surrounding the discovery of the Kad’yak shipwreck are misleading, inaccurate, and typify Stevens’ self-congratulatory grandstanding.

It is true the Dr. Stevens performed significant historical research on the Kad’yak, both on his own time and while employed by NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service. However, it is troubling that Stevens, a biologist, has blurred the distinction between his hobby and his responsibility to his employer, a federal agency whose stated mission is “to rebuild and maintain sustainable fisheries, promote the recovery of protected species, and protect and maintain the health of coastal marine habitats.” [Note 1]

Dr. Stevens writes that he “developed a written plan to search for the Kad’yak.” In this fund-raising document [Note 2], he established a $30,000 budget for the Kad’yak search, and then shopped the proposal around to various state, federal, and private organizations in an unsuccessful effort to obtain funding. It is interesting to note that $6,700 of the so-called “matching funds” budgeted into the search were represented by Stevens’ monthly salary as a federal employee [Note 3]. In fact, the actual discovery of the Kad’yak by Josh Lewis and myself was done without one penny of anyone else’s money.

As a shipwreck diver and a published historian, my knowledge of the Kad’yak long pre-dated my introduction to Dr. Stevens. The location of the Russian wreck was published in a history of Alaska shipwrecks in 1992 [Note 4], and the story of the vessel and its sinking were included in a history of the Russian-American Company published in 1990 [Note 5]. I’m sure Stevens *thought* about finding the Kad’yak for many years—even dreamed of the day when he could lay claim to the discovery. The truth is that I accomplished in two days what Dr. Stevens had failed to achieve in more than 10 years, and he is angry that he cannot honestly claim 100% of the credit for the find.

It is undisputed that Dr. Stevens and I were both aboard the search boat. It was a drizzly morning, cold, and the swells were making some members of the group a little queasy. While Josh Lewis piloted the boat, I sat in the rain on the open deck and operated the magnetometer, searching for signs of wreckage on the sea floor. As I recall, Brad Stevens made himself comfortable in the boat’s heated cabin while others identified and marked possible targets with buoys. After several hours, we ended the magnetometer search and prepared to enter the water to investigate our targets.

Brad Stevens and his diving partner took the first dive, and despite the presence of buoys on several magnetometer hits, they chose to swim 100 yards away from the dive boat and search the seafloor in an area that Stevens’ historical research indicated was the most probable wreck location. They found nothing. After Dr. Stevens surfaced, additional divers descended and searched other areas, also failing to locate the wreck. It was only after six divers had conducted their search—and after giving Stevens every opportunity to demonstrate the veracity of his research—that I conducted a solo dive lasting 76 minutes. Drawing upon my own historical research and my experience finding and diving other shipwrecks, I located and identified pieces of the Kad’yak wreck unassisted by any other divers.

Sadly, the space limitations of this forum will not allow me to address Dr. Stevens’ other points individually. However, his claim that I illegally removed artifacts from the site is particularly troubling. In fact, I was asked to bring up “representative artifacts” from the Kad’yak to aid Stevens and his associates in identifying the wreck, and to assist the Baranov Museum and other organizations in fund-raising efforts to promote further work at the site. Dr. Stevens originally wanted one of the ship’s cannons brought to the surface, but when he failed to re-locate the cannon on a subsequent dive it was decided that several of the bronze pins from the vessel’s wooden hull would comprise an acceptable substitute. I successfully recovered these artifacts, and Stevens proudly displayed one of them for news photographers at a press conference following the discovery.

I believe that Dr. Stevens and I share an enthusiasm for history. If his expressed opinion is true that the Kad’yak and her artifacts belong to the people of Kodiak and not to any government or individual, then we also agree on that point. Where we differ is in our approach to the truth, a course Brad Stevens has yet to successfully navigate.


  1. “Marine Protected Areas of the United States. Supplement 1b. NOAAs National Marine Fisheries Service Program and Status Summary.”

  2. Stevens, Bradley G. “In Search of the Kadiak: A Brief Expedition in Marine Archaeology and the Nautical History of Alaska.” March 31, 2000.

  3. Ibid. Page 6.

  4. Tornfelt, Evert E. & Michael Burwell. Shipwrecks of the Alaskan Shelf and Shore. Anchorage: Minerals Management Service, 1992, page 68.

  5. Pierce, Richard A. Russian America: A Biographical Dictionary. Kingston, Ontario: The Limestone Press, 1990, pp. 10-11.