The  Kad'yak Shipwreck Saga

BRADLEY'S STEVENS GUEST EDITORIAL

This op-ed piece was published in the Kodiak Daily Mirror on December 10, 2003.
Be sure to
see my rebuttal, where I refute many of Stevens' libelous statements.



Story misrepresents truth of Kad'yak
Guest opinion by Brad Stevens


It’s time to clear the air about the discovery of the Kad’yak shipwreck. During a recent visit, lawyer Peter Hess claimed that the wreck was found by Josh Lewis, a Kodiak teacher, and Steve Lloyd, owner of an Anchorage bookstore (Title Wave). These claims are misleading and intended to confuse the public.


For over 10 years, I have been conducting research on the Kad’yak. I have been assisted in this effort by archaeologists Mike Yarborough and Dave McMahon, and Dr. Tim Runyon and his associates at the East Carolina University (ECU) Department of Maritime Studies. Together we developed a written plan to search for the Kad’yak. To find the wreck, I used translations of the skipper’s log, and a map provided by Dr. Lydia Black. Lewis and Lloyd do not have any of this supporting material.


It wasn’t until I began looking for a dive boat that Lewis and Lloyd came into the picture, with an offer to provide a boat and a magnetometer for use in the search. A total of eight divers were involved in the search, which was partially financed by the Kodiak Historical Society. All of the divers, including Lewis and Lloyd, were instrumental in finding the shipwreck. It was a team effort. However, in order to conduct a legal survey we needed a permit for the state of Alaska. Dave McMahon agreed to participate in the search, in lieu of providing a permit. His presence made the dives legal. After two days of diving, we found the shipwreck within 100 yards of my estimated position.


All the divers knew that the Kad’yak was in state waters, and therefore belonged to the state. Despite this warning, several artifacts were taken from the site by Steve Lloyd. Requests for the return of the artifacts were initially ignored, but they were finally returned three months later, after the Alaska Department of Natural Resources and State Attorney General’s office threatened legal action. Why did they keep these artifacts, unless they planned to file a private salvage claim on the Kad’yak?


Our research team has submitted a proposal for a complete survey of the wreck site. This request includes $8,000 for public education, a large part of which is dedicated to development of a shipwreck curriculum for Kodiak students. The Kodiak Historical Society, the Baranov Museum, the Alutiq Native History Museum, and the Kodiak maritime Museum all support this project. The state of Alaska has issued us an exclusive archaeological research permit for the Kad’yak shipwreck site.

Now it appears that Lewis, Lloyd, and Hess visited the site and disturbed some of the artifacts. Not only are they interfering with a state research permit, but their actions may be in violation of state law. They appear to be promoting the use of the Kad’yak for recreational diving. However, the Kad’yak is not an intact wreck; the artifacts are scattered over a wide area, and most are buried in the sand. Even if divers did come to see it, it would only benefit a few parties. On the other hand, a proper archaeological treatment of the site would benefit and educate a much larger population.


The Kad’yak wreck meets the requirements for the National Historic Register, and should be protected from pilferage. It would be a shame if artifacts ended up in the pockets of recreational divers, instead of a local museum, where they belong. Without proper conservation, that is exactly what will happen. Recreational diving should not take precedence over archaeological research on wrecks of historical significance, such as the Kad’yak.


Lewis and Lloyd are trying to claim the discovery of the wreck so they can exploit it, but both federal and state law declares that submerged cultural resources belong not to the finder, but to the public, represented by the State. Bringing up the artifacts to the light of day will bring our history to light as well. The only treasure to be found at this wreck is its history, and those who should benefit from it are not just amateur wreck divers, but all the people of Kodiak.


The Kad’yak is the oldest shipwreck of historical significance discovered in Alaska, and the only one from the Russian colonial period ever discovered. How we treat this discovery will set a precedent for all other Alaskan shipwrecks that may be found in the future. We have a chance, and an obligation, to do the right thing. Clearly, we should not squander that opportunity.