The Russian-American Company bark Kad'yak (1860)
How the oldest shipwreck ever discovered in Alaska was inexplicably
then immediately (and miraculously) found by someone else shortly thereafter.
Entire contents are Copyright © 2006 by Steve K. Lloyd—All
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The Kad'yak Saga Begins
For the benefit of readers who may have landed directly on this page
from an external link or web search, and who didn't click their way
through the internal links like a normal person, let me introduce myself.
My name is Steve Lloyd. I live in Anchorage, Alaska. My wife and I own
Title Wave Books,
the largest bookstore in Alaska and one of the best bookstores on the
I am a scuba diver. I find shipwrecks.
Not every shipwreck.
Three of them.
I made the Kad'yak shipwreck discovery on July 23, 2003 diving off
the ex-fishing vessel Melmar, owned and captained by longtime Kodiak
resident Joshua Lewis, a gregarious gentleman with whom I have enjoyed
a perplexing and often tumultuous friendship.
Bradley Stevens is a biologist employed by the National Marine Fisheries
Service, a division of NOAA. He is a federal employee based in Kodiak
whose paid work has nothing whatsoever to do with shipwrecks. Over the
early years of this decade, Stevens became interested in the story of
a small wooden sailing ship owned by the Russian-American Company, a
bark engaged in the ice-hauling trade between Alaska and San Francisco
in the late 1850s.
In 1860 the Kad'yak met its end and sunk in waters off Kodiak Island,
Alaska. Stevens dreamed of finding the shipwreck, and performed a lot
of back-story reading on the incident. He became skilled at enlisting
the assistance of others who completed actual research on the Kad'yak,
and drew upon his extensive network of state, federal, and academic
contacts to drum up passive support for a quest to find the lost shipwreck.
Sometime in about 2000, Stevens compiled what he'd learned, and what
historians with whom he'd connected had told him, into a poorly-written
"research proposal" that he circulated to various government
and private entities, including NOAA and the National Geographic Society,
in an attempt to secure "funding" for a search for the wreck.
Because he was unable to find anyone to foot the bill for his shipwreck
hobby (which is all it is, same as my interest in shipwrecks is a hobby),
Stevens never looked for the Kad'yak. By this I mean that Stevens, a
certified scuba diver, who resides less than 10 miles from the Kad'yak
wreck site and had access to a wealth of government- and privately-owned
boats, NOAA dive gear, and other assets with which he could have searched
for the wreck, never got his butt into the water, swimming around the
bottom looking for the wreck with his very own eyes.
Actually, he "looked" for it once with a NOAA-paid submarine
that he'd conscripted from its assigned work doing fisheries research,
but the sub operator wisely decided that the shallow waters around Spruce
Island, dotted with underwater ledges and reefs, made the area a poor
choice for wreck-hunting from a multi-million-dollar submarine.
At Last the Real Search Begins
As the careful reader will have already ascertained, I led the team
that found the 1929
steamship Aleutian on the northwest side of Kodiak Island in August
2002. With Joshua Lewis and several other diver friends, we had returned
to the Aleutian in May 2003 for a week of diving and exploring the shipwreck.
Around this time, Stevens and Lewis got to talking about the Kad'yak
and Lewis indicated that he had a friend in Anchorage (me) who was an
experienced shipwreck diver and had access to a marine magnetometer.
Since he (Lewis) had a boat that was suitable for searching and diving,
why not organize an actual search for the Kad'yak, rather than wasting
more time trying to "secure funding" when the search area
was RIGHT THERE!
Thanks to Joshua's infectious enthusiasm, and his offer of a free boat,
fuel, operator, magnetometer, operator for the mag, dive support, and
even complimentary refreshments, Stevens must have realized that it
was time to put up or shut up. Calls and emails were exchanged, I purchased
an airline ticket from Anchorage to Kodiak, and we scheduled the search
to begin on Tuesday, July 22nd, 2003.
Like many Kodiak days, the 22nd dawned gray and rainy, with seas outside
the small boat harbor running two to four feet. The members of the "team"
met about 7:00 AM for coffee, and the Kodiak locals (Lewis and Stevens)
talked about the weather and sea conditions while the two Anchorage
guys (me and state archaeologist Dave McMahon) hung back and deferred
to the assembled local knowledge. In the end, Stevens admitted that
he was prone to seasickness, an unfortunate predisposition for a fisheries
biologist. Seas 2 to 4 feet were too rough for him to be out on a boat,
let alone trying to dive. He begged off with the understanding that
we would check the weather again the next day. Swedish documentary filmmaker
Stefan Quinth had other projects
to work on, so he opted to bag the rest of the day as well.
Joshua and I didn’t want to spend the day in town, and we had
all our dive gear loaded and ready on the Melmar, so we decided to head
out. Our friend Reed Oswalt, who grew up in the Native village of Ouzinkie
on Spruce Island, came along for company. Archaeologist McMahon, then
a newly certified diver, had nothing else to do so we invited him to
join us. The four of us motored through the chop and after an hour or
so pulled into Ouzinkie Harbor, where we practiced dragging the magnetometer
around, calibrating the instrument’s sensitivity by towing it
over barrels and other metal debris in the shallow water. Josh, Dave
and I enjoyed a leisurely dive along the face of the old Ouzinkie dock,
inspecting decades worth of old bottles and other submerged detritus.
By late afternoon the seas in Ouzinkie Narrows outside the harbor had
lain down a bit, and we decided to make a run past the Kad’yak
search area to check conditions there. We found swells coming in at
2-3 feet and breaking furiously on the beach as we held about a quarter
mile offshore. Although it was too rough to run a pattern with the mag,
I decided to take a quick jump to check out visibility and other conditions
on the bottom. Joshua kept the Melmar’s big diesel engine running
and I rolled off the transom, descending into the green murk.
It was a short dive. Vis on the bottom was about 20 feet above the
reef structure, dropping to almost nothing over the sand channels that
seemed to lace the area. Surge from the topside swell swept me back
and forth like a leaf in a gale. I judged the conditions to be far less
than optimal, but absolutely divable for someone with my experience
diving in marginal Alaska conditions. I did a free ascent, climbed aboard
the Melmar, and we motored back to Kodiak city for the night.
The next morning, Wednesday, July 23rd, the group assembled once again
for coffee across from the small boat harbor. Stevens was dismayed to
learn that not only had we gone out on the boat without him the previous
day, but that we had actually dived. And not only had we dived,
but I had the temerity to make a jump at the site of HIS shipwreck!
The elfish biologist was somewhat mollified to hear that conditions
had been poor, and that I’d made the jump as a reconnaissance
dive for the true search. The day was still gray and rainy, but the
swell had lain down a bit and we all boarded the Melmar for the hour-long
run back to Spruce Island.
We reached the waters off Icon Bay and Stevens produced a map he had
located that purported to show the Kad’yak’s resting place.
At his direction, Lewis piloted the boat to the area offshore where
Stevens believed the wreck to be. I assembled the proton magnetometer,
a torpedo-shaped “fish” that is connected to an electronic
control box on deck, and is towed slowly through the water. The mag
works as kind of an underwater metal detector, sensing changes in the
earth’s natural magnetic signature (think compass needle)
that result from the presence of underwater deposits of ferrous metal,
such as steel and iron.
With Lewis steering the boat, I spent hours on the back deck monitoring
the magnetometer, which I had borrowed from a diving friend in California.
Without exception, none of the other people aboard had experience with
this device. As the day was chilly with a piercing drizzle, Stevens,
McMahon and the others retired to the Melmar's warm cabin after about
30 minutes on deck, visiting with one another over steaming mugs of
cocoa while I crouched on the open deck, trying to keep my glasses from
fogging in the rain while shielding the borrowed electronics with my
The Melmar’s zigzag search pattern expanded outward. After an
hour or more of searching we had traveled well away from Stevens’
original target area. Once we were several hundred meters to the southwest,
the instrument began signaling the presence of anomalies underwater—possibly
ferrous metal. Joshua and I worked together to isolate the hits, me
watching the instrument and calling out course changes, while he steered
a straight course from GPS and landmarks on the island some quarter-mile
distant. Stevens and the other remained inside, shielded from the weather.
Based on a puzzling pattern of magnetometer hits, I buoyed two locations
for investigation by divers. We had been searching for several hours.
The seas had lain down to almost flat, with slight ground swells. It
was time to get wet.
Stevens looked at the two buoys I had placed to mark the mag targets,
which were 200 meters or more from the spot his research had convinced
him the Kad'yak should be, and decided the hits were bogus. He and McMahon
took the first dive. Although I had directed Lewis to anchor midway
between the buoys, the federal biologist and the state archaeologist
performed a long swim northeast, the direction Stevens believed the
wreck to lie. Not surprisingly, they failed to find anything. Both men
ran low on air and they surfaced together, far away from the boat.
Because there were other divers in the water, Lewis and I determined
that since they were not in distress, Stevens and McMahon could surface-swim
back to the boat.
We hadn't sent them that way. Let them swim.
I assisted the first team out of the water, and helped them undress
and stow their kit. Next up were Swedish documentary filmmaker Stefan
Quinth and boat owner-captain Joshua Lewis, who entered the water together
and made a dive in the vicinity of the buoyed mag targets. If I recall
correctly, one of them was improperly weighted and their short dive
I purposely waited until every diver on two boats had completed as
many dives as he wanted to do (one or two, variously). Since I had a
set of twin 104s with lots of gas, and I have a great deal of experience
performing planned decompression dives, and I am completely comfortable
diving alone, I took the clean-up dive.
On that dive, alone on the bottom, I found the remains of the Kad'yak
The Truth is Out There
Every other diver who entered the choppy waters off Spruce Island that
day, including NOAA biologist Bradley Stevens and Alaska state archaeologist
Dave McMahan, Joshua Lewis and documentary filmmaker Stefan Quinth,
plus a local dive shop owner and his partner, had already completed
their dives. No one had found the slightest hint of a man-made object
of any kind on the ocean floor.
Drawing upon my experience locating and diving shipwrecks, I executed
a 90-minute solo dive and located the sand channel that ultimately would
yield the main debris area of the shipwreck. In extremely limited visibility,
fighting strong surge, the water column filled with suspended particulate,
I located iron and copper wreckage imbedded in the sand. Diving open
circuit, on air, I was deep into a decompression obligation by the time
I found the Kad'yak wreckage. With no time left to explore, I sent up
a lift-bag attached to a line, which I anchored to a piece of wreckage
so that we could get a topside GPS fix later from the boat.
The following day, July 24th, the other divers and I all returned to
the wreck site. I took the first dive and found visiblity somewhat improved.
I explored the site and oriented myself on the two anchors, the large
round object believed at the time to be a hawsepipe, and other items.
I ran a line between major wreckage components so that Stevens, McMahon
and the others would be able to orient themselves. It was one of the
other divers (not Stevens) who discovered the first of the Kad'yak cannons
on a subsequent dive that afternoon.
Beginning immediately after the July 24th dives, it became clear that
Bradley Stevens was not interested in sharing credit for the discovery
with anyone, even the diver (me) who had found the shipwreck that he
had dreamed of finding for years.
That evening, over dinner at a local restaurant (Dutch treat), Stevens
insisted that everyone on the "team" stay quiet about the
discovery while he plotted the best way to spin the announcement to
his advantage. He made it clear that the intention was to give full
and complete credit for the discovery to the (primarily government-employed)
scientists and historians who had assisted in background research relating
to the history and sinking of the Kad'yak, without mentioning the contributions
of Joshua and myself.
Shocked at the self-important posturing of the biologist, we resolved
to make the announcement ourselves. We had no idea what a firestorm
was about to be unleashed.
War of Words
Not yet as hardened as later events would make me, I crafted a very
fair and accurate press
release announcing the discovery, giving Stevens full credit for
the research that provided historical context to the shipwreck and making
it clear that while he was The Big Man of the Kad'yak discovery, it
was my skill and experience in the water that had presented him with
(literally) a rope tied to the shipwreck so he could follow it to the
Because I felt it imperative to recognize the contributions of the
entire team in making the discovery, I distributed the press release
to media in Anchorage and other Alaska cities on July 24th. In the first
paragraph, I gave Stevens full and complete credit for putting the project
together and performing the initial research. I also acknowledged Dave
McMahon, the state archaeologist, and Josh Lewis, who donated the use
of his boat and paid for the expedition’s fuel. In fact, while
Stevens’ name is prominently mentioned a total of five times,
mine appears twice (and not at all until the 10th paragraph).
Early in the morning of July 25th I received a voice mail message from
Stevens at my Anchorage office, pleading with me not to send out the
press release. Apparently, a member of the press had called him for
comment and Stevens thought that somehow he could still control the
timing of the announcement.
When it became clear that the cat was out of the bag, Stevens went
into full spin control and called a press conference of his own in Kodiak.
That afternoon, the good doctor dismissed my generous description of
the team’s accomplishment and said (quote) “Let’s
just say someone leaked the information to the Anchorage press before
I was ready to do it. It probably is good for someone’s business.”
Coming from a man who clearly savored the prospect of the publicity
and attention the find would generate, and who in the years since has
not missed an opportunity to inflate his significance while downplaying
the contributions of anyone not in his small, self-described circle
of colleagues, his remarks amounted to total bullshit.
News of the discovery broke in print on Monday, July 28th when the
Anchorage Daily News ran a feature
story announcing the find.
There was a misunderstanding concerning the curation and custody of
three bronze drift pins that I removed from the sand during my last
dive on July 24th, an activity that was approved by state archaeologist
McMahon. I felt that as the discoverer of the wreck, and the designated
collector of “identifiable artifacts” that were needed for
publicity, I should have the right to keep and conserve one of the pins
after turning over the other two to the joint custody of Stevens and
Custody of the pin fell to attorney Peter Hess, the Delaware admiralty
attorney who was co-counsel for Lewis and me in our battle over rights
to the 1929 Aleutian wreck. I was finally forced to turn the pin over
to the office of Alaska’s Assistant Attorney General under threat
of prosecution. The photo of me holding the pin, just before it was
returned to the giant underground warehouse seen in the first Indiana
Jones movie, I have insolently labeled “Spike
During the early weeks of August, Stevens appears to have been in the
grip of a Kad’yak manic episode. In addition to chattering incessantly
about how he found the wreck, he actively sought to discredit anything
that I had to say about the find. By mid-August Stevens had appointed
himself Keeper of the Wreck and sent
out an email announcing “I would like to be considered as
the official source for information to the media about the discovery
of the Kad'yak.”
Pearl Harbor Day
On December 6th, Josh and I returned to the Kad'yak site with a reporter
from the Kodiak newspaper, along with lawyer Peter Hess from Delaware.
We made two exploratory dives. Although none of us disturbed the site
in any way, it became clear as we explored the prominent artifacts—cannons,
anchors, etc.—that Stevens and other local divers had been exploring
the site. I found hundreds of feet of nylon cave line that had been
tied to various artifacts, which the surge and current had pulled loose
and twisted with driftwood and seaweed to form a tangled mess we deemed
The next evening, December 7th, Peter gave a community talk and slideshow
on lost shipwrecks. He discussed the Monitor, the Atocha, the Doria,
and other wrecks worldwide, touching only briefly on the recent Kodiak
discoveries of the Aleutian and the Kad'yak. Peter made some upbeat
comments on the tourism potential of having divers visit Kodiak to dive
these wrecks and others still to be discovered. I ran the slide projector,
but did not speak. Stevens was not in attendance, as he was then in
Washington DC on a temporary assignment for NOAA. Everything he "knows"
about that evening—and indeed his knowledge of our Kad'yak dives
of the previous day—came from spies in the audience and the text
of a news article published the following afternoon.
The following day, the Kodiak Daily Mirror ran a story written by Drew
Herman, the reporter who had been on the dive boat with us. Headlined
"Maritime lawyer: Kodiak could be diving destination," the
piece opened with the line "Disasters from Kodiak's past could
turn into blessings for its future" and went on to say "Hess
foresees a time when diving could join fishing and hunting as a local
economic asset." Keep in mind that Kodiak is a community hard-hit
by the economic decline of commercial fishing and crabbing in recent
Herman's story was picked up by the
Associated Press, appearing in the statewide Anchorage Daily News
and other papers on December 9th.
Stevens went ballistic. Not only had Hess announced publicly for the
first time that Stevens was not solely responsible for the discovery
of the Kad'yak, but the respected maritime lawyer mentioned our research
indicated that the 1860 Russian-American Company shipwreck may
not meet the test of abandonment necessary for classification as
a state-owned shipwreck under the Abandoned Shipwreck Act, and as such
might be fair game for the finder to arrest the scattered remains under
the provisions of federal salvage law.
From a legal perspective, these statements were correct. However, Peter
was not then cognizant of the way his comments would be twisted around
to show how this hot-shot, big-city lawyer had come to Kodiak, dived
and pillaged the priceless historical treasure of the Kad'yak, and was
now going to exploit the island's heritage for his own personal gain.
Armed with righteous indignation and a sharp pencil, Stevens dashed
off a scathing op-ed piece to the Kodiak paper, which made a poor editorial
decision by publishing it without checking the "facts" or
editing the accusatory and inflammatory tone. Even considering the personal
stake Stevens had in milking his Fifteen Minutes for all it was worth,
his piece was way over the top. There was no way that I could leave
his as the last word on the subject.
Naturally, as with any good story, this one has a sequel. There are
allegations of stolen artifacts, aborted television documentaries, taxpayer-funded
diving junkets and all sorts of small-town politics.
I encourage anyone with an interest in the truth about the Kad’yak
discovery to read these points and counterpoints, and come to your own