Indian Arm Inle

Divers examine gold-rush vessel

By Sandra mcCulloch - Times Colonist

Five Victoria divers and one from Cowichan plan to be 240 feet under the surface of Indian Arm Inlet near Vancouver this weekend, exploring the remains of a historic vessel that was scuttled in 1936.

Chris Fenton, a commerce student at the University of Victoria, heads a team set to explore the 216-foot-long wreck of the SS Amur, also named the SS Famous, at the request of the Underwater Archeological Society of B.C.

The group, which also includes two divers from Richmond, did a previous underwater exploration of a wreck for the UASBC in the water off Royal Roads University where they found an old wooden sailing ship that was intact.

This type of exploration is called technical diving, requiring training beyond that of recreational scuba divers and using specialized equipment.

"We like to say it's safe but if you make mistakes on these kinds of dives, the consequences are pretty extreme," said Fenton.

The Famous/Amur was launched in England in 1890. It worked in Siberia and China before sailing to Victoria to transport gold miners to Wrangell, Alaska, from where they hoped to get rich in the Gold Rush of 1898. Later, the vessel returned to China, moved on to Japan and then Australia.

The vessel then returned to Canada after being purchased by the Hudson's Bay Company.

Its last owners deliberately sank the Famous/Amur in Indian Arm. It was rediscovered in the summer of 2007 during an underwater survey by the Canadian Hydrographic Service.

Since the vessel is too deep for recreational divers to reach, the UASBC sent a remotely operated vehicle to the site. The ROV sent up blurry images which were enough to raise interest of society members.