2011 USA HDS Conference at Mariner’s Museum Newport News, Virginia

The venue was perfect. The weather fine. The crowd, though small, was very enthusiastic at this years’s annual conference held at the Mariner’s Museum in Newport News, Virginia, on October 1st.

Surrounded by maritime history, and despite several changes in the speaker lineup just prior to the event, attendees were treated to a fascinating series of presentations including HDS members Bob Rusnak and Jan Raber’s film about a recreational Mark V dive on a New York shipwreck; diving on the Andrea Doria presented by Capt. Steve Bielenda; and Gene Ritter’s discussion of marine archaeology, the discovery of the Dreamland Bell, and the bell’s previously unknown connection to the USS Monitor.

The USS Monitor dominated the event. Capt. (Ret.) Bobbie Scholley, former commander of the Navy Mobile Diving and Salvage Unit 2 which salvaged the turret of the Monitor, teamed up with John Broadwater, manager of NOAA’s Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and chief scientist of Monitor Expedition, for a presentation on this historic salvage operation. Their presentation, accompanied by official US Navy photo coverage of the operation, detailed this massive effort from start to finish.

Tying in to Capt. Scholley’s presentation, Terry Tysall and Amy Gianotti, of the Cambrian Foundation, provided an overview of that organization’s activities and its many years of cooperative work with the Navy and NOAA on the Monitor site. They also discussed the Cambrian Foundation’s rise from fledgling non-profit organization to become the only civilian organization authorized by NOAA and the Navy to conduct research on the Monitor’s remains

Nine display tables held items from the private collections of Bob Rusnak (New York) and John Christopher (North Carolina). Both recreational and heavy gear diving was represented in the in the lineup of artifacts.

A surprise visit by Phillip Brashear, son of Master Chief Boatswain’s Mate and Navy Master Diver Carl Brashear, introduced the attendees to the Carl Brashear Foundation. Phillip and his brother, Patrick, formed the foundation after their father’s death to bring to the public’s attention the fact that Brashear’s story involves more than overcoming racial barriers. Carl Brashear’s career was built upon a foundation of poverty and limited education, was almost ended by a severely disabling accident, and yet stands as a testament to the ability to persevere and achieve goals. It is these facets of their father’s life that the Brashear brothers feel are being overlooked.

While discussing the changes in speaker lineup at breakfast on Saturday morning, Bob Rusnak and Jan Raber walked in to the hotel restaurant with Ralph Wilbanks who was very quickly enlisted to speak at the evening banquet. Ralph is a marine archaeologist who has the interesting good fortune of working for novelist and marine researcher Clive Cussler. Ralph’s rousing description of his discovery of the Confederate submarine, H. L. Hunley, and its subsequent salvage and restoration, captivated the banquet audience.

Also at the banquet, Ryan Spence, of Tacoma Washington, received the Nick Icorn Diving Heritage Award. Through a series of fortuitous events, Ryan has become the leading expert on Cousteau history and has amassed a tremendous collection of Cousteau artifacts. Collected through donation or at his own expense, Ryan’s collection is now housed in a museum on the second floor of Tacoma Scuba and is open to the public. Ryan also takes his collection on the road; as a presenter at the 2010 HDS conference in Seattle, and for the past four years at the Tacoma Dive Expo. Ryan is continually discovering hidden treasures.