10 Questions with Joseph Zarzynski

1. I’ve been given to understand that back in the day you researched “Champy”. For my readers who may be unfamiliar, can you tell them a little bit about “Champy”?

I always preferred the term “Champ.” In fact, the word “Champ” was the preferred designation used in Vermont and “Champy” was used on the New York side, generally the lands north of Westport.

Anyhow, “Champ, the mystery creature or monster of Lake Champlain,” is “America’s Loch Ness monster.” For decades, some people at Lake Champlain have reported seeing an unidentified animal in the lake, a USO (unidentified swimming object), you might say. It has been described as serpentine or horse-like head, long neck, large body, a tail and possibly four flippers or appendages. Length, 15-20 ft. long. There are probably several in the breeding colony. They are probably closer to 15 ft. long, maybe even a bit less in length. Unfortunately, no definitive evidence has been uncovered like that unique video footage or a carcass washed up on shore. Still, we can only hope…one day.

2. Was it the search for “Champy” that led to your study of underwater archeology?

I conducted archival research and fieldwork for “Nessie” and “Champ” from 1974 into the early 1990s, about seventeen years. Several things gradually led me to move from cryptozoology to underwater archaeology. First, in 1985, several things happened, hallmark events in underwater archaeology. The TITANIC was found, the Spanish treasure shipwreck the ATOCHA was found, a rare WW2 Wellington bomber was raised from Loch Ness, and Vermont opened an underwater park for divers on their side of Lake Champlain. From those seeds I decided to get into underwater archaeology. Finally, in 1990, I led the team that found the 1758 LAND TORTOISE radeau shipwreck in Lake George, New York. That 1990 discovery was the knife that cut my tie to cryptozoology. In 2001, I got my second Masters degree (University of Leicester in UK), that in archaeology and heritage, so I could become a practicing underwater archaeologist.

3. Although many of my readers may know you from your cryptozoological past, the truly exciting discovery you were a part of wasn’t a creature, it was a vessel, the LAND TORTOISE. What is the LAND TORTOISE?

The 1758 LAND TORTOISE radeau was a British floating gun battery of the French & Indian War (1755-1763). The radeau, French for “raft,” was a strange seven-sided vessel, 52 ft. long x 18 ft. wide. We found it at Lake George on June 26, 1990 during a Klein side scan sonar survey by our team that became known as Bateaux Below. The LAND TORTOISE is today known as “North America’s Oldest Intact Warship.” That term was coined by my colleague, Dr. Russell P. Bellico.

4. How on earth did this giant, essentially a sunken fort of a ship manage to go unnoticed for 232 years?

Well, it rested on the lake bottom, 107 ft. down, in deep water. It was in the middle of the lake in deep water. Advanced technology, a Klein 595 side scan sonar, helped us find the shipwreck. That same technology and other kinds of remote sensing could be applied to “monster hunting.” One day, a well-financed operation at Loch Ness, Scotland may answer the question, is there a Loch Ness “monster.” It will take money, time, and a good team.

5. Once you discovered the LAND TORTOISE the work was done right? You just contacted some state office and went, “We found this awesome, historically important thing. You’ll take it from here, right?”

We contacted the State of New York shortly after our find. Then began the process of acquiring a state permit to study the shipwreck. However, we had no funds whatsoever. So, we found a wonderful underwater archaeologist, Dr. Kathy Abbass from Newport, Rhode Island, that volunteered her services. We then supplemented our six-person team, Bateaux Below, with several skilled divers. From 1991-1993 we studied the one-of-a-kind, deepwater shipwreck. We estimate we put $1 million of volunteer services into that study. In 1995, we got the shipwreck listed on the National Register of Historic Places. In 1998, we got the shipwreck designated a National Historic Landmark, only the 6th shipwreck in American waters that are NHLs. And in August 1994, we opened the radeau as a shipwreck preserve or underwater state park for sport divers. The underwater park is called “Submerged Heritage Preserves,” and the radeau site preserve is known as “LAND TORTOISE: A 1758 Floating Gun Battery.”

6. There is actually a documentary, “The Lost Radeau: North America’s Oldest Intact Warship” that chronicles all of this. At what point did you, and the others who work with you, decide that this process needed to be filmed and shared?

Right after our 1990 discovery, we thought a documentary was possible. Like fine wine, however, we had to wait until John Whitesel and Peter Pepe (Pepe Productions) approached us to collaborate on the project. In late 2005, the award-winning documentary was released. This year, we released a follow up to that documentary called “Wooden Bones: The Sunken Fleet of 1758” (Pepe Productions & Bateaux Below, Inc., 2010, 58 minutes). See www.woodenbones.com.

7. What’s next? You’ve searched for giant lake monsters, discovered North America’s oldest intact warship, where do you go from here?

Like most researchers it is time to write all this up, to publish more reports and new books, and work on more documentary projects. Get the results of the research out. That is what scientists do.

8. Many of my readers are interested in lake monsters, any advice for any of my readers who want to go out looking for “Champy” or “Nessie”?

Yes. Be enthusiastic. Conduct background research first. Enjoy yourself. The search is fun. It will probably be that “Jane” or “John Doe” with a camera in hand that will finally solve the mystery. Thus, getting the word out by organizations like your blog, are important. I can’t wait and I applaud folks who dare to get involved in the search.

9. At this point you must be very familiar with Lake George, New York. Where would you recommend I go for dinner next time I’m in the area?

Ah, there is a great bakery in Lake George, the Lake George Baking Company. It is not dinner, but they sure have wonderful pastries to fortify you as you check out the area’s history and the lake’s beauty. I am a jogging fanatic so I can visit it only once a month or so. It has great coffee, too.

10. Parting shot! Ask us here at The Magical Buffet any one question.

Not a question, but a thank you. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to talk lake monsters and shipwrecks. Great stuff. Good luck and best wishes.

You can learn more about Joseph Zarzynski, Bateaux Below, Inc., and the LAND TORTOISE here and here.

Here is the trailer for “The Lost Radeau: North America’s Oldest Intact Warship”.

You can view more and higher quality trailers here.

Here is the trailer for “Wooden Bones: The Sunken Fleet of 1758”.