Davy Jones' Locker..............the search for the long lost engine cowling.
I emailed Mr. Kayona back and told him we will get visual confirmation again before we make any recovery attempts in the future. He agreed that this was the best course of action, so again………….we waited. Months went by and Jesse emailed us back that he went out and found the cowling right where he said it was, stating that it only took him 5 minutes to locate it. He joked about that Sergio must have found everything in the search radius except for what he was looking for. With confirmation that the cowling was still down there, we began to plan our next recovery attempt.
Sonar scans of the colwing & GPS locations / approximately 500 feet north of Stan Sayers Pits
The next available opportunity we had with the D.I.T. gang was in June (2014), so we tentatively scheduled another attempt for that time. As bad luck would have it, circumstances arose and we couldn’t organize everyone together at the same time so we had to wait for the next window…….which wasn’t until November (2014).
It was weeks later that Jesse unknowingly gave me an idea, though not intentionally. The comment made was that we should go out sooner rather than later, that we should take advantage of the nice weather while it lasted. That got me thinking, why couldn’t we just go out with Jesse and the R.O.V. only and see if we get lucky. If nothing else, we could recover the stainless steel heat exhaust plates while we were there. If we failed, then we would go out again in November with the D.I.T. as planned. Jesse thought it was a viable option, but we both felt we needed the D.I.T.’s blessing before doing such a search. They were instrumental in getting us this far, and we surely didn’t want to step on any toes. The D.I.T. had no problem with us trying without them, so we made the decision to give it a shot ourselves.
Seattle Police Department
Jesse was good friends with the Seattle Police Department and was able to arrange for them to assist us by allowing use of their vessel. They would be conducting training exercises that day anyway, so it gave them something to test their equipment on.
So once again, we were a go. Sam and Chip were just as anxious as us to find it, so they came along again as well. I remember arriving at Stan Sayers Pits thinking, wow…………what a beautiful day. It was partially cloudy, bright afternoon sun, around 68 degrees……………couldn’t have asked for better weather. Our first trip out with the D.I.T. guys was very cold with heavy fog, so this was a lot warmer and more welcoming.
So here all of us are, waiting for Jesse and his crew to arrive. As the Police vessel approached from underneath the I-90 bridge, our excitement level reached its peak………..we were confident and ready to go get it! We just knew, today would be our day!
Officer Michael Pugel (left) and Officer Kevin Haistings (right)
Up until this point, I had only communicated with Jesse via emails. I was pleased to finally shake hands with the man who had helped and offered us so much. As much as we wanted to recover the cowling, I think Jesse wanted to recover it for us just as badly. SPD officers Michael Pugel (vessel Captain) and Kevin Haistings accompanied Jesse for this training exercise, and were along to ensure everything was handled safely. After formal introductions were completed, we assumed our positions and headed out to continue our mission.
As officer Pugel navigated our position over the coordinates, Jesse lowered the R.O.V. into the water and carefully guided the craft down to the bottom. Jesse was dead on, and found the cowling again in about 5 minutes……..just like he said. The rest of us all looked at each other somewhat stunned……it was at that moment that we realized we might actually pull this off.
Yeah, Chip was totally sucked in.........
As each of our eyes were glued to the video monitor watching Jesse navigate around the cowling, we were still amazed at how intact it actually still was. Ok, enough with the “deer in the headlights” looks…………we had a cowling to recover. Before we could even think about trying to bring the cowling up, we first had to recover the two heat exhaust plates, which had fell off and settled into the mud from bolt deterioration. If we didn’t get them first, we would never find them again once the cowling was recovered.
Jesse maneuvered the R.O.V. around the cowling with surgeon precision and carefully clamped onto the first plate, ready to bring it to the surface. As he began to pull it out of the mud, the clamp slipped off and a huge murky mess took over the surrounding area. It was decided that a different clamp was needed, so the R.O.V. was brought back up to the surface and the clamp was swapped out. Jesse then took the R.O.V. back down again and this time he grabbed it and the clamp held. I then raced to the rear of the boat anxiously awaiting its return to the surface, with the first plate in tow.
Now that's a spinner!
And then reality hit, I saw the plate shimmer in the water as it approached the boat………..the sun reflecting off its surfaces. I reached down and grabbed it, and then Jesse released the clamp. As I pulled it out of the water, a huge “woo hoo” screamed out of my mouth………….we got it!
I then hoisted it up high in the air like a prized king salmon, the biggest grin I’d had in a long time. Everyone cheered and laughed, but we were not done yet………..the main prize was yet to come.
The victory was short lived, one plate down…..one to go. As the R.O.V. sank into the lake once again and found its target, we were sure this recovery would be just as easy as the first……..we were wrong. As we looked at the spot where the plate should be, we saw nothing. There was no way it wasn’t there; it had to be buried under the mud. As Jesse used the jets on the R.O.V. to thrust away some of the silt and mud on the spot where the plate should be……………..we still found nothing. One final attempt was made to push the R.O.V.’s arm into the mud and use it as a shovel. That didn’t work either, as the plate was just too deep in the mud to dig out.
By this time, the water became so disturbed that visibility was now at zero and we had to make the decision to abandon the second plate. Not all was lost however, as we really only needed to recover one of them to make the duplicates. It would have been nice to have recovered both plates but we feel fortunate enough to have gotten at least one of them.
Beggars can’t be choosers, right?
As the R.O.V. made its return back to the boat, each of us knew what was next………….the moment we had all worked so hard to achieve, the cowling itself.
As we all gathered around my scrapbook of photos that showed the cowling from every angle, a plan of attack was in question. The cowling in its current condition had some visible damage throughout. This damage occurred when the cowling hit the cathedral wing (horizontal stabilizer) upon blowing off the boat, as well as from when it slammed into the water. Thankfully, the damage was limited to only cracks in the fiberglass. Some appeared pretty significant and could possibly spread upon breaking free from the lake bottom, due to the stress of being stuck in the mud. The last thing we wanted to do was destroy the very thing we were trying to keep from being damaged any further than it already was. Patience would be our biggest ally.
My initial suggestion was to connect through the ventilation slits in the fin at the rear, and Jesse thought we should go through the exhaust openings. Since Jesse is the expert, I let him make the call…………and his suggestion was chosen.
I was curious as to how the R.O.V. was going to be able to route the nylon rope through each opening. Jesse explained to me that a “float” would be used that was connected to the end of the rope. The R.O.V. would simply put the float through the opening, and then the mechanical arm would release it. Once the R.O.V. grabbed onto the float again, it repeated the process on the other side. After the rope was through both openings, Jesse brought it back up to the boat where we secured it to the railing…………just in case.
And now, the moment of truth…………………would the cowling break free or break apart?
Drum roll anyone?”
here goes nothing..........
Before we knew it, officer Haistings began pulling on the rope without any of us knowing. I guess I was waiting for a big announcement or something to the effect of………….. is everyone ready?
Almost immediately, officer Haistings yelled out “it’s coming up!”. Somewhat taken by surprise, each of us immediately grabbed the rope and also began pulling.
And then something happened I never expected to see……………..
From what others have told me about Chip and his personality concerning his perspective on his own racing career, he treated each boat merely as tools. They were only as good until they could be replaced. He cherishes the people involved with his career above all, and not so much the machines that brought him prominence.
Chip Hanauer………the man who rarely gets excited personally about any of the old boats he once drove………………bolted to the edge of the platform and began pulling harder and faster than any of us. I expected a slight smile, or a hand clap, an encouraging cheer, but nothing like what I was seeing. In what can only be described as men turning into boys, all of us jumped into action all at the same time.
In what seemed like mere seconds, the cowling quickly began its accent back to the surface, approaching sunlight for the first time in 35+ years. Chip anxiously looked over the platform he was standing on, searching for any hint of our prize peeking through the darkness. And then dream slowly became reality, as Chip yelled out a triumphant call to the rest of us on board………………..I SEE IT!!!
Man do I wish I had a picture taken of that............ As each of us peered out into the darkness, the rear tip of the cowling burst out of the water like a rocket. Like a Phoenix rising from the ashes, its silt covered frame glistened in the warm autumn sun. A thunderous cheer was cried out by everyone on board, as human hands touched the cowling for the first time since that fateful day in 1979.
As we gently lifted the cowling up out of the water, I remember thinking to myself……………wow, this thing is huge! The more we kept pulling out of the water, the longer it seemed to get…………….and best of all, it was still intact.
Once the cowling was safely on board and secured, I knew then that we had made history. This moment would forever be etched into hydroplane lore, an adventure rarely experienced in any motor sport. To learn about history is one thing………to live, witness, and change it is another. As much as this recovery meant to each of us personally, this was also a success for every person who’s ever dared to dream………………a “leap of faith” into the unknown.
Rise of the Phoenix!!!
Seattle Seahawks QB Russell Wilson once said……….
“Dreams don’t come true……………..dreams, dreams are made true”.
The funny thing is, Russell is absolutely right. Nobody handed us this cowling, we got it because we worked hard for and earned it. We left no rock unturned, no resource unexplored…………..we wanted this happen, so we did everything in our power to do just that.
If you want something bad enough, you WILL find a way to get it.
As our prize stared back at us from the deck of the boat, I couldn't help but think about what secrets it had yet to reveal…….what stories were yet untold. Those questions would be answered at another place and time, this was a moment to enjoy right now…………..as it would never come again. As we all pumped our fists in the air in triumph, I gently bent over the cowling and gave it a gentle kiss. The moment my lips pressed upon the sandy, bubbly, somewhat oil like surface…………..I remembered thinking “you’re finally home”. I will tell you though, you have not experienced a smell until you’ve smelled mud from 160 feet of the bottom of Lake Washington……………..not something a person is quick to forget, but well worth it.
Once we started heading back to the pits, I recall seeing everyone looking at each other with pride and appreciation. Chip had the look like he had just opened his Christmas presents a day early to see what he was getting, only to rewrap them and hoped nobody noticed. People can say whatever they want about Chip and his relationships with the boats he drove. I will tell you this, he was proud of our accomplishment………………and was very honored and grateful to be a part of it. I think this experience felt like he had just be reacquainted with a long lost friend.
The boat slowly approached the dock, and we all got ready to move the cowling onto the shore. We each grabbed onto it and carefully lowered it onto the dock itself. The cowling was relatively easy to move, each of us noticing how surprisingly light it actually was.
Our vessel was limited on space, so we had to limit our search party to a handful of people. Although there are 5 of us in the ownership group of the hull (mostly family), only Ed and I were able to go out on the search.
As everyone started to gather their belongings from the dock, I raced down to the shoreline to celebrate with the other 3 owners. My wife Kristy, her mother Carol, and our good friend Doug were all on shore waiting to get their first glimpses of our treasure.
The gangs all here..............
The look on both Kristy and Carol’s faces was priceless, both were clearly proud of us and knew how long we had both worked towards this accomplishment. As I hugged and kissed my wife celebrating our achievement, Carol did the same with her husband Ed. As we all walked back up the dock, it was time that we introduced everybody who couldn’t join the party. Kristy and Carol were surprised at the size of the cowling, marveling at how big it really was. They too noticed how well it was preserved, as well as some of the damage is sustained from its blow over.
Doug doesn’t get too excited about many things, and he has a somewhat restrained way of showing it…………but he was excited in his own way. He is more of a technical guy, so he immediately wanted to assess the cowlings condition. The first thing he noticed obviously was the damage from the impact with the horizontal stabilizer when it blew off the boat. The second thing that caught his attention was all the cracks from when it impacted the waterline shortly afterwards. Other than that, Doug thought it was in excellent condition considering all that time at the bottom of the lake. Cold, fresh water has it benefits you know, it has amazing preservation qualities.
(left to right) Jesse Rodocker, Michael Pugel, Kevin Haistings, Chip Hanauer, Edwin Glenn, Carol Glenn, Gary Laws, Kristy Laws, Doug Brown
As we all ventured out to the shore, it was time that we all gathered around the cowling for a group picture. We then loaded it up onto Doug's pickup truck and took it home.
As for the future plans for the cowling itself, we have a couple options on the table. The first and most likely one is that we keep it intact just as it is, except that we would like to clean off as much dirt, etc. as we can to reveal as much of the colors as we can. We would then like to have it displayed in the museum as a historical piece, which would coincide with the recovery story. Our second option is to repair the cowling, repaint it, and use it on the boat for the restoration. Whichever way we end up choosing, we will make a new mold from this cowling and use it to make two new cowlings in its place. Both the 1979 Squire Shop and 1979 Circus Circus hulls will need new cowlings anyway, why not use the original as the template.
None of this would have been possible without everyone mentioned in this story, and I can't thank them enough. Jesse and Boy were the main contributors to this effort and they deserve the most credit for making us successful. I can't possibly thank either of them enough, take a well deserved bow gentleman.
So now you know how this crazy adventure all got started. There is surely more to come as we get closer to the restoration phase down the road, but this is one nugget we could share with you all at this time. Wish us luck for the future, and may you find your treasure out there……somewhere.
We’re just getting started………………….
This is how it looked once we got it home, straight from the lake to the yard.
Some TLC and warm soapy water........................and here's how it looks now.