Captain Bill Palmer with his mannequin he calls Eva. She is wearing a foul weather leather jacket from German U-boat 853 sunk off Block Island, R.I.. She is steering the emergency steering station, also from the U-853. The German helmet was a gift given to Palmer. Lisa Saunders interviews Captain Bill Palmer, shipwreck explorer and author.
Captain Bill Palmer of Wallingford, Conn., seen with some of the artifacts he's collected during shipwreck exploration. The dishes on top of the cabinet are from the Metis and Onondaga. The dishes on the inside top shelf are from the German U-853. On the shelf below that, are dishes from various wrecks including the Larchmont and Andrea Doria sunk in July of 1956. On the right is the bronze torpedo tube from the L-8 submarine sunk off Newport, R.I., in 1926. Photo by Lisa Saunders.
Captain Bill Palmer: Indiana Jones of the Sea
by Lisa Saunders
Shipwreck explorer Captain Bill Palmer of Wallingford, Conn., not only offers sport fishing and shark cage diving from his charter vessel, but he’ll take you down to the tangled wrecks off Watch Hill and Block Island, R.I.
An Army paratrooper during the time of the Vietnam War, Palmer is now one of New England's leading authorities on underwater wrecks and has videotaped dozens of submarines, U-boats, and sunken vessels lost in East Coast waters. His expertise (and dramatic eccentricity) is highlighted in the best-selling book Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson because it was his advice the divers sought to identify a particular submarine. (Palmer told them to look in the electric motor room for a box of spare parts normally carried to make repairs. Those boxes have identifying tags on them specific to that particular boat.)
Palmer mentioned that in addition to the artifacts he’s found on shipwrecks, he has also discovered the skeletal remains of German sailors on the WWII submarine sunk seven miles off Block Island moments before the end of World War II in Europe. Highlighted in his new book, The Last Battle of the Atlantic, The Sinking of the U-853, which is packed with underwater images, he hopes the German remains will one day be returned to their families.
Captain Palmer introduces his book, The Last Battle of the Atlantic, on his website: “Out in the cold Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Rhode Island, lies the remains of what was once a feared and mighty hunter. …It's what men feared the most when they went to sea aboard their vessel back in the World War II years. It's a German Submarine called a U-Boat. The U-853 was the last German submarine sunk in World War II. She was sunk with all hands just minutes before World War II ended. The once mighty hunter feared by all who put to sea, now lies in 130 feet of water off the coast of Block Island, Rhode Island, her grave marked only by a circle on the nautical charts, DANGER Unexploded Depth Charges, May 1945.” His book is available in area shops.
If you’re not a diver, you can still negotiate around a wreck’s numerous hazards and squeeze through a submarine’s deck hatches with Captain Palmer through his diving documentaries made by his production company, Thunderfish Video.
A noted story teller, Palmer enjoys giving the history of the people behind the maritime disasters and is a regular lecturer at venues such as the Beneath the Sea conference in N.J. Palmer also shares his advice willingly to would-be shipwreck discoverers looking for clues on where to find wrecks. For example, one place to start is to ask fishermen where their nets have been snagged or lost.
When asked what is scarier, sky or shipwreck diving, he said, "Shipwreck diving is more dangerous. You don't often encounter a shark in the air. In North Carolina, it's not unusual to have one meet you on your way to the shipwreck or glide by you. One time, I got lost inside of the coal freighter Black Point (the one that the U-boat sunk) one time, which was very unnerving. It wasn't a typical entry--you had to drop in the sand and then swim underneath and rise up through a hole. The guy who followed me in stirred up the silt and when I turned to leave I couldn't see anything--I had to feel my way out." Palmer also discussed what divers call "Martini's Law," meaning that every 50 feet down, it's as if you have consumed another martini because the nitrogen in the air you are breathing acts like a narcotic. (Now, when diving deep, divers use mixed gas where the nitrogen is replaced by helium).
February 1, 2014, Marks 107 Years Since Sinking of the Larchmont,
Rhode Island’s Greatest Marine Disaster
Shipwreck explorer says steamer’s paddlewheel still stands
Mystic, Conn.--Captain Bill Palmer, one of New England's leading authorities on underwater shipwrecks, remembers the anniversary of the sinking of the Larchmont, Rhode Island’s greatest marine disaster, on February 11, 1907.
Owner operator of the charter vessel Thunderfish out of R.I. and Mystic, Conn., Captain Palmer of Wallingford, Conn., has been diving since the late 1960s and knows the exact location of many wrecks, including the Metis and the Larchmont off Watch Hill, R.I.
According to the book, “Mystic Seafarer’s Trail,” by Lisa Saunders, “Even more souls were lost on the Larchmont than on the Metis one bitterly cold night on February 11, 1907. When the steamer Larchmont, bound for New York from Providence with 200 passengers, collided with a coal-laden schooner four miles southwest of Watch Hill Light, the vast majority of its panic stricken passengers were doomed. Thrown from their beds when the bow of the schooner plowed deep into its hull, the few able to make to it to a lifeboat were largely underdressed and unable to survive the freezing temperatures to the shores of Block Island.” The dead came to shore encased in ice.
Palmer said, “You can still see the Larchmont’s paddlewheel sticking upright, looking very much like a Ferris wheel.” Palmer has found dishes and various ship fittings at the Larchmont wreck site.
Palmer, author of the book, “The Last Battle of the Atlantic: The Sinking of the U-853,” has videotaped dozens of submarines, U-boats, and sunken vessels that have been lost in East Coast waters. His expertise and eccentricity is highlighted in the best-selling book Shadow Divers by Robert Kurson because it was his advice the divers sought to identify a particular submarine.
An Army paratrooper during the time of the Vietnam War, Captain Bill Palmer is now a licensed Coast Guard Captain and a dive instructor specializing in advanced wreck diving. He is a member of the American Society of Oceanographers. His award-winning films have aired on the Discovery Channel, A&E, and Connecticut Public Television.
You can watch an interview with Captain Bill Palmer, which includes a diving clip of the Larchmont (interviewer is Lisa Saunders on public access television), at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iE97K3xeFA4&feature=youtu.be. Another interview in his home with artifacts: Lisa Saunders interviews Captain Bill Palmer, shipwreck explorer and author.
For more information about Captain Bill Palmer, his upcoming talks, films, book, or charter vessel, visit: www.thunderfishcharters.com
or call (203) 269-0619. His email address: firstname.lastname@example.org
or call (203) 269-0619. His email address: email@example.com
On Feb. 14 - 16, 2014, Captain Bill Palmer will have an information table at the Fishing& Hunting Show at the Connecticut EXPO center. On March 29 & 30, he will be a guest speaker at the Beneath the Sea Expo, the largest scuba and dive travel show in the country, at the Meadowlands Exposition Center in New Jersey.
*Author’s Note: The Metis and Larchmont shipwrecks are discussed in my book, “Mystic Seafarer’s Trail,” and in my TV interview with Captain Bill Palmer, which includes clips of his dives (you can locate the interview on YouTube by searching "Lisa Saunders and Captain Bill Palmer" or go directly to:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iE97K3xeFA4&feature=youtu.be ).
Captain Bill Palmer and Lisa Saunders with a plate from the Andrea Doria, sunk off the coast of Massachusetts and considered the "Mount Everest" of shipwrecks because of the difficulty of safely reaching it and exploring it.
See his short interview on News 8, Connecticut Style