Scuba expert Matt Zuidema has found many unusual things in the depths of the Detroit River over the years — and now National Geographic is sharing one of his finds with the world.
The LaSalle-based diver has a feature segment in a new episode of the National Geographic TV series Drain the Oceans, which combines on-location videography with digital recreations to examine maritime mysteries around the world.
Zuidema’s story for the show involves the remnants of a 1920s Ford Model TT truck at the bottom of the river — a vehicle that was likely involved in some less-than-legal cross-border alcohol transportation during the Prohibition era.
“The smugglers in those days would double their cargo capacity by towing a small boat across the ice,” explains Zuidema, 51.
“We’re very confident that’s what (this truck) was doing, and how it ended up down there… I found the chain.”
Along with accompanying Zuidema on one of his dives, National Geographic utilized his personal underwater GoPro video recordings to extrapolate a 3D computer model of the upside-down 100-year-old truck wreckage.
National Geographic also visited the Canadian Transportation Museum in Kingsville to look at an intact Model T, and interviewed local author Marty Gervais, who has researched and written about the area’s rumrunning past.
“There’s lots of history down there,” Zuidema said. “The river was a dumping zone for a long time — a hundred years of things that have been discarded. Bottles, metal, ship debris, pieces of dock, even guns… If I tried to bring back everything I found, I’d need a barge.”
Other segments in the “Rise of the Mob” episode of Drain the Oceans look at other underwater wrecks with ties to organized crime: a whiskey-smuggling tugboat off the coast of New Jersey, and a floating speakeasy in Lake Michigan near Chicago.
National Geographic first connected with Zuidema in 2020 through the Windsor Port Authority, who recommended Zuidema in response to the show’s producers inquiring about local scuba divers with expertise and interesting stories.
A lifelong Windsor-Essex resident, Zuidema has been scuba diving since his youth, and can count hundreds of Detroit River dives in his experience.
The wreck of the 1920s Ford truck is something of a local legend. Zuidema investigated the site in the spring of 2022, and National Geographic sent their camera crew to Windsor-Essex in July 2022.
Despite the Detroit River’s low visibility, cold temperatures, heavy ship traffic, and dangerous current, Zuidema considers it a fascinating body of water for scuba diving. “It’s really meant for more advanced divers, with the ships and the currents and everything that’s going on.”
“It’s an adventure, every time. You really get to see things that very few people have seen,” Zuidema reflected.
“There are still things that can be found, there are still mysteries… I think I’ve always enjoyed doing something where you’re one of the few.”
Zuidema has documented some of his underwater exploits on his own YouTube channel, Canadian Diver.
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