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Discovering a Shipwreck's Secrets

SOC Alum David Ruck explored shipwreck

Underwater Archaeologists from France and the United States examine a wooden timber in Lake Michigan that is suspected of being a bow sprit for famed explorer La Salle's missing ship, Le Griffon. David J. Ruck / Great Lakes Exploration Group

David Ruck (SOC/MFA ’13) documents history in a scuba suit. He’s working with a team of top underwater archaeologists from around the world that hopes to find the oldest known shipwreck in the upper Great Lakes—La Salle's Le Griffon, which mysteriously vanished with all six crew members and a load of furs on the return trip of its maiden voyage in 1697.

Ruck is the producer and cinematographer for the expedition, filming underwater on location near Poverty Island in northern Michigan. The French and U.S. scientists involved have worked on many infamous wrecks around the globe, including the Titanic, the Edmund Fitzgerald, and the Lusitania. Ruck’s interest in the Great Lakes goes back to his youth. “I was certified as a diver at age 16. I was fortunate enough that my parents’ home was on Lake Michigan growing up and I’ve always been really attached to the lake.” 

“While at SOC, I wanted to start a project about the Great Lakes and look at their early history, starting with Lake Michigan. Nearly every history book told the story of Le Griffon, and I wondered if it had ever been found.” Ruck did some research, and found the Great Lakes Exploration Group, which believed it had located the ship. Ruck was hooked, and has been involved with the expedition for two years. 

Ruck says, “We really went all out and got some of the best gear for shooting underwater. We arranged high-end Sony equipment houses in a Gates Underwater Housing to film the site exploration underwater.” 

David Ruck

Ruck’s photographs and footage of the expedition have been picked up by major media outlets including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, CNN, CBS, and the Associated Press. “I don’t think anyone expected this level of attention. I certainly didn’t. It speaks volumes about the public’s continued interest in science, history, and exploration,” he says.

Ruck and his team hope to establish working relationships with international production companies to further explore the story of the team and the search for Le Griffon, but he is uncertain at this point what the future holds. 

Ruck credits his success in part to SOC, particularly his Film and Media Arts professors. “The SOC faculty continues to guide me and help me make good career decisions. They have pushed me to do my best work—I feel like this program has been very formative for me. I have really depended on [faculty] feedback.” 

But he also puts an emphasis on the importance of taking initiative. “How did I get involved with the shipwreck project? I asked. I asked! I talked to the people. I didn’t win the lottery. I asked a simple question because I wanted to have that experience. You’ll be amazed at what happens by simply reaching out in a direction that calls you.” 

Ruck’s future plans are to teach film and media production at the collegiate level. Ruck advises students not to underestimate their own stories. “I’ve realized rather recently that in being honest on my blog and website with what I am doing and why I am doing it, I’m learning the value of telling my own story. I think people—students—need to believe in the merit of their own narrative. We have so many channels through social media to tell our stories.” 

Ruck is currently in post-production of his thesis film, a documentary titled I Want to Be an Astronaut and continuing to develop his production company, Rübangfilms. You can view some of his photographs and links to his work at: www.davidjruck.com.