Joseph Zarzynski’s years of searching for shipwrecks and mysterious creatures all began with a book.
It was called “Monster Hunt” and had an alluring brightly colored spine that jumped out at him when he was grading papers at Skidmore College’s library in 1974. The title, referencing the Loch Ness monster, promised adventure.
Decades later, the Wilton resident penned a few monster-hunting books of his own, including “Lochend — Monster Hunting on the Run,” which was released last year.
It covers what he refers to as the “golden age” in the search for Nessie, spanning the 1960s to early 1980s, when technological advances allowed scientists and cryptozoologists to dive deeper into the mystery of Nessie, which Zarzynski got to witness during several journeys to Scotland.
Much of “Lochend” is told through the lens of Zarzynski’s experience at age 34 completing a self-plotted 28.5-mile ultramarathon run along the shores of Loch Ness in 1984, a feat that Zarzynski believes he may have been the first to accomplish in that region (there is now a Baxters Loch Ness Marathon).
Zarzynski took his first trip to Scotland as a cryptozoologist in 1975, a year after he began teaching social studies in the Saratoga City School District.
“I became thoroughly enthralled and intrigued by it and I would go back summer after summer or during our spring break,” Zarzynski said.
Inspired by what he witnessed during subsequent trips there, he went on to study archaeology and heritage, earning a second master’s degree from the University of Leicester in the United Kingdom. He used those skills to search for “Champ,” a fabled creature of Lake Champlain, and completed thousands of dives in search of shipwrecks. From 1987–2011, he was the executive director of Bateaux Below, a not-for-profit team that studied Lake George shipwrecks, primarily vessels from the French and Indian War. In 1990, he helped to discover Lake George’s 1758 Land Tortoise shipwreck, which has been designated a National Historic Landmark.
While his diving days are behind him, Zarzynski decided it was time to chronicle his experiences of monster hunting in Scotland, where he got to meet top-notch engineers and scientists who developed sonar instruments and other equipment as Cold War tensions spurred innovations in remote sensing to probe the deepest oceans.
“I was a social studies teacher so I was not a techie but I was a good recorder of information and I appreciated history. I literally wanted to live history. This was a way in which I could be a part of that. Eventually, they brought me in to help out,” Zarzynski said.
One such scientist was Marty Klein, who developed side-scan sonar technology. Another innovator on the scene was Charles Wyckoff, who specialized in developing high-speed photography and is known for capturing the first hydrogen bomb detonation.
“We’re talking about some of the greats and here they were at Loch Ness trying to solve this mystery and I just happen to be one of those guys watching them try to solve this mystery,” Zarzynski said.
While Nessie never surfaced, they did uncover historical artifacts. In 1976, while using his side-scan sonar instruments, Klein found a rare Wellington World War II-era bomber. About 11,000 were produced and only two survived; one was featured in a museum and the other landed up in Loch Ness.
Nearly a decade later, Zarzynski wrote about the bomber’s recovery from about 230 feet of water for General Aviation News.
Another discovery, this one coming many years after the golden age of the Nessie search, was the location of a gigantic “Nessie” movie prop, which was constructed for Billy Wilder’s 1970 movie “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes,” but was lost during filming.
“It was about 30 feet long . . . It was being towed around by a 19-foot-long submarine and the thing sank,” Zarzynski said.
In 2012, the author worked with Peter Pepe of the Glens Falls-based Pepe Productions and approached the Discovery Channel about producing a documentary about searching for the lost prop.
“It was never green-lit, but four years later it was discovered using an autonomous underwater vehicle which had side-scan sonar. They found it’s still intact down in several hundred feet of water in Loch Ness,” Zarzynski said.
During his time monster hunting at Loch Ness, what stayed with Zarzynski was the attitude of the scientists working there.
“One of the things I did appreciate about these people who were putting their names on the line is that they knew that you might just find something that is going to make a contribution to common human knowledge. I always appreciated that particular attitude and hoped that as we [were] progressing and so forth that we can find other things that are going to enrich humanity,” Zarzynski said.
“Lochend — Monster Hunting on the Run” was recently awarded “The Best Historical Loch Ness Book of the Year ” by CryptoZooNews and the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine. It’s available on Amazon, BookBaby and other book distributors.
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