Home-Speaking-FullLengthValerie van Heest is a dynamic speaker who shares the fascinating stories of her underwater expeditions to discover and explore Great Lakes shipwrecks. She offers a wide variety of programs designed for adults and children that enlighten, inspire, and offer a “deeper” look at Michigan’s rich maritime heritage. Adventure and intrigue fill each program and provide a tantalizing peak back in time and beneath Lake Michigan as she brings these stories alive with fascinating historic photographs, spectacular underwater images, and intriguing commentary.

Valerie schedules up to fifty public presentations per year at conferences, historical societies, clubs, churches, and schools. Choose from among the many programs below or ask Valerie which program might be best suited to your location or audience. Programs run 35-45 minutes with time afterwards for questions and a book signing. Her honorariums are reasonable. Contact her at shipwrecked @ chartermi .net

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Here’s what people are saying:

“We just loved your talk! It was interesting, inspirational and important. You have preparation, professionalism, presence and passion!  I learned a lot and really enjoyed the evening.”
– Cynthia Doucet, audience member

“Bar none, your program was the best we have ever hosted. We intend to have you back again soon.” 
– Jenny Thompson,  Evanston History Center

“Words cannot express how much I learned, felt and was inspired by the excellent research, dialogue, prints, pictures and total package you delivered that night about the Lady Elgin. One could really embrace the emotion, significance and mayhem that ensued on that dark and stormy night along the western shoreline of Lake Michigan. Your speech was FLAWLESS!!”
– Janice Cook, audience member

“Few in our state truly understand the significance of lake travel in the settlement of our Great Lakes region. What a wonderful program, thank you so much for all you have offered to us. You are truly gifted and a very dynamic person.”
– John Gray, audience member

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On June 23, 1950, Northwest Airlines Flight 2501, a DC-4 with 58 souls on board, disappeared over Lake Michigan. Shredded human remains washing up on the beaches of West Michigan served as evidence of the country’s worst commercial aviation disaster. The wreck was never located and the cause of the accident was never determined. Then, over a half century later, nationally acclaimed author and explorer Clive Cussler of the National Underwater Marine Agency teamed up with Valerie van Heest of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association to attempt to find the submerged wreck and solve the mystery of the plane’s disappearance. Van Heest will share how an unexpected meeting with a victim’s son prompted a search of a different kind, one that would be more illuminating than submerged sections of twisted aluminum, and will reveal that the answers are sometimes found in unexpected places.

Join underwater explorer and author Valerie van Heest as she travels back in time and deep beneath Lake Michigan to explore the wreck of the John V. Moran, holed and sunk by the ice in February 1899 off West Michigan. She will share the trials of research, the frustration of the search, and the excitement as she and fellow teamates of the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association, discover and explore the most intact shipwreck in Lake Michigan.


Author and underwater explorer Valerie van Heest commemorates the tragic Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940 in which five ships and 64 sailors were lost. She examines the wrecks of the Novadoc and Anna C. Minch, and presents the only footage ever captured of the William B. Davock, all lost off West Michigan. She provides insight into what caused these massive freighters to sink when others survived the storm, and helps the sons of two Davock victims say final goodbyes to their fathers.

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Titanic sank in 1912 and the stories of amazing survival and tragic loss made the ocean liner famous. Titanic’s discovery in 1985 made the ship legendary. Likewise, the Lake Michigan shipwrecks in this program became even more famous after their discoveries than at the time of their losses, gaining notoriety as historic attractions, archaeological sites, and in some cases, over bold salvage attempts or precedent-setting legal battles. Author and explorer Valerie van Heest will take you back in time to experience the careers and tragic sinkings of these ships, then beneath the lake to participate in the triumphant discovery and exciting exploration of their remains. Most assuredly, the compelling sagas of these important vessels did not end when the waves of Lake Michigan washed over them. 

UNSOLVED MYSTERIES The Shipwreck Thomas Hume

On May 21, 1891, the lumber schooner Thomas Hume and its crew of seven sailed out of Chicago, into a spring storm, never to be seen again. The vessel’s owners, Charles Hackley and Thomas Hume of Muskegon, Michigan, could not believe the sturdy lumber hooker could be overcome by rough water. The disappearance of the Thomas Hume lingered as one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Great Lakes. More than a century after its disappearance, the discovery of the Thomas Hume solved the mystery of its disappearance. However, the collection of shoes, clothing, jewelry, coins, and tools found inside the shipwreck generated even more questions. An archaeological investigation supported by a grant from the Michigan Humanities Council has attempted to solve the riddles posed by the shipwreck. After survey dives, historical research, and detective-like reasoning, the team pieced together not only the Thomas Hume’s career, but how its crew lived, worked, and died on the lake. 


When she touched a musket lying in a field of debris among the wreckage of the once palatial sidewheel steamer Lady Elgin, it ignited an passion for the study of the tragic circumstances of her sinking in Lake Michigan in September 1860, which resulted in the deaths of more than 300 people, most from Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Valerie Van Heest brings the audience back in time: To the golden age of Great Lakes passenger travel; to the eve of a presidential election; to the brink of Civil War; and to a dark, stormy night when 400 excursionists on board the Lady Elgin were awakened in the middle of the night by a terrible crash. Within just a few hours, most of them would perish in the deadliest disaster on the open waters of the Great Lakes. More than a century later, Valerie explored the wreckage and will reveal the amazing discoveries.

SHE DIED A HARD DEATH The Sinking of the Hennepin

When the tugboat Lotus moved slowly up the Grand River in Ferrysburg, Michigan, on the evening of August 18, 1927, it was immediately apparent something was wrong. She had left the day prior towing the barge Hennepin and was returning without it. The Hennepin’s Captain Ole Hansen, who had taken refuge on the tug, shouted across to employees waiting at the Dock: “We lost here boys. She died a hard death.”  Seventy-nine years later Valerie van Heest and fellow directors of Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates discovered the wreck of the Hennepin off South Haven, Michigan. Through research and diving this very deep and pristine wreck, MSRA would piece together the true account of the sinking, told through historical reenactment, and place this vessel in its proper historical content as the first self-unloading steamer and one of the most significant vessels ever to sail the Great Lakes.

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DECKHAND FOR A DAY Journey on the Self–Unloader Maumee

Have you ever wondered what it would be like on board one of these big freighters that deliver bulk cargo to Lake Michigan ports?  Holland author Valerie van Heest journeyed across Lake Michigan on board the 620-foot self-unloading freighter Maumee, the Lakes oldest operating self-unloading freighter, to gather data for her book “Buckets and Belts: Evolution of the Great Lakes Self–Unloaders.” Her journey began in Chicago loading 13,000 tons of coal. Along with the captain, chief engineer and 18 other crewmembers, she traveled 12 hours across the lake to arrive at Holland and deliver their cargo to power the homes of Holland residents. Along the way, she piloted the boat, explored every nook and cranny of the vessel and spent time getting to know the crew and understanding their fascinating and unique career choices. Valerie will share her experience searching for, discovering, and diving the shipwreck Hennepin, the world’s first self-unloading vessel, that served as the model for vessels such as the Maumee. The wreck is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


ICEBOUND FOUND! The Ordeal of the S.S. Michigan
“Difficulties are just things to overcome after all” This quote, made famous by Captain Ernest Shackleton when he returned from Antarctica safely six months after his ship Endurance sank, could certainly have been the sentiment of Captain Prindiville as a similar drama played out on the ice–encrusted Lake Michigan. In 1885, Prindiville and his crew on the S.S. Michigan became icebound off West Michigan during one of the worst winter storms in history. After 40 days, their ship was crushed by the ice and sank, forcing them onto the ice-covered lake. With stamina and perseverance, all 30 men made it safely to shore in this local tale of endurance!  It would also take endurance for the Michigan Shipwreck Research Association to search for the sunken remains of this 200-foot steamer.  After three years, the team finally located the wreck in deep water off Holland, Michigan. Valerie shares this multifaceted tale through a riveting historic reenactment, an unfolding search effort, and a deep dive, as MSRA explores the intact remains of this historic vessel, 275 feet beneath Lake Michigan.


Nearly 25,000 schooners graced the Great Lakes during the age of sail. In 1868 and 1869, two of those vessels, both small, sixty-foot two-masted schooners, both built mid-nineteenth century, both operated out of the twin cities of Benton Harbor and St. Joseph, Michigan, and both carrying consigned cargos across Lake Michigan to their home port sank in tragic accidents. Coincidentally, both would be located exactly 140 years after their disappearance and just a few miles from each other in southeast Lake Michigan during a joint venture expedition by nationally acclaimed author Clive Cussler, his team from the National Underwater Marine Agency and Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates. These shipwrecks are a reminder of the perils faced by the crews and the economic hardships faced by business owners while doing this rather ordinary task of shipping goods across the lakes. 



LOST & FOUND Shipwreck Tales of West Michigan

Dozens of shipwrecks rest in the cold, clear water just off the shores of Western Michigan where the freshwater preserves them as time capsules. Local shipwreck hunter, author, member of the Women Divers hall of fame, and mom to two middle school students, Valerie van Heest will take students on a journey of search and discovery as she explores these wrecks that span the history of shipping on Lake Michigan. Many of these ships met their end on the wild waters of Lake Michigan, but storms are not the only reasons for their loss. Collisions, fire and even ICE have sunk many ships. In one such “chilly” tale, van Heest tells how Captain Prindiville of the steamship Michigan, his crew and the youngest crewman, George Sheldon, became trapped in the ice off Holland in 1885. After battling the ice for 43 days, their ship sinks, but with stamina and perseverance young George leads everyone safely to shore in this local tale of determination. 

UNSOLVED MYSTERIES The Shipwreck Thomas Hume

On May 21, 1891, the lumber schooner Thomas Hume and its crew of seven sailed out of Chicago, into a spring storm, never to be seen again. The schooner’s disappearance lingered as one of the great unsolved mysteries of the Great Lakes. Author and explorer Valerie van Heest will takes kids underwater with her as she leads the archaeological investigation of the shipwrecks and attempts to solve the riddles posed by the shipwreck. After survey dives, historical research, and detective-like reasoning, she and her team piece together not only the Thomas Hume’s career, but how its crew lived, worked, and died on the lake.