Diving the Great Lakes by Cathy de Lara
Where in the world can you find intact, upright wooden shipwrecks? Ships that still have their bells, steering wheels and rigging? Ships that are not only in diveable depths but are only 30 minutes boat ride from shore?
Sound interesting? Well, we thought so, which is why 6 divers, and an awful lot of luggage flew over the pond to the United States.
John and I flew into Chicago, picked up a tiny car (with only 6 seats) and off we went. We drove up the west coast of lake Michigan and about 9 hours later we arrived at the top of the lake in Mackinaw city. The 6 of us had hired a 4-bedroom house and spent the first week diving from Mackinaw city.
The diving was off Brian Anderson’s boat, Blackdog charters, she takes 6 divers, but doesn’t have a lift, so stages had to be handed up before climbing the ladder, to make up for not having a lift Brian does provide freshly baked, hot cinnamon rolls after the first dive, Yum! Oh and beware, episodes of muppetry are rewarded with the wig of shame! (And no, neither of us had to wear it!)
So, to the diving, dive 1 was the wooden steamer “Minneapolis” (1873-94) a small, mostly intact wreck complete with boiler, condenser, donkey boiler, prop and rudder lying on the bottom. Visibility was 15-20m, the downside? The temperature on the bottom was 5/6c so a little chilly, on the plus side there was a thermocline at about 18m where it went from really chilly to a toasty 18/20c. Dive 2 was a wooden schooner the “William Young” (1883-91) complete with steering wheel and cooking stove. The “Eber Ward” (1888-1909) was another wooden steamer, one that you could swim the length of, inside the wreck. The “Sandusky” (1848-56) a two masted brig still has the bowsprit and a replica of the figurehead. In contrast the “Cedarville” (1957-65) is a relatively modern freighter, she is huge so we did the bow and stern as separate dives. Finally, there was the “M. Stalker” (1863-86) another wooden schooner. These were all fabulous, mostly intact wrecks in depths between 25 and 40m.
For week two, we moved down the coast to another house in Alpena and dived in Lake Huron, unfortunately for me, I picked up an ear infection and couldn’t dive so I missed the best wrecks. A huge disappointment.
Week 2 wrecks were slightly deeper and included the Cornelia B Windiate, the Florida and Typo. These are all wooden freighters that carried goods around the Great Lakes in the 1800’s. As the water is so cold (at 50m it was a balmy 4oC) and there are no currents to speak of, they are very well preserved. They all had the masts rigged, and even the wooden helms. In fact, as you swam round them you did wonder if they could be raised and sailed again. The whole area that we were diving in is a National Park, with all the wrecks buoyed and monitored. This did mean that Johno had to leave behind the 2 bells that were on full display.
Would we go back? Absolutely, we are already planning 2025!