Back in June, you may recall that we spent two days diving at the Flower Gardens National Marine Sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico. After that trip, Aaron and I remembered that we loved diving, we loved diving together, and realized that we need to do more of it. The only way to ensure this is to book another trip. So we did. On our way back home from our Flower Garden trip, we booked a shipwreck trip in the Great Lakes with the dive shop we use back in Michigan. I won’t lie, I was STOKKED about doing some shipwreck diving in our beloved Great Lakes again with one of our best friends!
For all the photos from this dive trip, check out this link.
It had been a while since we had been in cold water, in our drysuits. In fact, the last time we dove cold water was on our trip to Norway in May 2016. Alas, when we pulled out suits out to check them over, we found we both needed new wrist seals and Aaron needed a new neck seal. We sent them off to get serviced in time for the trip. We planned a few days in Michigan before we were set to head to the Great Lakes so that we could head to our favorite quarry where we had spent many weekends diving and camping, to do some “tweak” dives. The purpose of those dives being to shake loose the cobwebs and re-familiarize ourselves with dry suit/cold water diving, something that was very much needed.
Originally, we were supposed to be diving in Lake Huron, near Alpena, MI in the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The day before we were supposed to leave, we got a call from the trip organizer that the boat he had chartered was broken. But, no worries, we would be diving the Straits of Mackinac (pronounced MACK-eh-naw) instead! Truth be told, I was ecstatic! I’ve wanted to dive the Straits for so long! I was completely ok and supportive of Plan B - plus, it meant we got to spend a few days in God’s country: Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Three days of diving were planned with two dives each day: the Eber Ward and Sandusky on Monday, the Barnum and the Young on Tuesday, and then two dives on the Cedarville on Wednesday. We had absolutely beautiful weather all three days. Monday and Tuesday it was overcast for part of the day, but the temperature wasn’t too warm (a good thing when you’re diving a dry suit!), and the rain held off until we were done.
The Eber Ward was my favorite. She sits in 100-110’ of water, mostly upright and intact. An old wooden ship, she sank after being cut by ice in April 1909. The hull is pretty open and allows for easy wreck penetration. In fact, we could swim all the way from the stern to the bow below the decks. At only about 200 feet long, it’s possible to see the entire ship while also remaining well within recreational NDL limits.
The Sandusky was another amazing wreck! This one is a bit shallower - only in 70-80’ of water listing to her starboard side. The impressive figure head is a replica, but you can’t tell at all. The original was illegally removed from the ship a number of years ago. She sank in 1856 with all hands aboard.
Another old wooden wreck, the Barnum sits mostly upright in about 50’ of water. Her top deck is partially collapsed, but the dead eyes on the ship are in really amazing condition and still there, surprisingly, as these are often illegally removed from ships. I think the fact that she wasn’t discovered until 2002, despite sinking in 1894 after being cut with ice, reduced the chances for people to take home souvenirs. When she sank, it appears as if the boilers exploded, so the stern is pretty broken up, but the chain locker is in great condition and allows for easy penetration. The rudder from the Barnum has been removed and is on display in a park in St. Ignace.
In 1891, the Young sank with a full load of coal. Today, she sits upright in 120’ of water, coal still in her holds. The decks are still intact and divers can penetrate into the wreck pretty easily. The wheel is still there and in pretty good condition, albeit crusted over with zebra mussels. Of of the mast is broken off and laying to the side. The railings are still mostly intact too.
Our final two divers were supposed to be on the Cedarville, a steel freighter that sank in 1965 after a collision with another ship. We donned our gear, jumped in, and valiantly fought the current. However, it was just too strong. I called the dive knowing that there was no way I could fight that current and stay safe. I wasn’t the only diver with that thought. So, on our third day, we ended up heading back to the Eber Ward and doing another two dives there. We had another group diving with us all on rebreathers. They were on an expedition with Pete Measley of Lust for Rust and came from all over the world - Africa, New Zealand, and London. I wasn’t the least bit upset about doing the Eber Ward again and this time we got to see and explore the wreck even more.
I am so glad that we did this trip. It was fulfilling in so many ways. We got to dive in fresh water again (curse the salt!) on some fantastically preserved, 100+ year old shipwrecks, in one of our favorite places in the world, with one of our best friends. Aaron and I got to spend some time doing our favorite activity - sans kids - and even got some time to relax. Northern Michigan holds a special place in our hearts and I’m glad we got to see a side of her we hadn’t seen before. I know we will be back there to dive again in the future, but until that day comes, I’m glad we have the pictures and memories from the trip to tide us over.
Dive the Straits
Divers Inc. in Ann Arbor, Michigan organized the dive trip. Accommodations, charters, and fills were all arranged for us. The charter boat was ran by Straits Scuba Center in St. Ignace, Michigan and captained by Captain Larry. For more information about Straits Scuba Center, check out their Facebook page.
The water is cold year round - about 60F at the surface, depending on the time of year, and almost always 43F at depth. Cold water diving experience and gear is strongly recommended, especially dry suits and environmentally sealed regulators. Special training for wreck penetration is also recommended. These dives are easily done while remaining withing recreational limits, but can also be done as technical dives.
If you want to see more pictures of diving in the Straits, check out the album on the Facebook Page for Diver’s Incorporated