Port Dover, Lake Erie
Barcelona, New York
If you’ve done the Boland you’ve done the Whelan, they’re that similar. Ok, the Whelan is 20′ deeper, and 30′ longer, but once you’re narc’d you’ll never notice the difference. They’re both entirely upside down, and unless you enter the inside you’ll be looking at a hull for the most part.
But there is a little more to it than that. Built originally as the Erwin L. Fisher in Toledo, Ohio, it was also known as the Porte De Caen, Bayersher or the Claremont and she had an interesting life. She sunk at least three times: once when her load shifted in shallow water, again when mined or torpedoed off the east coast while serving the war effort, and then finally in Lake Erie after being converted into a sand sucker.
The wreck now lies with the starboard side just enough out of the silt to get under comfortably, but there isn’t much to find. There are hatches towards the bow and stern which allow entry but fine silt means you’re either first to enter or you’re likely swimming in a blizzard (I opted for the blizzard-less dive experience this day). A prop, rudder, and what looks like a bow winch are the key items to see aside from a yawl boat which seems to have encountered some difficulty parallel parking and reversed into the bottom. This is a relatively new wreck, having been opened in only 2005, and much of the interior has yet to be explored. There is a very good chance the 15 crew lost with the ship are still inside so penetration should be done with extreme caution and respect, if at all.
Long Point, Port Dover
The Trade Wind is a fascinating wreck. Her three masts lie on her port side, there is a square rigging platform in the middle of the fore-deck, much of her cargo is still there, and those are just the first things you notice about her. Take a closer look and you will find the location in her starboard side where it is reported the ship Charles Napier tried to mate with her, tearing a sizeable gash and sending the Trade Wind to the bottom otherwise unscathed but with the Napier’s bow sprit still penetrating her side (see top left photo).
Towards the rear is an amazing recessed wheel. Normally placed above deck, this one sits in a hole which must have afforded an awful view of things for docking etc. but was an escape from foul weather. One theory is that it allowed for the boom to be lower and sails to be larger - think "more horsepower". The forward decking is littered with what remains of 200 tons of steel railway line, and some of the 1,000 stoves she was carrying are visible in the hold.
Her stern, in pristine condition, is inspirational. Very squarish and quite large, the stern sits high enough out of the mud that you can see the considerable rudder.
It is possible to swim through an entrance at the front of the aft deck and exit at the wheel, but like many wrecks in Lake Erie this one is well filled with fine particulate so penetration would likely lead to greatly reduced visibility and everyone else visiting the wreck likely won’t appreciate the silt storm.
This wreck lies on the outside of the Point when dived from Port Dover, so prepare for a long ride out (up to three hours depending on the charter boat).
Long Point, Lake Erie
This is the kind of wreck that makes even hardcore divers say, "Hubba hubba". It is my new favourite and one I can’t wait to get back to.
Let’s get right to the best part of this wreck: there is a yawl boat (lifeboat) lying up against the port side near the stern, just an arm span away from the wheel. The rarity of that is why this was originally called the "Yawl Boat Wreck". It later went by the name "10 Volt" as well (due to electrical problems on the boat at the time it was found).
Broken almost in half, there is a large amount of debris scattered in the middle of this ship with plenty to see, including an anchor at the bow, one mast standing, and another lying along the deck. The wheel is still attached to the exposed steering gear about as close to the stern as you can get.
Experts believe that because the yawl boat must still have been fastened to the ship at the time of sinking, this wreck sunk in a hurry - perhaps due to a collision.
(Unpublishable at charter captain’s request)
List to port
It is truly a special experience to dive on a wreck you know VERY few people have ever been on. Potentially only ONE.
The cloak-and-dagger veil of silence surrounding this particular site made it especially interesting. The charter captain had made arrangements with the diver who had discovered the wreck and they appear to be the only ones who know the location - which I cannot reveal. Trips may start being run to it once it has been properly cataloged.
Because it appears to be old, small (58′), and in a serious state of decomposition it is estimated to be from the 1800’s, and some similarities to the famous Hamilton and Scourge wrecks (mostly length) were pointed out, perhaps making this a vessel from the war of 1812 as well.
To the best available knowledge this wreck has not been stripped, but due to its list to port and the amount of silt its secrets may not be revealed until a major excavation is undertaken.
We had a number of scooters on the wreck blowing off the silt but even they did not unearth anything of significance beyond… more silt.
For more info on this site contact the amazing Captain Jim at Osprey Dive Charters.
Jim Herbert at Osprey Dive Charters in Barcelona, NY, keeps coming up with these new wrecks that no one else seems to know about. This was one of his revelations in 2005, who knows how many more he has in store for us. It’s so new there is no name and few details, since we were the first charter ever to visit the site.
This one is a 120′-long brig that looks like it could be a canaller with a bluff bow and hinged bowsprit to fit through the Welland Canal in its younger and shorter days. Due to the amount of silt accumulating in Lake Erie the wreck has been filled well, covering most of the port rail and has nearly blanketed the capstan.
The bow and stern still protrude from the silt, offering enough detail to make this quite an interesting wreck with a few unique features. Unique feature #1: there’s a cylinder just inside the bow, covered in sheet metal (perhaps copper or tin) that is unlike anything I have encountered so far in the Great Lakes. Opinions vary wildly on what it might be but the most knowledgeable I’ve heard so far says it could be part of the equipment for manipulating the forward sails. Unique feature #2 might be a first among known wrecks in the Lakes as well - windows (not just port holes) in the transom. Adding to those stellar items are two lifeboat davits off the stern, the mechanism where the wheel was mounted, mast lying across the deck, windlass, capstan, and a pair of rather massive anchors for this size ship on the bow rail.
The John J. Boland is an overturned freighter, almost. Well, it’s definitely a freighter, it’s just ALMOST overturned. It is on it’s starboard side with the keel well up off the silty bottom causing the deck to loom over you as you swim alongside the ship.
This is the kind of wreck that has something for just about everyone. A scan of the outside reveals plenty of interesting structure and machinery, with even more to be found inside for those who are properly trained but beware the silt inside is very easily disturbed as you can see in one of the photos below - it’s the one that looks like a rust storm and little else.
There is rather a lot to see on this site including the prop, cargo holds, and superstructure which appears to be entirely intact (aside from a slight amount of crushing from having the weight of a ship on top of it, go figure). Water seems to be on the cool side at the site, particularly on the bottom but you’ll warm up as you ascend through the thermocline(s) in the summer.
If you choose to visit the Boland the operation to use is definitely Osprey Charters out of Barcelona, NY, they are a fantastic company with some of the best captains around, and very close to the wreck site which means you’ll spend less time getting there and more time enjoying it.
The Betty Hedger is one of those wrecks that make for an OK second dive, but only if the first one was really good. It’s a good thing this wreck is located close to the Boland or chances are vastly fewer divers would ever see it.
Even when afloat, the Hedger was an exceptionally unspectacular barge, and many decades underwater, with her sides having fallen and many items either missing/removed or buried under silt/zebra mussels, she certainly hasn’t improved any.
Perhaps this is the kind of wreck that would be of particular interest to ship building historians who might find it remarkable how the main timbres and supporting structure have held up well enough to keep the top deck standing, while the rest of the wreck appears to have vanished (possibly caused by the storm which sunk her)… but that’s a stretch. Chances are they’d find this a pretty boring wreck too.
If your first dive of the day was on the Boland, and your only other option in the area is the Hedger, my recommendation is a second dive on the Boland. If you manage to count the number of zebra mussels on the hull of the Boland I’ll give ya a prize.
If you’re still determined to see what the Hedger is really like, you will find the nets adorning her port side to be one of the most interesting items (hey, I warned ya). There is a small winch and capstan near the bow (it’s a barge, hard to tell one end from the other) and there are tow bits at the other end as well. With the top deck suspended about 10 feet above the pile of sulfur and silt, this could be a good location for aspiring wreck penetration students to practice (now I’m really grasping for a silver lining).
Astute readers will notice the mention this wreck was carrying sulfur, which explains the name it went by for years, the Sulfur Wreck. Due to the odiferous nature of the cargo it is not recommended you remove your mask and inhale, for several reasons.
Barcelona, New York, USA
For some reason it’s hard to get excited about a barge. When you know a vessel was just towed through the water behind something likely bigger and better my guess is you’d rather be diving that and instead of settling for second best. But as barges go Barge F is kinda neat.
At 146′ it’s a little deep for most recreational divers so this site doesn’t see a large amount of traffic, which is likely a good thing. Despite clearly being solidly built for a long life it doesn’t help when divers do a power descent and crash into it like we saw on this day (find the photo of the diver half-buried in a silt cloud to win a prize). This site is plenty deep enough to be narc’d if you try it on air.
The windlass and wheel are the highlights by far, but the construction comes a close second. As a barge this little vessel was made for one purpose: hauling stuff. To that end she is essentially a giant cargo hold with a rudimentary means of steering at one end and a way to haul in line and run equipment at the other. Her final cargo of coal can still be seen in the hold.
Since this wreck has few concretely identifiable characteristics and an overall lack of sex appeal there likely isn’t a mass of diver/researchers burning the midnight oil trying to identify her, so she’ll likely remain known as Barge F for quite some time. This isn’t the kind of wreck you can do every weekend all summer long, but definitely worth a visit or two. If you’ve never seen a burbot (also called "lawyer fish" but don’t hold that against them) before you’ll likely find a few here