Straights of Mackinac, Lake Michigan
Diving on the Minneapolis isn’t dangerous, but surfacing from it could be. Located just 500 feet from one of the Mackinac bridge main towers (if you’ve ever been to this area I’m guessing you noticed the bridge, it is not very subtle) places this site very close to the exceptionally busy shipping channel. In the summer of 2008 a group of divers completed their dive on the nearby William Young, found the mooring line was gone were forced to accept that their charter boat had broken free of the site and was carried away. Doing a drifting free-ascent so close to a major shipping lane is not good for your health. Fortunately the group survived the rather frightening event, and were waved at many times by passing ferryboat passengers who mistook their `diver in distress at the surface“ signal as a friendly greeting, before finally being picked up by the US Coast Guard. That’s the long way of saying diving this site needs an extra level of caution.
The Minneapolis is yet another of those ships who were trying to stretch the short shipping (ie. money making) season by getting onto the lake early, and were escorted to the bottom by some over-sized ice cubes which weren’t willing to melt just yet. If you’ve seen that little movie “Titanic“ you likely get the general idea. She did not have to look too far back in history for evidence this wasn’t one of the world’s safest ideas, the Barnum tangoed with a ice-dance partner just the day before, and lost.
Her bow is essentially broken off, perhaps damaged initially by the ice then customized more when she was introduced to the lake bottom. Otherwise, the wreck is in quite good shape for her age with the highlights being the prop, winches, rudder+steering gear on the bottom, boilers and perforated fantail.
Imagine the surprise of the guy operating the side scan sonar: he was searching for a woman who supposedly jumped off a bridge and instead all he found was a ship that hadn’t been seen in a century (there’s a chance the woman didn’t jump at all, so it was a win-win for everyone).
The Young was found only recently, and is in pretty good shape. The wheel, anchor (coulda been more than one, hard to tell), bow chains, capstan and miscellaneous deck machinery, combined with a hold partially full of what looked like coal, made for a pretty interesting dive.
The Sandusky is one of the most well-known wrecks in the Mackinac area. It was the subject of a great deal of attention when it was discovered someone had made an attempt to steal the figurehead located just beneath the bowsprit, damaging it in the process. Since this is a protected area where laws prohibit the removal of artifacts, people were appalled. The figurehead is now on display in a museum, and divers crafted a high-quality replica and placed it on the wreck.
At only 110-feet long the Sandusky is quite small and easy to see on one dive. The figurehead, anchor, rudder, pumps, tiller arm, stove, winch, and bowsprit complete with chains are the key items to see.
During the first few dives we did in the Straits of Mackinac I failed to see what all the hype was about. Quite frankly, I was a little disappointed. All that changed when I saw the Eber Ward. We could have spent the entire three day trip on just this wreck and I would not have been disappointed.
The Eber Ward sunk after encountering packs of ice on its first journey of the season of 1909, leaving a hole in the bow large enough to swim through. There are entrances at the stern as well, and once inside you can swim from one end to the other entirely inside on not one but TWO decks. The upper one is the more interesting, with rows of hand carts towards the bow, and well-preserved loading gear hanging under every cargo hatch.
Two large, hinged anchors are still inside the bow, and another rests just below on the lake bottom. One of the strangest items to find was a capstan inside the wreck.
The not-to-be-missed items on this wreck include the prop, bathtub, prop, and ultra-rare mushroom anchor which is still in place in the hawse pipe on the port side of the bow. If you choose to enter this wreck please take extra caution as the silt is very fine and a kick or two in the wrong direction will reduce visibility to near zero in seconds.
Straits of Mackinaw
When a boat captain you don’t know tells you, "This is the best wreck we have around here," you listen, but there’s always that level of skepticism. What is he comparing it to? If all the other wrecks suck, perhaps this one sucks just fraction less boisterously. But we’d just been diving wrecks in the Straits of Mackinaw for the past two days and seen how good a few of them were, so this one had the potential to be something special. And it was. In spades.
All I know is, I now have a new favourite wreck.
The Newell-Eddy is a 242′ long schooner-barge which sunk when it was just three years old, but that was over a century ago. Sure, the Great Lakes with cold water and lack of wood-boring parasites does wonders for preserving wrecks, but I’d seen a couple and figured I had a decent frame of reference for what it might look like. I was wrong. All three masts are still standing, all have fife rails, and one has remnants of the crows nest . The jib-boom is still largely in tact, as are the boiler, pumps, anchor, and it has more rigging than any wreck I’ve ever had the honour of seeing. Incredibly, the two forward masts still have the yardarm attached (spectacular) and several mast hoops (spectacular +++), which were used to attach the sails. One thing you have to remember is that the Straits do not currently have the level of zebra mussel infestation which coats the bottom of Lakes Ontario and Erie so well, so we were actually seeing WOOD.
The Eddy was found entirely by accident as students onboard a research vessel were being shown how the side scan sonar works - evidently it works pretty darn well. Once found, it was likely one of the easiest wrecks of all time to identify: her name is easily read across the top of the forward capstan.
Due to environmental factors in the area the visibility reportedly never exceeds 15′, which means the wreck is unveiled only a small part at a time - think of the blanket being slowly pulled back from the naked figure of (insert the name of someone you lust after here) and you get the idea.
No wheel is visible on the top deck, but there is reportedly an emergency wheel located in the engine room. Guess what I wanna see on my next dive there?
1927 A.F. Harvey
Stern on side
Bow almost inverted
This is not your average wreck, unless you have a 600-foot long freighter in your backyard.
The Cedarville was struck in dense fog by the Norwegian freighter Topdalsfjord, and snapped nearly in half, likely as she impacted the bottom since the two halves lie so close together. Being so long, don’t expect to cover the entire wreck (without a scooter).
This wreck does not suffer from a lack of things to see. Unfortunately the introduction of zebra mussels is making some items harder to identify, but some are so large it doesn’t matter.
It is quite easy to swim through the break between the bow and stern sections, and damage is everywhere. Due to its size and complexity inside, the Cedarville has been the unfortunate site of numerous dive accidents and close calls. On the morning of our first visit in 2003 a diver in his 50’s failed to return to the surface, and in 2000 a diver ventured inside, got well lost and was lucky to flag down another diver by waving his arm out a small port hole which began a lengthy rescue process.
According to our boat captain, due to the length and depth of this wreck it is common for divers to surface on the wrong line, and a number have had to make emergency free ascents after running low on gas so exercise caution.
This is without a doubt, one of the most famous wrecks in the Great Lakes, and deservedly so. Many areas look to be entirely in tact, and even the "open hearth" limestone which spilled out of the cargo holds adds interest to the site. Penetration of the cargo holds is quite easy since they are so massive but are the definition of "dark". The engine room is accessible but should only be attempted by those properly trained as visibility can drop to zero with just a couple of errant fin kicks and some areas are quite tight.
There is an "M" just under the smokestack, and previously in this space I asked if anyone knew what it would stand for (see top left photo below). Turns out, although it is not entirely apparent in the photo, there is an "L" behind the "M", and I’m told by a kind and knowledgeable soul that together they stand for "Michigan Lime". Many thanks, I am entirely grateful.
Oh the inhumanity of it. Someone caught an entire string of fish and then took them to the wreck and tied them to the bow where they have petrified and turned to wood (unlike most things which turn to stone when petrified). It’s quite a humorous touch to what is an otherwise moderately average wreck.
While not one of the top three wrecks in the Mackinac Preserve, the William H. Barnum is still worth a look. At 72′ deep and 218-feet long, the Barnum gives you a decent amount of bottom time to discover what’s left of her, including a largely intact bow section. The same cannot be said of the stern which was blasted to bits during salvage efforts (they evidently wanted the rudder, and didn’t care much about the rest).
The boiler is a considerable size, but the most fun will be had going inside the bow (if properly trained and comfortable doing such silly things).