The Eastcliffe Hall is potentially one of the most advanced 60-foot deep wrecks in the Great Lakes for two connected reasons: there’s a constant current, and if you should happen to get blown off the wreck it will rapidly carry you into the shipping channel which can really ruin your day.
This steel four-hold freighter was carrying a cargo of pig iron when it hit a shoal and then a rather solid concrete buoy before filling with water and making the trip to the bottom. Due to the shallow depth explosives were used to reduce the height of the superstructure to prevent it from becoming a navigation hazard, but luckily most of the structure fell inside the wreck and is still there to be examined, including the now upside-down bridge.
The wreck is pointed into the current, and swimming inside the connected holds provides an escape from the flow. Once reaching the bow it’s necessary to head up to the deck where you can find the winch and memorial plaque. Salvage efforts have removed many items from the ship including her two propellers. One thing they could not take away was the ship’s name which can still be clearly seen in white letter several feet down from the deck about 10′ back from the bow.
The Eastcliffe Hall is a great dive, much different from most of the wooden schooners and paddle-wheelers that people tend to dive quite often in the eastern Great Lakes region. The only charter operator I know of who runs to this site just outside of the Crysler Marina near Cornwall can be found at www.depthchargediving.ca
What do you think the weirdest thing to dive in Southern Ontario would be? My guess would be it’s the remnants of Ontario’s version of the lost city of Atlantis, called Mille Roche (which means Thousand Rocks for those as challenged in the French language as myself). Mille Roche, which is near what’s now known as Cornwall, was flooded during the construction of the massive Canada/US hydro electric dam nearby.
A weir, lock system, building foundations, and perhaps the most interesting thing of all, the remains of a century old power station can be found alongside roads that end by going into the water. The roof and walls were removed before the flooding occurred, but the foundation, water inlets, turbines, and water gate raising mechanisms are all still in place.
We experienced current which was substantial on the ascent and descent, but only moderate on the bottom. Visibility was approximately 15′ which is reportedly average for the area. The dive occurs at three depths: the intake gate opening/closing mechanisms are at 35′, what was formerly the floor of the power station is at 56′ and the water outlets are at 76′. It is possible to enter through the large round "manhole covers" on the top level and see the power generating turbines but this is only for the properly trained as the confines are tight, dark and easily silted out. This site has excellent diagrams of the site before and after the flooding: SOS Wrecks - Mille Roche
Sdie Trip Summary
Brockville, between Rockport Ontario, and Alexandria Bay, New York
The story is a tragic tale of love and loss. In 1900 the proprietor of New York’s opulent Waldorf Astoria Hotel, George Boldt, started building a castle for his wife, the love of his life, Louise. The Boldt’s and their children spent four summers living in the Alster Tower, one of the first buildings to be completed as workers continued their efforts on the 120 room monument of love which included a power generating station, drawbridge, playhouse, clock tower, Italian garden, elevator, gazebo, bowling alley, billiard room, hennery, underground tunnels and the best of everything money could buy.
Then in 1904 Louise passed away suddenly and George sent a telegram that all construction was to stop immediately. The 300 workers put down their tools and the unfinished structures commenced 73 years of deterioration. Roofs collapsed, walls crumbled, and vandals helped speed the decay to the point it was about to be condemned for being too dangerous even though it was unoccupied. In 1977 the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority purchased the property from the US government for $1 and set about investing many millions in restoration efforts that will continue for years to come.
It’s hard to imagine the destruction when you enter the first floor. Perfect walls, immaculate flooring, pristine woodwork and gleaming brass are everywhere. It’s only once you reach the upper levels of the six storey castle where they have preserved what some of the rooms were like before restoration began, with large photos showing how close it was to all being demolished.
If you’re a diver and you have visited the wrecks around Rockport then you’re already very familiar with Boldt Castle since this is where the boats come to have passengers clear customs during the summer in the post-9-11 era.
A number of ferry boats do nothing but take people across to the castle, which was originally designed as a summer home. Be warned, this place is to “summer homes” what climbing Mount Everest is to “casual Sunday walks”. It’s gorgeous, huge, and totally unfair unless you have a couple of your own collecting dust somewhere just as nice. Built on five acre Heart Island, hearts abound throughout the structure from outdoor planters to wrought iron and masonry work. Across a short stretch of river is the boat house located on Wellesley Island, designed to hold three yachts including tall masted sailing vessels based on the size of the doors. The largest of the slips is 128’ long and 64’ tall.
The castle has been visited by over five million guests since being taken over by the Thousand Islands Bridge Authority, including 750 weddings, and is well worth your visit during their open season from May through October. More information can be found at their gorgeous website.
Upright and broken up
Frightening. Scary. Intimidating. Dangerous. Daunting. Terrifying. The wreck of the Muskallonge, named after the most fearsome freshwater fish of all time, is none of these things.
The "Muskie" is broken up, laid open and a piece of cake to dive, aside from the occasional piece of seaweed that could float down the river, attack you and attach itself to your mask causing… aw heck, just can’t seem to make this wreck exciting no matter how hard I try. This is a nice, simple, easy dive, good for many skill levels. Early in the spring the current can pick up a considerably but for the majority of the summer this is a pretty decent second dive, easy to see the entire thing within the confines of a bottom time reduced from previous nitrogen loading.
When the visibility is less than ideal you can reach the mooring block and be looking at a great deal lot of nothing. Let the current carry you a little and you’ll soon get hit by the bow which is slowly trying to lie flat on the bottom. Her boiler, winch and engine are still there, along with a few million abandoned periwinkle shells (I don’t believe they were cargo, this just appears to be where old periwinkles go to… not be periwinkles anymore).
The little tug, originally name the Vigilant, had a boat in tow but decided to object to having to go to Toronto by catching fire. The captain’s efforts to save his vessel by running it aground succeeded in breaking the ship in half, causing it to sink in deeper water - if they’d had the show "America’s Funniest Home Videos" back then, that effort might have won him a prize.
The Lillie Parsons is one of those medium wrecks that is nice to do once or twice and then is easily forgotten in the depths of your log book. Being upside-down there is not an incredible amount to see, but the dive itself is more than just that.
It is possible to penetrate at the stern, amble over the load of coal she was carrying and take a look around but there is not much inside to keep your interest aside from the occasional eel - if you don’t like eels don’t say I didn’t warn ya (on one dive the guy ahead of me turned and swam out so fast I thought his butt was on fire, turns out he has a thing about eels). Warnings abound from many sources that penetration on this wreck is not recommended and it could slip down the wall at any time although the current is effectively pinning it to the rock ledge. Exercise caution. There isn’t much to see inside other than the bottom of the overturned hull and a mound of coal anyway.
The Lillie generally features plenty of current, and access is usually obtained by one of two ways. The first entails docking your boat, hiking across tiny Sparrow Island and going hand-over-hand down the chain which starts on shore and leads to the wreck. Be prepared to use two hands to get down the chain, particularly the first 30′ as the current is stronger to wards the surface. Or, your boat can drop you slightly up river and you can drift into the wreck by following the contour of the island at around 50′.
If you drift into the wreck too shallow you will encounter the sizeable anchor chain and all will be well, but if you’re too deep you’ll encounter a fair bit of nothing unless to drift all the way down to the wreck of the King (which some people do on purpose) but it starts at around 140′, with the maximum depth of around 230′ - the King blew up when lightning struck the large quantity of dynamite on board which was being used for deepening/widening the shipping channel, so the King is mostly found in little pieces.
On the Lillie, aside from the overturned hull there’s the… hull. It’s mostly a hull. Did I mention that it’s pretty much just a hull? If I were writing a tourist brochure about the wreck I’d be sure to mention the masts (one it is lying on top of and the other is in deeper water towards the stern), the chain which has been located on the shore-ward side of the wreck to make it easier to swim up current and helps preserve the wreck by eliminating the need to pull on the wreck (hard to do since it’s mostly a hull). If you attempt to pull yourself along the rocks which litter the bottom you’ll find they’re fake and nearly weightless - ok, they’re not fake, they’re the Lillie’s cargo of coal, but they will provide a good laugh if you catch someone trying it. There is also a large tray of genuine artifacts mounted to the port side which is neat to poke around in and a true testament to how much divers in the area are committed to ensuring these wrecks are for appreciating, not stripping.
When you’re done playing with the "rocks" and have seen all there is to see of the stunning hull and you want to end your dive all you have to do is stop - unless you’re inside the wreck the current will carry you along and several minutes later you’ll fly across a rope to follow up to the lee side of the island where your dive boat will (hopefully) be waiting for you. Getting blown past the rope is not recommended since the active shipping channel is very close and unless you wanna be freighter-bait it is not recommended to pop up in the middle of it.
The Lillie does make for a very interesting night dive (the best time for eels). A light should be brought along at any time of day in order to look around inside but don’t expect to see much, it’s mostly to keep from bumping your head or scaring the eels away.
Brockville or Rockport, Ontario
Upright listing to starboard, down a slope
The Jodrey is THE technical-level wreck in Southern Ontario. It attracts divers from all over, and for good reason: there are few places in the world where you can dive a modern freighter over 600′ long. To put that length into perspective, it is over two and a half times longer than the Keystorm, Rockport’s other great freighter dive.
Similar to the Keystorm it lies down a steep slope, starting at 140′ and going down to 235′ at the break where it starts to get shallower. Due to the depth and darkness it’s a hard wreck to get a read on, allowing you to only see as much of her as your light can illuminate (unless the visibility is particularly good).
The pilothouse on this style of freighter is towards the bow which means some of the most interesting parts of the wreck are also the shallowest part of the forward section. Going deeper you will find the iron ore loading mechanism and cargo holds. As if the wreck and location did not present enough challenges, divers have strewn it with lines, perhaps in an effort to aid their navigation (which does not seem necessary at all). Great care should be taken to avoid these lines, and if the line seems to move by its own accord, it might be one of the resident eels.
The only lines that are actually useful are the two that run from the shore to the stern of the wreck. It is possible to get dropped in downstream of the Coast Guard station and find the lines which start at 30′ and end at the port rail just forward of the stern at 130′. Following the lines can be a bit of a challenge as the current can be ripping, forcing you to go hand over hand for some of the trip to the wreck which takes between seven to ten minutes depending on the flow. Or, you can swim down the wreck, letting the current carry you to the stern, and then exit via a stern line. For some divers the stern is more interesting than the bow, and I would have to agree. The prop, rudder, anchor, funnel, radio tower, and rear cabins make for some interesting pokin’ around with plenty of damage evident.
For those who are really up for a challenge when diving the bow try to find the chain locker and take a look inside there, tight squeeze but a pretty darn interesting place.
Half upright listing to starboard, half upside down
For a ship that was only about 150′ long the Oconto managed to find a rather creative way to scatter itself across the bottom of the St. Lawrence Seaway, with some of it right side up some upside down (potentially due to two failed salvage attempts, and two slides into deeper water).
Lying in 180′ of water where there is perpetual current, this is not a particularly easy dive, but well worth it for those properly trained. Large sections of rail are still in tact, and other items of interest include the two precariously tangled anchors at the bow, boiler, one remaining blade of the prop (evidence of the collision), and a sizeable portion of overturned hull that can be entered.
There’s also a small rowboat which is wedged between the two main hull sections. Since it’s made of metal with an aluminum gunwale I can’t see how it could be original from the Oconto. This could be part of the source for the belief of some people that there are actually the remains of two wrecks here. My guess is this little boat sank up river and was carried by the current until it found somewhere to rest… but it’s at 180′, it was likely narced out of its little mind and didn’t know where it was. It kinda reminds me of some divers I’ve seen on this wreck.
Alexandria Bay, New York
Upright on starboard side
The Islander is the kind of wreck most people will do once and consider that enough - typical of most ships that burned before sinking. There is nothing truly spectacular here but it could be worth seeing once.
A 60′ section of the bow and mid-section remains, containing the engine and some frames, but little else. Divers have collected much of the broken pottery, plates, bottles and shoes that remain, and created a pile on the starboard side towards the back of what remains.
The number of decent shore dives in Southern Ontario is very small, and people are always asking about a cheap alternative to renting a boat. Well, here ya go.
Just off the shore in Rockport, in front of the Boathouse Restaurant and hotel, is a site that just about anyone can do. There are the remains of an old wreck called the Sophia, a rowboat, ladder, propeller, what could be a barge, miscellaneous bottles and even a kettle.
If you are really adventurous you can make the swim to the Kinghorn from this location, but it is a lengthy swim from shore and there can be a slight current.
Brockville or Prescott, Ontario
Sunk in a collision, dynamited for practice, and in a current at shallow depth for more than a century, you’d expect that there would be little left of such a wreck. But the Rothesay believes differently. Once called the "Greyhound of the St. Lawrence" for her speed and graceful lines, the paddle-wheel steamer still makes for a nice dive, which can have some current to contend with.
The signature item of this wreck could be the sizeable twin boilers but is likely the remains of the two paddle wheels (see upper left photo). Just forward of the wheels the wreck has been flattened by explosives, and there is considerable damage to the lower stern (from the collision) and the lower portion of the bow which allows you to look up through the structure of the ship.
After colliding with a tug (which also sank) and her barge which did damage to two separate areas, it was believed the Rothesay could be raised and repaired, but high wind and waves tore the ship apart within days.
If you’re up for a challenge, see if you can find the information plaque on the wreck, which is visible in one of the photos on this page. Save Ontario Shipwrecks has produced a diagram of the site which can be seen at http://www.saveontarioshipwrecks.on.ca/Diverguides/dguide5.html - while it may appear from the drawing that the paddlewheels are still upright, that is not the case. A buoy and a line from shore make the wreck easy to find.