I love the Straits. It’s always a great trip. The dives are not deep, but they are loads of fun. I always schedule this trip early in the summer so it serves as a warm up (pun intended) for deeper dives later in the season. You can do all sorts of things after the diving is done. Some divers bring their families along and enjoy a trip to Mackinac Island, Old Mackinac Lighthouse or even the magical Mystery Spot. This year we visited five wrecks: Cedarville, Barnum, Dolphin, Eber Ward and Minneapolis.
The Cedarville is a 600 foot steel freighter that sand in 1965 after a collision with the Norwegian vessel Topdalsfjord. She lies on her starboard side in 40′-100′ of water. As you can see from Bob McGreevy’s excellent artwork, she is broken amidships with her forward half twisted more towards the bottom. She is so big, there is no way to cover the wreck in one dive. There are usually several moorings on the wreck and it’s not unusual to dive one end of the wreck on one dive, move the boat to another mooring, and do a second dive on the other end of the wreck. The Cedarville is one of the largest and most recent wrecks in the Great Lakes.
Ice is a common cause of sinking in the Straits. Vessels that started early in spring ran the very real risk of being cut by ice floes clogging the narrow straits. Such was the case for the William H. Barnum. The Barnum was a 200′ wooden steamer that left Chicago on April Fool’s Day 1894 bound for Port Huron, MI with a load of corn. She was damaged by ice while trying to navigate through the straits and sank on April 3, 1894. Her crew was taken off by the tug Crusader before she went down. She lies, fairly intact, in 75′ of water.
The schooner Dolphin is the most recent discovery (or rediscovery) in the Straits of Mackinac. Ken Merryman located her in 2021 and she has just recently been opened to diving. She is truly a gem. The Dolphin is the most intact schooner in the preserve and rivals the famed schooners of Presque Isle. And best of all, she lies in only 110′ of water. She was lost July 6, 1869 after colliding with the Badger State. Her aft cabin is intact. The wheel is still in place. Her deck and hatch covers are undisturbed. Her masts are down and lying across the deck. The forward mast toppled forward off the bow. If you follow it from the wreck out to the end, you will be rewarded with a close up view of the crosstrees (sort of a crow’s nest). This is truly a beautiful dive.
The Eber Ward is another vessel lost to the ice. She enroute from Milwaukee, WI to Port Huron, MI when her hull was cut by ice and she sank on April 20, 1909. She’s a wooden steamer just over 200′ long. She lies mostly intact, upright in 140′ of water. Her hull and decks are intact, but the cabins were swept away. You can clearly see the ice damage on her bow.
Our last dive was on the Minneapolis, another ship that was holed by ice. In fact, she sank the day after the William H. Barnum. Like the Barnum, the Minneapolis left Chicago on April Fools Day 1894. She also encountered ice in the straits. Her hull was cut open and she sank April 4, 1894. She is a wooden steamer a little over 200′ long. She was carrying wheat bound for Buffalo, NY. The Minneapolis is an exciting dive. She is located just a few hundred feet from the main south tower of the Mackinac Bridge. Being that close to the massive tower footing is pretty awe-inspiring. Since she sank in the narrowest part of the straits, there is often a wicked current flowing over the wreck. Luckily the current was down the day we visited. Her hull is mostly intact, but the decks are collapsed, which allows an easy view of the boiler and engine. The propellor is easy to see at the stern and the bow, while split open, is still very pretty.
Visiting the Straits of Mackinac is a blast. There is so much to see and do, including wreck diving. If you haven’t been yet, then you really need to make plans. If you’ve already visited the wrecks there, then you don’t need me to tell you that you should go back. Keep an eye on my website or drop me a note if you would like to join future trips.