I’ve just returned from my first wreck diving trip of the Great Lakes season. It was a fantastic trip spanning five days, six wrecks and two different locations on Lake Huron.
Harbor Beach, Michigan
We began the trip with a weekend in Harbor Beach, located in Michigan’s thumb area. We dove the S.S. Detroit and the Charles A. King.
Our first dive was on the sidewheel steamer Detroit. The Detroit sank after colliding with the bark Nucleus in 1854. She’s only 157′ long, so it’s easy to explore the wreck pretty thoroughly in a dive. The intact paddle wheels are definitely the highlight of this wreck. The cabins and superstructure are gone, leaving the steam engine out in the open for easy inspection. Swimming forward, you will see the smokestack lying on the bottom off the starboard side. The anchors are still neatly stowed at the bow. Many of the wrecks we visit in the Great Lakes are sailing vessels or propellors. The Detroit offers us the unique opportunity to see an old paddle wheeler in an excellent state of preservation.
Charles A. King
Our next dive was on the schooner Charles A King. The King is a two masted schooner only 140′ long. She is intact at the bow but broken up at the stern. She probably sank stern first and smashed into the bottom. The forward mast is still standing.
Dropping down the mooring line, we encountered the top of the foremast at about 130′. From there it was another 70′ down to the deck, which is at about 195′. The forward part of the wreck is the most intact. The anchors are still on the bow, as is the windlass. The King was a canal schooner, so her bowspirit was made to fold back onto her deck to fit through the locks. As she sits today, the bowspirit is indeed folded back.
Moving towards the stern, we find deadeyes, lots of steel wire rigging, the capstan and other artifacts. The stern is broken and the transom has collapsed. This damage undoubtedly caused by sinking stern first. The ship’s wheel is still there and easily recognizable despite its coating of zebra mussels.
Presque Isle, Michigan
After diving the King on Sunday, we packed the trailer and headed north to Presque Isle, Mi. We met Brian Anderson of Blackdog Charters Monday morning and headed out onto Lake Huron.
Our first dive was on the Kyle Spangler. The Presque Isle area is known for its number of intact wooden shipwrecks and the Spangler is a perfect example. It’s a 130′ long two masted schooner. She rests in 180′ of water with a slight list to starboard. Both masts are still standing. The only damage to the wreck is at the bow, where she collided with the Racine. Perhaps the most stunning view of the ship is from the stern, looking past the ship’s wheel up past the masts.
Our next dive was on the Norman. The Norman is somewhat of an anomaly in Presque Isle. She’s a steel steamer amongst a collection of wooden sailing ships. She’s a big wreck, about 300′ long, which makes it impossible to really get to know her in a single dive. She collided with another steamer, the Jack, on May 30, 1895, and sank. She’s broken just forward of the boiler room and lists to port. There is a lot to see on this huge wreck. You can start at the propeller at the stern, move forward to the exposed engine, the aft cabin area, the cargo holds, all the way to the bow. Don’t forget to explore the debris field next to the wreck. Lots of intriguing things slid off the wreck to come to rest on the bottom, including the pilothouse.
The following day was our best weather day of the trip. It was flat calm with sunny blue skies. We made our final two dives of the trip. We dove the S.S. Florida and the Cornelia B. Windiate.
The Florida is a big wooden steamer, nearly intact. The visibility at the wreck was outstanding. If I put a number to it, you probably wouldn’t believe me. The Florida is a lot of fun to dive and so big you can barely cover her in one dive. I have been visiting the Florida for nearly 20 years and still find new, amazing things to see. We saw the forward capstan cover on which you can still read the engraved name. You can also dip down into the holds and view a time capsule of bygone days: barrels of flour and other bulk goods, rusted together cans of something, stacks of pots, pans, coffee pots and all manner of other goods. The rear of the wreck is broken, allowing easy access to the engine, where you can still see the gauge panel.
Cornelia B. Windiate
Our last dive was the Cornelia B. Windiate, a beautifully intact schooner sitting upright on the bottom in about 175′. The Windiate is not your run of the mill schooner; she seems to have been built with the graceful lines of a pleasure yacht rather than the utilitarian look of a cargo ship. Outstanding features of this wreck are the forward mast (still standing), the wheel and the yawl boat. Another unique feature of the wreck is its overall condition. She seems to have been carefully placed on the lake bottom. There is no obvious damage to her. The aft cabin and cargo hatches are still in place. These are usually the first things to get blown off by escaping air as the ship sinks. These clues tell us that she sank very slowly.
In fact, the sinking of the Windiate remains a mystery. She was thought to have sunk in Lake Michigan in 1895 during a storm. No one knew that she made it through the Straits of Mackinac and into Lake Huron until she was discovered in 1986. The cause of her sinking remains a mystery and no sign of her crew has ever been found.
Lake Huron is a treasure trove for wreck divers. This was a really terrific trip, allowing me to dive my two favorite areas of Lake Huron. Harbor Beach is like my second home. I dive there at least three weekends per summer and the wrecks there are fabulous. Presque Isle has more outstanding wrecks per square mile than anywhere in the Great Lakes (especially wooden schooners) and should be on any wreck divers “Must Dive” list. Thanks to Rec and Tec Dive Charters, Blackdog Charters, Shipwreck Adventures, Motel Huron, and Grand Lake Resort. Thank you as well to my dive buddies who made this trip an unqualified success. And of course, if you are interested in exploring Great Lakes wrecks and technical diving courses, contact me at rick@GreatLakesTechDiving.com.