Presque Isle 2010

Wow. I just got back from 4 days of diving at Presque Isle, MI and it seems to have gone by in the blink of an eye. The 2010 dive season continues to be one of the best in recent memory. We’ve had excellent weather all summer with no dives canceled due to bad weather.

Presque Isle is a small community situated between Alpena and Rogers City, MI, on the shores of Lake Huron. Our group consisted of five divers (Mike, Marshall, Renee, Eric and yours truly), my wife and daughter. Once again this year we chartered with Greg Such (www.shipwreckadventures.com). Greg’s an easygoing guy who works hard to make sure you get quality dives every day. The weather and sea conditions were pretty consistent all 4 days: partly cloudy, mid to upper 70’s (F) with no wind. Waves were 2 feet or less with most of the days in the “or less” category. Water temperature was the usual 40-ish degrees on the bottom and 65 degrees at the surface.

Our first dive was on the S.S. Florida. She’s a big wooden steamer, nearly intact. The surface water was crystal clear, but as we descended, the water got cloudier and greener. Just as I was resigning myself to a dive in mediocre visibility, the water magically cleared and the entire wreck came into view some 70′ below me. We found the same visibility pattern on the rest of the wrecks as well; clear at the surface, clear at the bottom, and a cloudy layer from about 50′ to 130′. The visibility at the wreck was outstanding. If I put a number to it, you probably wouldn’t believe me, but it was greater than 50′. The Florida is a lot of fun to dive and so big you can barely cover her in one dive. We saw the forward capstan cover on which you can still read the engraved name even though time is finally catching up and has deteriorated this great artifact. 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. Overall, it was an amazing first dive.

The second day we dove 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 than a working 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 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.

Our next dive was on the Typo, a new wreck for us. The Typo is, can anyone guess? …… anyone?…..anyone?……Bueller?…… a wooden schooner. Do you see a pattern developing? Many of the wrecks around Presque Isle date back to the golden age of Great Lakes shipping, when thousands of vessels plied the waters of the lakes. I think the most impressive part of the Typo has to be her bow, which is perfectly intact and undamaged from sinking. To swim beyond the tip of her bowspirit and look back at the ship is awe-inspiring. Looking down the bowspirit, you see chains hanging, the anchors perched on the bow, the graceful curve of the hull. I’m not sure why we never made a point of getting to the Typo before, but we will certainly dive her again when we return.

The weather deity granted us almost flat calm seas the first three days of our trip. When we arrived at the marina on our fourth and final day, the flag was flopping around in a light breeze. Certainly not bad enough to cancel the dive, but we had gotten spoiled the first few days. The lake was giving us two foot swells to deal with, not bad, but enough to be annoying. We had saved the Kyle Spangler for our last dive. The Spangler is the closest wreck to shore, so it’s a quick trip out and back allowing us to get on the road home by lunch time. Because she’s a little closer to shore, she’s also less affected by wind than sites further out. I’m doing the Spangler a disservice by painting her as the “consolation prize,” a wreck you dive when nothing else is possible. She may well be the best wreck we dove. You may be expecting me to say that she’s a nearly intact, wooden schooner. But no, something new and different here! She’s a wooden brig! Most sailing ships on the Great Lakes were in fact three masted schooners. Less common were two masted brigs. Presque Isle actually has wrecks of two brigs: the Spangler and the Audubon. The Spangler sits with a slight starboard list on the bottom of Lake Huron in about 170′ of water. Both masts are still standing, the wheel stands ready for the next helmsman to take over. The name board is still legible on her port side, kept clear of zebra mussels by visiting divers. The Spangler was an excellent last dive of the trip and I remember ascending the mooring line looking down at her, watching her fade into the haze as I ascended.

And so, another successful trip goes into the logbook. Four days, four dives. You can’t hope for more than that.