LANSING, Mich. (AP)
- In the warm, salty waters of the Caribbean, people take quick courses to
learn to dive so they can investigate coral reefs and see colorful fish.
It’s a jaunt, a
Great Lakes divers
are a whole different breed.
Cold waters mean
better breathing apparatuses and wet suits or dry suits to stay warm.
You might see some
whitefish or trout, but nothing to rival the saltwater clownfish or angel
Diving the Great
Lakes is mostly about one thing: the shipwrecks. And June through early
September is prime diving time, according to the Lansing State Journal.
“There are wrecks
that are over 150 years old,” said Amber Iszler, who is a certified diver
and manager of Capital City Scuba in Lansing. “There are shipwrecks with
masts still standing or an old knee-high boot on the deck or whiskey jugs.
Some of them have whiskey barrels.”
Jan Underhill, who
dived her first shipwreck in Lake Superior’s Whitefish Bay 28 years ago,
“I was a nervous
swimmer to start with,” she said, admitting that she followed her husband,
Bob, into diving. But the chance to see history preserved on the floor of
the lake was enough to help her overcome her fear.
“It’s like time
travel,” she said. “It’s worth getting down there.”
The Underhills run
their own communications firm and sell photos and posters of images Bob has
taken underwater on Michigan wrecks.
Lakes water include a dozen preserves where shipwrecks have been identified.
A 1980 laws makes it a felony to remove artifacts from any Great Lakes wreck
in Michigan, whether it’s in a preserve or not.
The preserves hug
the Lake Michigan, Lake Superior and Lake Huron coasts, where ship travel
has been steady for more than 300 years.
The Thunder Bay
National Marine Sanctuary in Lake Huron off the coast of Alpena contains 50
documented shipwrecks within its 448 square miles and another 30 nearby; 200
wrecks are known to have taken place in the area.
In Lake Michigan,
the Grand Traverse Bay Great Lakes State Bottomland Preserve covers 295
square miles and several known shipwrecks, including two wooden schooners,
two modern sailboats, commercial fishing boats and a tugboat dating to 1906.
And then there is
Whitefish Point. It offers deep-diving experience on Lake Superior on many
wrecks within a 376-square-mile area.
Divers like its
visibility, which is usually 30 to 50 feet, and the fact that Lake
Superior’s clear cold waters have left the wrecks pristine.
They include the
schooner Niagara, wooden barges and modern lake freighters. Some dives are
deep and technical; others are good for beginners. Those include the Miztec
and Myron, both in 45 feet of water.
spent many summers diving in Whitefish Bay and photographing shipwrecks
there. Jan Underhill’s first dive was to investigate the steamer Sagamore,
in about 70 feet of water.
“That’s what kind
of hooked me,” she said. “It was just stunning to get down into that world.”
More recently, she
and her husband were able to dive out in Lake Michigan to investigate the
remains of the Thomas Hume, a Muskegon-based ship that sank on the way to
Chicago in about 150 feet of water.
Such deep water
dives are not for beginners, however.
Underhill said even
people who have been certified at a warm-water resort in the Caribbean or
elsewhere should take a class in Michigan to make sure they’re aware of
issues diving in cold, fresh water.
At Capital City
Scuba, beginners can take an 18-hour diving class that ends with an
open-water dive; they can choose from weekend trips including dives near
Alpena, Whitefish Point, the Straits of Mackinac and Port Sanilac in the
Thumb. Trips include underwater sessions for advanced as well as novice and
invest in a mask and snorkel; people also can rent equipment, Iszler said.
She said many find
it to be worth the plunge.
“It’s this whole
underwater world that you can explore, that you never really even knew was
there,” she said.