Chesterton Tribune



Shipwrecks lure divers to Great Lakes

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Lansing State Journal

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 lark.

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 fish.

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, agreed.

“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.

Michigan’s Great 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.

The Underhills 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 intermediate divers.

Most beginners 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.



Posted 7/14/2014