Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve
The Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve extends along the western shore of Michigan from just north of Holland to near the Indiana border. This area has a rich maritime history. It has few natural harbors so river mouths were often dredged to provide anchorage for ships. South Haven, St. Joseph/Benton Harbor, and Saugatuck are among the shoreline communities that trace their maritime origins to the rivers that pass through them.
Ships transiting southern Lake Michigan often fell victim to sudden storms and winter weather before they could reach safety. A wide variety of ships have been lost in the waters of the Preserve and adjacent to it. Included among them are lumber hookers, schooners, steam freighters and even recreational craft. Many lost ships remain to be found in the region.
Among the best shipwreck dives in or near the Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve are:
Rockaway. The 106 foot long lumber schooner Rockaway was lost in a storm off South Haven on November 19, 1891 while sailing from Ludington to Benton Harbor. The wreck site has been the subject of several archeology studies and very good drawings of her remains exist. She now sits in 70 feet of water.
Verano. Commercial vessels are not all that have been lost in and around the Preserve. On August 28, 1946 the Verano, a 92' yacht built in 1925, foundered in heavy seas on her way to Holland, Michigan for an overhaul and repainting. Her broken remains now lie off South Haven in about 55 feet of water. Chief among these remains are two large engines and dashboard with the keys still in the ignition switch.
Havana. A 135 foot schooner, the Havana was lost on October 3, 1887. After encountering heavy seas, she sank slowly and settled into 50 feet of water. The Havana has broken apart leaving many construction details exposed. The hull, keelson, centerboard, hanging knees and more can be observed by divers.
"Crane and Barge". Recently relocated and with new, accurate GPS coordinates, the crane is all that remains of a crane and wooden barge that sank in the 1980s in about 50 feet of water. The Crane and Barge was under tow after delivering a load of steel to Benton Harbor and enroute to Grand Haven when she filled with water, foundered and sank. The crane's boom struck the bottom and is bent at a sharp angle lying on the bottom. Many gobies and small fish now inhabit the machinery and works of this site.
H. C. Akeley. The 230 foot wooden steamer, the H.C. Akeley was built in 1881. She sank on November 13, 1883 while transporting 54,000 bushels of corn from Chicago to Buffalo, New York. Caught in a severe gale, she was disabled, drifted and eventually sank in 240 feet of water off South Haven. Caution is in order when diving the Akeley. Due to the depth of this shipwreck, this is a highly technical dive. Only properly trained and experienced divers should attempt to dive this site.
The Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve Committee buoys the major shipwrecks during the diving season.
In addition to shipwreck dives, the Southwest Preserve is also home to some unique geology that makes for interesting diving:
Clay Banks. This is a unique formation of clay banks that lie about 1000 feet north of the Verano. These banks are about 40 feet deep and are a good intermediate level dive. Features include small grottos, trenches and structures rising as high as 15 feet above the lake bed.
Grand Mere Rock Outcropping. This site is off shore from the Grand Mere State Park. It features an unusual rock bottom and ledges in this normally sandy area of Lake Michigan. Many lost personal items from boaters and swimmers are often found here. Also, this is a nice second dive after the Havana. As a relatively shallow site, divers should tow a diver down flag and stay well away from buoys marking the protected zone of a nearby power plant water intake.
Most all of the lakeshore communities have areas where piers were built into rivers and into Lake Michigan. These areas hold artifacts and remains from shipping activities.
A major maritime museum is located at South Haven. The Michigan Maritime Museum there features a replica Great Lakes sloop, the Friends Goodwill, a restored U.S Life Saving Service surf boat and a working early 20th century tugboat. You can visit it online at www.michiganmaritime museum.org. Saugatuck/Douglas is home to the Keewatin, the last remaining Great Lakes passenger vessel from the age of coal powered steam. You can learn more about it at www.keewatinmaritimemuseum.com.
Visitors to Michigan's southwest will find an abundance of seasonal activities and celebrations including the Holland Tulip Time Festival each year in May. For more events, activities and attractions please consult the website for the Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve, www.diveswmup.com, and the websites for the visitors bureaus and chambers of commerce of the various lakeshore communities adjoining the Preserve.
A note concerning the use of the charts in this web site: