Straits of Mackinac
The Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve lies at the northern tip of Lakes Michigan and Huron. The five mile long Mackinac Bridge links Michigan's two peninsulas and marks the dividing point of the two lakes.
The Straits has a well-deserved reputation as a dangerous area to navigate. The region is populated with rocky shoals and shallows that place ships in peril. Perhaps even worse are the storms that can enter the narrow Straits and quickly magnify wind and waves. Over the years large numbers of ships have foundered in the Straits. Many have yet to be discovered.
Among the best shipwreck dives in the Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve are:
Cedarville. Built in 1927, the Cedarville is the third largest freighter lost on the Great Lakes (after the Edmund Fitzgerald and the Carl Bradley). This 600 foot ship sank in a tragic accident on May 7, 1965 in Lake Huron. An ocean-going Norwegian freighter collided midships with the Cedarville in foggy weather. Ten men died when she rolled and sank in 37 degree water. The Cedarville lies on her starboard side broken nearly in two in 105 feet of water. Because she is partly inverted, divers can become disoriented on her. The hull can be reached at about 40 feet. The bow and stern sections are generally both buoyed. Divers can visit the pilothouse and large holds. The unloader arm lies extended on the bottom. The stern features the galley and crew quarters.
Eber Ward. The 213 foot long Eber Ward was built in 1888. She was cut by ice and sank on April 9, 1909 in Lake Michigan. She is upright and mostly intact and is an excellent example of a classic wooden bulk freighter. Her deck can be reached at 105 feet and the bottom at 150 feet. Her engines and boilers provide items of interest for divers. The holds can be fairly easily penetrated by experienced divers. Her port bow has a large and unique "mushroom" anchor. A conventional woodstock anchor rests on her starboard bow. One of her lifeboats is overturned on the bottom off her starboard stern.
Sandusky. This small, 110 foot brig, built in 1848, was lost in a storm in Lake Michigan with all hands on September 20, 1856. She sits upright with a figurehead still gracing her prow. Over the years before it was made illegal, many of her artifacts were removed by divers. Still, she is an imposing site to visit and is very popular with less experienced divers since she sits in 80 feet of water and her deck can be reached at 70 feet.
Minneapolis. The steamer Minneapolis began life as a passenger and package freight steamer. First placed in service in 1873, she was converted to a freight only steamer in 1888 by the removal of her upper deck cabins. On April 4, 1894 she was cut by ice and foundered in Lake Michigan. The location is just southwest of the Mackinac Bridge's south tower in 124 feet of water. Her deck and engines can be reached at about 60 feet. Her bow is broken open and her stern has begun to come apart. Most of her main deck is collapsing downward. Divers can explore her engine and boiler and her deck equipment like her windlass. The rudder has detached from the hull and rests on the bottom. Game fish frequently inhabit the site. Currents can be very strong near the shipwreck.
William Young. This shipwreck was discovered in 2002 off South Graham Shoal in Lake Huron. She was built in 1863 and had been converted to a schooner-barge when she foundered and was lost on October 5, 1891. Sitting upright in 120 feet of water, the William Young has all of her fittings and gear intact. Her bow split open when she hit the bottom and her chains and anchors are spilled onto the lake floor. Her deck cabin was swept away when she sank. She was carrying a cargo of coal that still fills her holds. Her wheel, deadeyes, pulleys, and other equipment are scattered about the wreck.
William H. Barnum. The wooden steamer William H. Barnum was built in 1873. She was lost on April 3, 1894 – the day before the Minneapolis. She too was cut by ice and then foundered in about 75 feet of water in Lake Huron close to the Lower Peninsula. When she sank, her boilers apparently exploded leaving the engine area a mixture of debris from the deck and boilers. What remains of her deck and engine can be reached at about 50 feet. The bow is intact and the chain locker area is sufficiently open to permit fairly easy penetration. Except for the stern, the hull itself is intact. The stern has collapsed around a very large propeller. The rudder was removed and is on display in a park in St. Ignace.
During the dive season, the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve Association places buoys on the major dive sites in the region. More details on the area's shipwrecks can be found at its website, www.straitspreserve.com.
In addition to shipwreck diving, divers can also explore shore sites. One of them is located at American Legion Park at the south end of Moran Bay off State Street. It has a dock designed to make it easy for divers to enter and exit the water. This area was used to dock ships for many years and divers will see a variety of relics left behind including pottery, tools, machinery and the like.
Divers will find the Straits a friendly and active tourist destination. St. Ignace, Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island all host a variety of lodging, restaurants and activities year round to complement your dive trip. For more information on activities and events in the area, consult the websites for the St. Ignace Convention and Visitors Bureau, www.stignace.com, St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce, www.stignace.org, Mackinaw City Visitors Bureau, www.mackinawcity.com, Mackinaw City Chamber of Commerce, www.mackinawchamber.com, and the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau, www.mackinacisland.org.
A note concerning the use of the charts in this web site: