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Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve
Unique among Michigan's Underwater Preserves, Thunder Bay is home to both a National Marine Sanctuary and an Underwater Preserve. As such, it benefits from joint NOAA and State management. It is significant as the first Great Lakes national marine sanctuary. A proposal to substantially increase the size of the Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve is currently under review by federal and state authorities. When approved, the Sanctuary and Preserve will stretch from the northern Presque Isle county line to the southern Alcona county line and extend from the shore to the international boundary in Lake Huron.
Thunder Bay has acquired the nickname "Shipwreck Alley" for good reason. It is estimated that over 100 shipwrecks may lie inside the current boundaries of the Sanctuary and Preserve. Known wrecks date from 1849 to 1966. Many other lost ships have been documented but await discovery.
Among the best shipwreck dives in and near the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve are:
Grecian. The 296 foot long steel steamer Grecian was launched in 1891 and had the misfortune of sinking twice. She collided with another ship in June 1906 and sank. She was raised but sank again while in tow. The second time she came to rest in about 105 feet of water. Her deck can be reached at 75 feet and divers can explore her triple expansion engine, boiler, decks and cargo holds. The middle portion of the ship is collapsing and can be disorienting. Consequently, mooring buoys are often placed on both the bow and stern. The bow is an excellent dive with good photo opportunities because it is intact and upright.
E. B. Allen. This small, 112 foot wooden schooner was struck by another vessel on November 18, 1871 and sank. The Allen came to rest intact on a sandy bottom in about 95 feet of water. Divers can witness evidence of the collision on her port side. Among other artifacts, divers can see her windlass, anchor chains and rudder.
Montana. The Montana was launched in 1872. The 235 foot sidewheel steamer caught fire and burned to the waterline on September 7, 1914. The wreck lies in 70 feet of water although the double steeple compound engine rises 30 feet from the bottom. This is a good wreck for photographers who can capture dramatic pictures of the wreck as well as the game fish that inhabit her.
Pewabic. The Pewabic was lost after a night time collision with her sister ship, the Meteor, on August 9, 1865. 125 people died in the sinking and it ranks as the seventh worst loss of life on the Great Lakes. Today the shipwreck is upright and largely intact. However, she sits at a depth outside recreational limits at 148 to 168 feet. Many of her relics have been removed and are displayed at the Jesse Besser Museum and at the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center in Alpena.
Monrovia. This 430 foot ocean going freighter was lost in a collision on June 25, 1959. She was transporting a cargo of steel at the time. Her hull now rests in 80 to 130 feet of water. Unlike the typical laker, she is built along the lines of a "Liberty ship" with her cabins located mid-deck. She was heavily salvaged and her bow has been twisted to one side to permit access to her holds.
John J. Audubon. The Audubon was lost in a collision the same year she was launched – 1854. Today she sits upright outside recreational dive limits in about 161 feet of water. Her deck can be reached at 145 feet. This two masted brig lies with her hull still intact. Her masts are snapped and lie across the deck. Her cargo of railroad iron rails is scattered on and off the wreck and also inside the hull. Divers will see her wheel, windlass and both anchors in addition to the small minutiae of daily life aboard a sailing ship like pottery and china. Her holds can be penetrated but caution should be exercised at this depth.
As part of its mission to preserve and manage the underwater assets of the Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve, NOAA annually installs mooring buoys on about 35 wreck sites.
The Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve is also home to some unique geological formations that make good diving. Limestone walls and reefs can be found on the southeast side of Thunder Bay Island and on the north side of South Point. The Misery Bay Sinkholes are in shallow water and are deep fissures in the natural limestone. Diving there is similar to cave diving and requires special skills and equipment.
The Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve area also affords visitors interesting non-diving activities. The Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center at Alpena boasts a replica of a 19th century schooner in a dramatic, recreated Great Lakes storm in addition to interpretive displays and exhibits. The Jesse Besser Museum in Alpena also houses an extensive collection of maritime artifacts.
For more information on things to do and see in the area of the Sanctuary and Preserve, consult the websites for the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary, www.thunderbay.noaa.gov, the Thunder Bay Underwater Preserve, www.divealpena.com, the Alpena Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, www.alpenacvb.com, and the Alpena Chamber of Commerce, www.alpenachamber.com.
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