Ask a Straits of Mackinac diver for a favorite shipwreck and there will likely be a pause, a sure indication of the quantity of quality dive sites.
Not so with veteran diver Dan Friedhoff.
A member of the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve Council and longtime shipwreck diver, Dan has a standout favorite: the Cedarville.
A 588-foot steel freighter, the Cedarville met its demise during a dense fog on May 7, 1965, after being struck broadside by another ship. The collision sent the steamer to the bottom of Lake Huron, along with 10 of its 35 crew.
Dan’s father, William “Bill” Friedhoff, was among the survivors.
“He was sucked down by the lake three times,” Dan said, recounting how his father was thrown into the icy waters but survived to share the details with his then 7-year-old son. “Every year on May 7, my dad would raise a glass for the boys who didn’t make it.”
Located at the northern tip of Michigan’s Lower Peninsula, the Straits of Mackinac is home to the Mackinac Bridge, the third-longest suspension bridge in the world. While many travel to the area for a ferry ride to Mackinac Island or to explore the rural expanses of the Upper Peninsula, scuba divers have earmarked it as a premier shipwreck destination.
The Cedarville is among more than two dozen known shipwrecks in the area, one of 12 protected in an underwater preserve with buoys placed by the shipwreck council.
When it sank to a depth of 105 feet, the Cedarville cracked in half and overturned leaving its underbelly reachable within about 40 feet from the surface. This ship is huge — divers can choose whether to descend to the bow, stern or at the cracked middle, all of which have mooring buoys placed by the preserve council.
Also resting on the Lake Huron side of the bridge is the William Young, a 138-foot wooden three-masted schooner barge that sank after an October 1891 collision to a depth of about 118 feet.
The Young’s discovery is almost as interesting as its demise. The ship was accidently discovered in 2002 by Michigan State Police divers looking for a missing person believed to have jumped from the Mackinac Bridge.
We spent most of our air at the ship’s stern where an intact ship’s wheel still stands upright. Just feet away was a ceramic jug, perhaps holding some sailor’s hooch.
Like all Great lake shipwrecks, those residing in the Straits are protected by laws prohibiting the removal of any objects. Divers looking to take a “souvenir” will face hefty fines and likely criminal charges.
These regulations unfortunately did not come in time to safeguard the scrolled figurehead of the Sandusky. A 110-foot wooden brig, the Sandusky foundered in an 1856 storm, killing seven men. It now sits in about 83 feet of water on the Lake Michigan side of the bridge.
Easily explored in one dive, the Sandusky offers plenty to see, including impressive deadeyes along the railings and below the bowsprit as well as a kedge anchor on the front deck. But its showstopper is the figurehead — a replica.
Nearby is the Eber Ward, a wooden steamer that sank on April 9, 1909, when it was struck by ice, causing the deaths of five men. The top deck of the ship is at a depth of about 110 feet but the 213-foot Eber Ward is considered an advanced dive as it hit bottom in about 140 feet of water.
Sitting upright with its pointed bow intact — complete with hanging anchors — the Eber Ward’s demise can be understood by the gaping hole in its portside front hull. The arm of a lone davit hangs empty where a lifeboat once hung.
I know my answer to the question of a favorite Straits shipwreck: the Eber Ward. But after hearing Dan’s story, it’s hard not to feel special kindred for the Cedarville. As I peered into the Cedarville’s tilted pilothouse, I recalled how Bill Friedhoff’s wish was to return to the ship that at one time almost killed him.
After his father’s death, Dan donned his gear and made his way to the cabin where his father once lived. While there, he left behind a container containing his ashes, engraved with his father’s name.
“You’re a real community on a boat,” Dan explained. “There’s a connection that you will always have.”
Day 1: Be sure to ask to dive shipwrecks on the Lake Michigan side of the Straits of Mackinac giving you a chance to get an awesome view of the underside of the Mackinac Bridge. When you return to St. Ignace, check out Timmy Lee’s Pub for drinks and dinner. If you’re lucky enough to be there on a Saturday night, order up the prime rib. But be sure to come hungry, it’s massive.
Day 2: If you have an afternoon charter, be sure to get up early and take one of several ferries available from either Mackinac City or St. Ignace to Mackinac Island, where cars are forbidden. The island is enjoyable to walk around and features the Grand Hotel, made famous by the movie Somewhere in Time. While you’re there, grab some fudge.
Day 3: After a morning breakfast at Java Joe’s Café where the coffee is great and ordering up a monster sundae will get your photo permanently displayed, be sure to ask to dive on whatever side of the Cedarville you haven’t already seen. At nearly 600 feet, the Cedarville offers amazing views at both the bow and the stern.
Need To Know
When to go: The diving season in the Great Lakes usually begins in early June and lasts through September but because the lake can really act up, be prepared for the small chance that the charter is canceled.
Dive conditions: There are 13 shipwrecks in the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve ranging from 40 feet at the top to 150 feet at the lakebed. The water is usually cold (40 degrees to 65 degrees) so a drysuit is recommended; visibility can range from 20 feet to 50 feet. This is an active shipping channel; be aware of your surroundings and any current and always ascend on the buoy line. For more information on wrecks, visit straitspreserve.com
Operators: Straits Scuba Center in St. Ignace, Mich., offers one-day, two tank dive charters for $120. Abyss Dive Charters out of Ada, Mich., also offers dive charters opportunities. Regular air fills are also available at Straits Scuba Center.