Dive 20 Wrecks in Michigan Preserve
A diver penetrates a hold on the North Star.
After more than a decade of diving the crisp, fresh waters of the Great Lakes, it has become apparent that the quality of a destination is matched by the number of “regulars” you encounter. These are the divers who have splashed in so many times, they no longer record their numbers. Spend some time with them and you’ll uncover a wealth of information about what there is to see.
There’s no shortage of regulars in the Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve. “Sanilac is a great place to play and learn,” says veteran diver Marshall Allen. “You don’t have to discover the shipwreck to explore it. If you don’t see anything on these wrecks, it’s your own fault.”
The Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve stretches along Lake Huron’s southwestern coastline north of Port Huron, Michigan. Dozens of shipwrecks can be found in the cool waters, including nearly 20 that lie within recreational limits. The area offers a variety of wrecks —freighters, wooden schooners, tugboats — at a multitude of experience levels.
The New York.
TOP OF THE CHARTS
The list of “favorite” shipwrecks in this area is a long one, each vessel mentioned accompanied by a passionate story of why it rises to the top. The top of my list is the Regina.
The 250-foot steel freighter was one of many vessels that fell victim to the November 1913 Great Storm. It sank into rough seas with a loss of all 32 aboard. Discovered more than 70 years later, the Regina lies upside down in about 80 feet of water. The bottom of the hull can be reached at 25 feet, making it accessible to most divers.
Although the ship’s name — at the stern and bow — makes great photo ops, the true allure of the Regina can be found scattered on the lake bed all around, where divers have propped up awesome artifacts such as crates and ketchup bottles — with the condiments still visible inside.
“I’ve been on the Regina hundreds of times, and I never see the same thing twice,” says Linda White, longtime diver and crew member with Rec & Tec Dive Charters. “There’s a wooden cart on this 100-year-old wreck, and on one recent dive, I saw the other handle of it in the wreckage. It was just one of those mornings that was clear and there it was, something I had never seen before.”
The pilothouse of the tug Mary Alice B.
Nearby and a little deeper is the Mary Alice B., a 62-foot tugboat that foundered in 1975. We knew what we were looking for on this pristine wreck, which sits upright and intact in 92 feet of water. The tug’s photogenic pilothouse features the captain’s wheel and was sure to give us a perfect signature Sanilac Shores photo. And taking the advice of veteran divers, we explored the short tug for other ways to capture its impressive detail. Although lying a bit deeper, the relatively short length of the Mary Alice B. meant we had enough air to explore. Like all wrecks in the preserve, the ship is encased in silt and zebra mussels, so we swim carefully — one misplaced fi n kick can create a billow of debris and obliterate visibility.
A diver climbs aboard Rec & Tec Dive Charters’36-foot Sylvia Anne.
Rec & Tec Dive Charters Capt. Gary Venet says his boat is consistently booked throughout the Great Lakes dive season — late May to early October — with local divers from Michigan and Ohio, as well as those as far away as the East and West coasts. They’re drawn here because, while the salt water of the oceans and Caribbean will deteriorate the ships that founder there, the fresh water of the Great Lakes keeps them intact, and Michigan’s laws keep them protected. And Venet and his team help keep mooring buoys intact.
“What I saw on these wrecks decades ago is still there today,” he says. Included in those items still in place is part of a wooden arch on the wooden steamer New York, which sank in heavy seas in 1876. Because of its depth of 117 feet, the New York is considered one of the area’s more-advanced dives.
Although broken up, the New York still offers amazing examples of the ship’s impressive hardware, including its unique steam engines.
Divers descend into a hold on the Colonel A.B. Williams, a 110-foot schooner that sank in 1864.
Nearby, in the northern portion of the preserve, is the Colonel A.B. Williams, a 110-foot schooner that sank in 1864 and which now sits upright in about 80 feet of water with the hull mostly intact. Although Lake Huron’s chilly waters demand layers under my drysuit and a numb face, the view of the Colonel A.B. Williams’ jutting bowsprit makes it worth it, as it still appears ready to sail.
Knowing its history makes this wreck even more interesting — it appears almost a throwback to an era when thousands of stately wooden ships sailed the lakes, transporting all types of goods. Toward the front of the first hold on the New York is a diver favorite, a large windlass, and in between the two openings is its broken mast.
Although not quite the caliber of the local divers and Capt. Venet, I too have splashed in several times off the shores of Port Sanilac. One of my favorites — the Sport — was the first shipwreck to receive a state of Michigan underwater historical marker.
The first steel-hulled tug on the Great Lakes, this 57-foot-long boat sank in a strong storm in 1920 and now rests upright at a shallow 45-foot depth. Listing slightly starboard, the Sport is surrounded by tools and artifacts that are scattered around the site, another place to look on this easily accessible shallow-water dive.
There are so many ships in this area, it’s no wonder there are those who spend any spare time diving them. If you ask Linda White to pick a favorite, she responds simply, “The next one I do.”
LOOK, BUT DON’T TOUCH
Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve is located near Port Sanilac, Michigan, northeast of Detroit. Sanilac Shores is one of the state’s underwater preserves, which protect thousands of square miles of lake bed. Removing artifacts or disturbing wrecks is a felony offense punishable by two years in prison, stiff fines, and immediate confiscation of boats, cars, and dive gear.