Michigan Underwater Preserves - Sites
The Keweenaw Peninsula juts out into Lake Superior and has often been a "catcher's mitt" for wayward ships. As a result, the 103-square mile preserve is host to a variety of shipwrecks, including one recent addition.
In the fall of 1989, the U.S. Coast Guard cutter Mesquite ran aground off the Keweenaw Peninsula. During the winter, storms pounded the ship against the rocks and damaged it beyond repair. Eventually, the ship was intentionally sunk in about 110 feet of water, off the peninsula. Today the wreck of the Mesquite is the most popular dive destination in this preserve. Divers will find the wreck in excellent condition with virtually all of her equipment on deck. A portion of the pilot house was removed during the sinking process and lies near the main section of the ship. Divers enjoy exploring the interior of the Mesquite. Interior exploration should be reserved for very experienced divers with proper equipment. Visibility at this site generally exceeds 50 feet.
Other shipwrecks are concentrated at Eagle River, Eagle Harbor, and Copper Harbor. These wrecks are both steamers and schooners, primarily of the 1800s and very early 1900s. Because they wrecked in relatively shallow water, most have been broken up by waves and ice. This process permits divers to see how ships were constructed.
Boilers, machinery, and broken hulls are found on reefs and there is little "penetration" diving at these sites. That makes these sites especially attractive for beginning and intermediate divers and underwater photographers.
One of the most popular dive sites includes the Tioga, a steel package freighter that grounded on Sawtooth Reef in 1919, and the City of St. Joseph, which ran aground north of Eagle Harbor in 1942. The remains of these ships lie in 40 feet of water or less. Divers will find large sections of the hull, machinery, and other artifacts that make for excellent exploration and backdrops for excellent underwater photography.
In addition to shipwrecks, the Keweenaw is a popular area for exploring underwater geologic formations. Large deposits of copper can be found in this region. Visibility throughout this preserve is generally very good and often exceeds 35 feet.
Visitors will find many fascinating historical sites, nature trails, and beautiful countryside to enjoy on the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Keweenaw Tourism Council
P.O. Box 336
Houghton, MI 49931
Keweenaw Peninsula Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 336
Houghton, MI 49931
The Marquette Underwater Preserve in Lake Superior contains eight major shipwrecks in two areas, the Huron Islands and Marquette units.
The Southwest is the most popular dive site of the Huron Islands Unit. This 137 foot steamer ran aground 1 1/2 miles southeast of the largest of the Huron Islands. The ship was running in a heavy fog in the fall of 1898 when the disaster occurred. Today, divers will find the remains of the Southwest scattered in 100 feet of water. Many small artifacts remain in clear water, which makes this an especially appealing dive.
The Charles J. Kershaw is one of the most popular dive sites of the Marquette Unit. This 223 foot steamer was nearly in the Marquette Harbor when its boiler exploded in 1895. It struck a reef and sank in about 35 feet of water. The remains of the Kershaw are widely scattered as the results of a failed iron salvage attempt. But many small artifacts are associated with this site offer the opportunity for new discoveries with each dive.
The wreck the D. Leuty can be found at Lighthouse Point at Marquette's lower harbor. This 179 foot steamer ran aground in a snowstorm in 1911. Most of the ship's machinery, engine, boiler, and equipment were recovered but pieces of the wooden hull remain. Because this wreck is partially buried in sand, divers may discover new artifacts as currents cause the sand to shift and uncover portions of the wreck.
Off Presque Isle Park, just north of the City of Marquette, divers will find Gold Mine Pinnacle, an unusual underwater rock formation. This formation attracts schools of game fish and tangles of lost tackle from fishermen attempting to catch those fish.
Black Rocks, another site featuring interesting geologic formations, is accessible from shore at the northern boundary of Presque Isle Park.
Visibility in the 144 square mile Marquette Underwater Preserve is often greater than 30 feet.
For more information, contact:
Marquette County Convention and Visitors Bureau
The Alger Underwater Preserve offers several unusual diving attractions including "sea caves," intact shipwrecks, and underwater interpretive trails. The caves are found along the Lake Superior coast which is part of the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore. The sea caves are actually portions of underwater sandstone cliffs where sandstone has been eroded by waves. Although the caves are shallow - usually only about 20 feet deep - they offer spectacular shallow water diving and make wonderful underwater photographs.
Divers of any skill level will find shipwrecks in excellent condition awaiting them at the Alger Underwater Preserve. Visibility is usually excellent, 25 feet is the minimum, and it is often twice that. For both beginners and advanced divers, the Murray Bay wreck is very popular. Although this wreck lies in only 30 feet of water, it is protected from ice and wave damage. The result is an intact 145 foot schooner sitting upright and waiting for visitors.
An underwater interpretive trail on this shipwreck shows divers important features of the shipwreck as well as unusual fish and other aquatic life. Divers can expect to have closed encounters with schools of rock bass and other colorful game fish.
The latest "addition" to the Alger Underwater Preserve is the Steven M. Selvick, a 71-foot tugboat. The Selvick is the first vessel to be intentionally sunk within the Michigan underwater preserve system as a dive site. The tug is located east of Grand Island in about 70 feet of water with very good visibility. It has become a featured wreck on the Glass Bottom Shipwreck Tour operated out of Munising.
Divers with intermediate to advanced skills will enjoy the wreck of the Smith Moore. This steamer, which was also equipped with sails, sank after it collided with another ship in 1889. The Smith Moore is mostly intact and lies upright in 95 feet of water. Divers have easy access to some portions of the interior of the vessel through open hatches. The deck is at 80 feet and divers will find much machinery as well as schools of game fish at this site.
Other popular shipwrecks include the Herman H. Hettler, Kiowa, and Manhattan. Besides shipwrecks, divers also enjoy and underwater "museum" located among the dock ruins off shore from the Munising High School. This shore-access site features underwater signs interpreting large maritime artifacts from the region.
For more information, contact:
Alger County Chamber of Commerce
P.O. Box 139
Munising, MI 49862
The Whitefish Point Underwater Preserve offers deep-diving experiences in Lake Superior on a variety of shipwrecks in its 376 square mile area.
Good visibility is a hallmark of this preserve. Divers can usually expect 30 to 50 feet of visibility at 100 feet, and greater visibility at deeper depths. July and August are the best months to visit this preserve because weather patterns are most stable. There are few protected areas in this region of Lake Superior and the nearest U.S. Coast Guard Station is about an hour away so boaters must exercise extreme caution.
The clear, cold water have left the wrecks in excellent condition. They range from an early schooner, Niagra, to wood steam barges Vienna, Samuel Mather, and modern steel lake freighters such as the John B. Cowle. Most of the wrecks lie below the sport diving depth of 130 feet such as the John Osborne at 165 feet and the Superior City at 270 feet.
The Miztec and Myron, both in 45 feet of water, are good wreck dives even for beginners. Intermediate divers can explore the 249-foot steamer Panther that sank after a collision with another vessel in1916.
Divers using their own boats will find launches at Whitefish Point, Little Lake Harbor, Tahquamenon Bay, Brimley State Park, and Bay Mills.
Divers and nondivers alike will enjoy a visit to this area because of the wilderness scenery, expansive beaches, Tahquamenon Falls State Park, and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum located at the tip of Whitefish Point. The museum offers divers an opportunity to learn about the rich maritime heritage of the region.
For more information, contact:
Paradise Area Tourism Council
P.O. Box 82
Paradise, MI 49768
The 148 square miles of the Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve host a variety of underwater attractions: not the least of which are excellent shore dives in East Moran Bay in St. lgnace Harbor. The St. Ignace Harbor serves the third oldest city in the United States. One harbor dive site is found at the northernmost point of the bay at the end of Hazelton Street. Divers can enter here and swim toward the end of the old mill slip to find discarded tools, machinery, household items, and wreckage from an unknown vessel.
Another shore-access dive site is located near the south end of the St. Ignace Harbor off State Street. This site is found at a city park and is marked with an interpretive sign. Divers can explore dock ruins and discover anchors, pottery, tools, machinery, and many other items discarded from vessels loading at the nearby dock.
Whenever diving in St. Ignace Harbor it is important to stay out of the ferry lanes and display a divers' flag.
The Straits of Mackinac Underwater Preserve also has its share of shipwrecks. Among them is the Cedarville, which was a 588 foot self-unloading freighter that sank with a load of limestone in 1965. The Cedarville was heading west and approaching the Straits of Mackinac in a fog when it was struck by another ship. The Cedarville is in about 110 feet of water with the hull of the vessel within 35 feet of the surface. The ship's superstructure and cabins, lie at 75 feet and provide exciting exploration opportunities.
Another popular dive site in this preserve is the wreck of the Sandusky. This 110-foot sailing vessel had two masts and a square stem. It sank in a gale in September 1856 and is remarkably preserved. It sits upright in 90 feet of water and is among the few shipwrecks in the Great Lakes to sport a figurehead. Divers will find a kedge anchor, pin rail, wheel and tiller.
Recently, a team of divers discovered an unusual rock formation just a few hundred yards east of Mackinac Island. The formation resembles an underwater maze and is called the "Rock Maze." It offers excellent photography opportunities as well as a chance to see large schools of fish and protection from westerly winds. This site is buoyed but boaters should be cautious about entering the area because of rock formations nearby.
Another site that is quickly gaining popularity is the C.H. Johnson, which can be reached from shore off Gros Cap Road west of St. Ignace. The C.H. Johnson, was a schooner that ran aground in a storm in 1895. It was carrying large sandstone blocks, which are found on the wreck site. Divers enjoy this site because it is protected from most storms and many small artifacts, such as tools, can be found. Large fish generally hide between and under large stone blocks. The C.H. Johnson is in 10 to 15 feet of water and makes an interesting dive for divers of all skill levels.
Other popular dive sites include the wrecks of the William H. Barnum, in 65 feet of water and a wooden barge in 45 feet of water. These sites, and many other wrecks in this area, are served by a dive charter service in St. Ignace.
Visibility in this preserve ranges from 2 to 20 feet, depending upon currents that are sometimes found here. Generally, however, visibility is greater than 10 feet and divers are able to enjoy one of the finest shipwreck collections in the world comfortably.
Boaters also enjoy the underwater preserve because shipwreck mooring buoys have information attached to them about the shipwreck below. This makes an exciting "water trail" where boaters can learn about our maritime heritage.
Divers will find plenty of lodging, fine restaurants, and charter services and air.
The Straits of Mackinac area is an extremely popular tourist destination. In addition to shopping and historical attractions in St. Ignace and Mackinaw City, Mackinac Island offers plenty of family fun.
For more information, contact:
St. Ignace Chamber of Commerce
560 N. State Street
St. Ignace, MI 49781
The Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve offers divers a variety of Lake Michigan attractions - from historic dock ruins to fascinating shipwrecks of two centuries.
The Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve's most popular dive site is also the most recently discovered. The Three Brothers, a steam barge that hauled lumber on the Great Lakes, grounded on South Manitou Island in 1911 after taking on water. The 160-foot vessel was exposed in 1996 after a large area of Sandy Point eroded due to winter storms. The Three Brothers is an excellent shore dive as it is located about 150 feet offshore with the bow in 7 feet of water and the stern in 45 feet of water. Snorkelers and boaters can easily observe the wreck in the relatively clear water.
The wreck of the Francisco Morazan, a package freighter that ran aground during a December 1960 snowstorm, is a few hundred yards offshore from the south end of South Manitou Island. The Morazan is easily accessible and lies in only 15 feet of water. Those factors make it a great dive for those just learning about Great Lakes shipwreck diving. Divers enjoy exploring the hull of the 246 foot ship. Some machinery remains in the engine room. Although much of the Morazan is above water, divers should not attempt to explore the superstructure. This is a nesting area for cormorants and gulls.
A few hundred yards to the south of the Francisco Morazan is the wreck of the Walter L Frost, a wooden steamer that ran aground in 1905. The Frost is broken up because the Morazan literally landed on top of the wreck during the disaster of 1960.
Divers enjoy the Frost because much of the vessel remains. Large sections of the hull, machinery, boilers, and related artifacts offer exploration opportunities for divers of all skill levels. The Frost lies in about 12 feet of water.
Another popular dive site in the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve is the wreck of the Alva Bradley, discovered between North and South Manitou Islands in 1990. Many small artifacts are associated with the wreck of this schooner. Some of its cargo of steel billets can be found near the bow of the vessel. About 200 yards northeast of the main wreck divers will find rigging and other artifacts from this shipwreck.
In addition to shipwrecks, divers enjoy dock ruins that can be found throughout the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Massive pilings were driven into the sandy bottom to create docks and wharves for loading lumber, fruits, grain, and other products onto schooners and steamers that transported such goods on Lake Michigan.
These dock ruins attract schools of fish and many artifacts, including anchors and pieces of shipwrecks, can be found among the pilings.
The Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve is a great place for family attractions because it is adjacent to the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore and Traverse City, a nationally know resort area.
For more information, contact:
Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore
P.O. Box 277
Empire, MI 49630
The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve was designated in 2000 as one of only 13 national marine sanctuaries in the United States by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce. The designation creates the first Great Lakes national marine sanctuary and builds on the existing state underwater preserve designated in 1981. It is only the second national marine sanctuary created solely to protect submerged cultural resources. NOAA and the State of Michigan jointly manage the sanctuary and underwater preserve.
The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve will focus on cultural resource protection, education, research and recreation. Recently completed activities include an archaeological survey of Thunder Bay and installing a mooring buoy system at certain wrecks. The sanctuary and underwater preserve plans to establish video links from wrecks to classrooms. A maritime heritage center will open in 2005.
The 488 square mile sanctuary and underwater preserve has one of the highest densities of shipwrecks per square mile of any point on the Great Lakes and offers a variety of shipwrecks and natural attractions. Divers will find many shipwrecks in a protected bay as well as many fascinating sites just beyond the bay itself. Great visibility makes underwater photography especially popular in this preserve.
The Nordmeer is one of the most popular dive sites of the sanctuary and underwater preserve. It has been described as 550 feet of "pure delight" This German steel steamer stranded on the rocks of Thunder Bay Shoal in November 1966. Because the maximum depth at this site is only 40 feet, this is a great place for those who have little or no shipwreck diving experience. The hull of the Nordmeer is intact and large cargo hatches provide easy access and permit sunlight to penetrate the interior. Next to the wreck of the Nordmeer is a steel barge that also provides exploration opportunities.
The Montana was a 235 foot steamer that burned and sank in 1914. The wreck lies in 70 feet of water and rises 30 feet from the bottom. Some of the hull of the Montana remains and divers enjoy inspecting many of the artifacts that are associated with this wreck, including the machinery. This site usually hosts many fish and it is a good place for underwater photography. Divers with basic skills can view the engine at 40 feet. Intermediate divers will enjoy exploring other portions of the wreck.
East of the Montana lies the wreck of the Grecian, a steamer that sank in 1906. Several salvage attempts failed and the remains of the steam engine offer divers a fascinating experience. The deck of the Grecian lies in 75 feet of water.
The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve offers many shallow shipwrecks perfect for those new to the Great Lakes shipwrecks diving. Many dive sites have been buoyed by the local dive club. Dive charter services are available. Shore diving is very limited because of the shallows and beaches.
For more information, contact:
Alpena Convention and Visitors Bureau
P.O. Box 65
Alpena, MI 49707
Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary & Underwater Preserve
145 Water Street
Alpena, Michigan 49707
There are ten major shipwrecks in the 276 square mile of the Thumb Area Underwater Preserve in Lake Huron. Although there were never any major coastal communities in this region, it was once a busy thoroughfare where vessels ran into trouble during violent storms.
Among the ships that are found in the Thumb Area Underwater Preserve are the Philadelphia and Albany. These two vessels collided in an 1893 accident.
The Philadelphia rests upright on the bottom in 130 feet of water. This 236 foot steamer is mostly intact and divers may be surprised to find a cook stove still resting on the deck.
The Albany is southeast of the Philadelphia. The 267 foot steel steamer was under tow after the collision when it sank in about 150 feet of water. Both vessels offer excellent diving, but because of the depth, divers should have adequate experience before visiting these sites. Visibility ranges from 5 to 15 feet.
A popular dive site for divers of lesser experience is the Chickamauga, which foundered in 1919. This 322 foot, double-deck schooner rests about a half mile east of Harbor Beach in 35 feet of water. This area is relatively protected so heavy seas rarely interfere with dive plans.
The Thumb Area Underwater Preserve has been the focus of remote sensing projects, which have led to new discoveries. Other dive sites include the Hunter Savidge, Glenorchy, Dunderburg, Iron Chief, Governor Smith, and Enterprise.
Besides shipwrecks, divers visiting this area will enjoy caves created by eroded limestone. The caves are located near the edge of the reef near Port Austin Lighthouse. Grindstones, which were used in manufacturing, can be found off Grindstone City where they were once manufactured.
This area has many boat launches and marinas capable of serving sport divers who bring their own boats.
For more information, contact:
Lighthouse County Park
7320 Lighthouse Road
Port Hope, MI 49468
The Sanilac Shores preserve holds some of the most interesting discoveries in the bottomland preserves.
These discoveries include the Regina, a 250 foot, steel package freighter that sank in the a fierce gale in 1913. The vessel was discovered in 1986.The Regina rests upside down in 80 feet of water with the structure of the ship rising 25 feet from the bottom. Some cargo lies scattered on the bottom adjacent to the wreck. Visibility at this site and throughout the preserve is variable and ranges from 5 to 25 feet.
Another popular dive site is the wreck of the Sport, a 57 foot steel hulled tugboat than sank in a gale in December 1920. The vessel lies mostly upright with a starboard list in about 50 feet of water. The structure of the Sport rises about 20 feet from the bottom. In 1992, Michigan's first underwater historical marker was placed on the Sport to inform divers about the historical significance of the wreck.
The sites of the Checotah and New York should only be visited by advanced divers, according to local charter operators. These vessels lie within a few hundred yards of each other in about 120 feet of water. The Checotah was a schooner that sank while being towed in 1906. Although the stern is broken and scattered, this wreck offers excellent diving with many unusual artifacts. The New York was a steamer that foundered in heavy seas in 1876. The vessel is especially interesting because of its oscillating steam engines. The New York, like many shipwrecks in this preserve, has many interesting artifacts associated with it.
The Mary Alice B, is a popular dive site. Advanced divers will find her an easy dive because she lies upright and is totally intact in 94 feet of water.
Other popular dive sites include the North Star, Col. A. B. Williams, and Eliza H. Strong. In addition to excellent shipwreck diving, the Sanilac Shores area offers family fun. Historic attractions, such as the Port Sanilac Lighthouse, Sanilac Petroglyphs, and museums delight visitors of all ages.
The DeTour Passage Underwater Preserve is located at the easternmost tip of the Upper Peninsula between the mainland and Drummond Island.
This preserve features a variety of dive sites in less than 30 feet of water. The General was a 97 foot tugboat that served the Great Lakes until 1930 when it sank off of Frying Pan Island. This is a popular destination when weather conditions make it difficult to visit other sites in the area.
The Sainte Marie, a former rail car ferry converted to a barge, can be found partially above water level. A steel side wheel from another vessel, also above water, is adjacent to the Sainte Marie. The John W. Cullen is located just east of these two vessels.
Several wrecks are found outside the preserve north and south of Drummond Island. The John B. Merrill was a three-masted schooner wrecked in 1893 that lies in 65 feet of water. The J.C. Ford was a steamer that caught fire and exploded in 1924 off Little Trout Island and now found in 15 feet of water. Visibility is good at 10 to 15 feet.
There are dock ruins in the north part of the preserve that make an interesting dive.
Access to the DeTour Underwater Preserve for divers brining their own boats is provided at two launch ramps in the Village of DeTour.
The Southwest Michigan Underwater Preserve boundaries range from just north of Holland south along the shore of Lake Michigan to Bridgman, near the Indiana border.
The preserve extends from the shoreline to the 130 foot depth, or five miles offshore, whichever is closer. The communities of New Buffalo, St. Joseph, Benton Harbor, South Haven, Douglas, Saugatuck and Holland are located adjacent to the preserve. Presently seventeen sites have been documented in and near the preserve including shipwrecks as well as geological formations including clay banks, underwater rock piles and piers. Some of the more popular sites are the Rockaway, Havana, Verano, Clay Banks, North Shore Tug and the Ironsides.
The Rockaway was a 107' schooner lost in a storm while carrying lumber from Ludington to Benton Harbor. The wreck lies in 70 feet and has been the focus of archaeological studies for years.
The Havana, a 135' schooner, sank slowly after taking on water during high seas. The wreck lies in 50 feet of water with keelson, centerboard trunk, hanging knees, and floor framing exposed so divers can get a good view of this ship's construction. The Verano was a 92' yacht that foundered in heavy seas on its way from Chicago to Holland, now located in 55 feet of water. The South Haven Clay Banks are one of the more interesting geological formations of the Southwest Preserve. These banks stretch over many acres and include small grottos, trenches and structures rising as high as 15 feet off the bottom.
Some of the deeper wrecks in the area include the steamer Ironsides, North Shore Tug and the H.C. Akeley (once thought to be the long sought Chicora).
The Grand Traverse Bay Great Lakes State Bottomland Preserve covers approximately 295 square miles of Lake Michigan bottomlands and surface waters and includes both the East and West Arms of Grand Traverse Bay. Several known shipwrecks sites are located in the preserve with many more documented as being lost in Grand Traverse Bay.
Known shipwreck sites include the wooden schooners JOHN THURSBY and A.J. ROGERS, two modern sailboats, commercial fishing boats and a work tug, the LAUREN CASTLE, built in 1906.
There is the potential for nineteen or more historic vessels within the proposed preserve boundaries. Most of these are wooden vessels from the 1840s to the 1920s. One of the earliest wrecks is believed to be the VAN RAALTE, a small scow-schooner lost about 1860 in the East Arm.
Other underwater cultural sites include the remains of many docks, wharves and piers that contributed to the settlement and growth of this region. In addition, coastal wetlands are an important feature of the preserve that provides significant water quality and aquatic habitat functions in the shallow shoreline areas.
Other Shipwreck Sites