One of the reasons I love Great Lakes shipwreck diving is that you’re able to witness the evolution of the shipping industry from wind powered schooners to modern steel freighters. This past week I decided to run through this time capsule over a five-day period and see the narrative myself. I decided to binge Great Lakes Shipping history just like how we watch TV shows now-a-days.
I packed up all my gear and headed up to the Thumb. Home base was Four Fathoms Diving in Port Sanilac. From there we would head up to Grindstone City, Port Austin and Harbor Beach to grab a ride on the Adventure 1 charter boat out to some of the best shipwreck diving in the world. Some of these wrecks I have already been on (many times) and I was also going to get to check off a new to me box as well. My dive buddies throughout the week varied with the exception of Chris D - who joined me for every dive.
Where I started…
(Sometimes spelled Dunderberg) Built in 1867 this schooner is extremely well preserved. The masts lay next to the ship on the bottom of Lake Huron. After the Civil War the life of sailing vessels was coming to an end on the Great Lakes, not too long after this many of them were being converted to barges and being towed by the steam engines. This wind powered schooner was hit by the steam powered Empire State (video killed the radio star) and sank in August of 1868. Speaking of wind power... If the weather is right, after your dive you can look over to the shoreline and see some of the wind turbines that now dot the landscape of the Thumb. What once was old is new again.
Launched in 1846 this is a sidewheel steamer with both huge paddle wheels still intact. This is such a contrast to the Dunderburg and such a cool wreck to compare to our next wreck (The City of Detroit). The paddle wheel steamers had a brief window of popularity on the Great Lakes, their cost and need of a large crew meant they were better suited for high value cargo, like passengers. Also, the giant engines needed to turn the wheels took up a considerable amount of cargo space so the bulk cargo that is the lifeblood of Great Lakes shipping just didn’t have space on these types of vessels. This ship sank prior to the Civil War so odds are it never even used coal and was still burning wood to turn the massive wheels. The Civil War disrupted all shipping on the Great Lakes but for the sidewheelers the post war period was a fast decline.
City of Detroit
Also launched in 1846 this wreck has a propeller! The first ship to cross the Atlantic with a propeller only happened one year earlier. The City of Detroit is a steam driven wooden bulk freighter. The prop at the stern is such a cool upgrade to wrap your head around from our previous dive on the Sidewheeler Detroit; even though they were built at the same time. The City of Detroit sank in a winter storm in 1873. It received engines upgrades in 1866 (probably some adjustments to allow for coal). This ship has two big arches, called hogging arches. These were necessary on the wooden bulk freighters to offset the sagging of the keel as it travels though the waves with its cargo.
This steamer was built in 1868 when sailing vessels were around and wood bulk carriers were common. And although the deck is wood, it does have an iron hull, so it doesn’t have the big arches like the City of Detroit. Diving this right after the City of Detroit is just another little step along the journey of Great Lakes shipping history.
Daniel J. Morrell
Built in 1906 this 600ft bulk freighter doesn’t look much different from the freighters that pass by us each day on Lake Huron. The steel used in ship building at this time was more brittle and could not take impacts like modern steel. It is a widly held theory that this inferior steel was a contributing factor to many of the steel ships that sank prior to WW2. The Morrell might be the most obvious example as it is literally ripped in half and the stern motored on and sank five miles away from the bow. I got to dive both sections this past week.
Most of these wrecks are deep. Except for the Philadelphia, I used Trimix on all the dives. It was a busy week, but super enjoyable and looking back at it– I’m glad I picked the wrecks I did to create my little travel through the past.
So that’s what I did last week at work.
- Dunderburg – Depth 150ft
- Detroit – Depth 200ft
- City of Detroit – Depth 180ft
- Philadelphia - Depth 120ft
- Daniel J. Morrel Bow - 190ft
- Daniel J. Morrel Stern - 225ft
Mike Poggione is a very active full-time instructor and has been teaching scuba since 2001. He started offering technical courses in 2003 and can offer both the PADI TecRec and TDI Programs. He is also an Instructor Trainer for SDI and TDI. He grew up around diving and his father has had a charter boat on Lake Huron since 1994; so as you can imagine, he has spent a lot of time diving those shipwrecks. He is the owner of Motor City Scuba and enjoys bourbon and the occasional piece of chocolate cake.