Tobermory is an idyllic harbor town set at the northern tip of the Bruce peninsula on Lake Huron. It has a variety of small shops, eateries and ice cream parlors. We were all looking forward to diving on some wrecks from the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. The Great Lakes are known for their cold clear water that preserves all of its shipwrecks. It didn’t disappoint in either respect. We dove on wrecks in depths ranging from 18’ to 150’ or more with temperatures ranging from the mid 60’s to 38 degrees on our deepest dive, we certainly felt the need for the SDI Drysuit diving course. It was incredible to see wooden sailing vessels that had been on the bottom for over 100 years. Although they showed their age they were still very recognizable. The clear, blue water offers excellent visibility that makes diving these wrecks a pleasure. We worked with Diver’s Den located in the harbor and Captain John, who was our captain for most of our charters regaled us with stories of each of the wrecks and how they met their fate. It was fascinating to hear the stories of the hazards and perils of past mariners in the age before radar and GPS.
We spent the first morning diving a couple of shallow but very interesting wrecks. The first was the James C. King which was sunk with the Wetmore on November 29, 1901 while both were under tow. The King lies on a slope from 20’ at the stern to the bow at 80’. This was a great old wooden wreck that offered opportunities for novice and more advanced divers.
The second dive was on the W.L. Wetmore which sank on November 29, 1901. It has collapsed over the years but you can find a beautiful anchor with a mountain of chain still attached at the bow. The boiler, prop shaft and the massive prop with 2 blades sheared off are all still there. Huge rocks poke up through the wreckage as a testament to how the ship met her end.
The first night brought a night dive on the Niagra II. This is a modern wreck that was purposely sunk for diving on May 15, 1999. She lies upright in about 100’ of water. This was an awesome wreck to dive at night. It has been prepped for diving with openings cut in strategic locations to make it safer for penetration by those with the desire (and training) to do so. We limited penetration on this dive since we were going to be diving it again the next day. This was an awesome, relaxing dive with only 4 of us from L.P. Scuba group on the boat.
Our first dive on day 2 was on the Forest City. She sank on June 5, 1904 in a blinding snow storm. The Forest City is a very large wreck that lies on a steep slope with her bow at 60’ and her stern at the bottom of the slope at 160’. Obviously this is a slightly more advance dive. The stern is still pretty much intact with railings and window openings clearly evident. The water was extremely clear and cold with temps hovering at 38 degrees at 150’. Looking up from the stern you really get a feel for how massive this ship was. About a third of the way back up the ship on the port side one of her boilers and some other equipment have survived.
Our second dive was on the Niagra II once again. This time Chad, Chris and I penetrated deep into the ship winding our way all the way to the engine and supply rooms and ascending up the smoke stack to check out the wheel house and the rest of the top of the wreck. Again the visibility was incredible and the water chilly at 40 degrees. Diving cool wrecks like this is why I recommend the SDI Wreck Diver – Limited Penetration course.
After a trip back to the dock Captain John took us out again with a fresh group of divers to a couple of easy wrecks to finish out the day.
The first was the Charles P. Minch. The Minch sank on October 27, 1898. It’s just so very cool to be diving these old wooden wrecks. This one once again sits on a slope near a rocky shore. She has collapsed and is somewhat spread out in the shallow water. Her wheel lies amid the wreckage beautifully preserved.
Our last dive of the trip was to 2 neighboring wrecks tucked away up in one of the inlets. They were the City of Grand Rapids which went down against the shore on October 29, 1907. She lies in very shallow water and there really isn’t a lot left of her. The second of the two is the Sweepstakes. She sank on August 23, 1885. This wreck is shown in many of the photographs advertising diving in the area. She too lies in shallow water. It is still amazingly intact. Her masts and machinery were salvaged. You can swim over the decks and see the holes where the masts once stood and get a feel for their size.
You can’t penetrate this wreck anymore but they have a few areas where you can drop below decks and get a look inside.
This was a great, relaxing trip that offered some wonderful insight into an era of wooden ships and the brave souls that sailed them.
Many thanks to Chad and Bill for organizing the trip and to my L.P. Scuba friends Chris, Sara, Matt and Kim for a wonderful few days of diving and fun in Canada, EH!
Written by: Ray Anthony