Monday, July 22, 2013

Harbor Beach Diving!

Technical Diving in Harbor Beach
Shipwreck: Detroit

(Thumb Area Bottomland Preserve)


For the July 6th and 7th weekend, Cindy and I were fortunate enough to get an invite to enjoy some technical diving on shipwrecks in the Thumb Area Bottomland Preserve in Michigan.  We are very fortunate to have some world class shipwrecks in our backyard.  We obviously jumped on the idea of spending some bottom time scrubbing bubbles on these magnificent wrecks with some great friends.

Michigan's Shipwreck Preserves
Why dive the Great Lakes?
Back in 1980, legislation was passed to create an area where known historic shipwrecks were located to be protected for future generations to see.  These preserves now made it a felony for people to deface or take artifacts from the historic shipwrecks sitting on the bottomlands of the Great Lakes surrounding the state of Michigan.

The penalties for removing artifacts are steep.  Those caught would be faced with confiscation of boat, car, and equipment involved in the artifact removal.  If confivicted, a person could face up to 2 years imprisonment and heavy fines.  Because of these strict laws, the shipwrecks found in the preserve contain many historic artifacts and are in excellent condition.  Further the cold fresh water protects and preserves the wrecks.  Many of the shipwrecks in the preserves are large wooden schooners in amazing shape.  If these same shipwrecks were located in salt or warm waters, there would be nothing left due to micro-organisms feasting on the shipwrecks.

However, even with these laws in place, it is still up to each of us as divers to protect and preserve these wrecks.  Cindy first dove the Detroit over 12 years ago.  At that time, the Detroit had a magnificent ships bell on the wreck.  Cindy has vivid memories of diving to the wreck and being able to ring the bell.  Even underwater, the bell rung loud and clear.  However, in 2006 it was reported that the bell was stolen from this magnificent wreck (see ScubaBoard post regarding the stolen bell).  To date, I do not believe that the bell has been recovered.  We need to be vigilant as responsible divers to ensure that these historic resources are preserved for future generations of divers to enjoy.

Shipwreck diving in the Great Lakes is truly a hidden gem and every diver should make a point of experiencing it!

Dives to the Detroit!

First a little history on the shipwreck Detroit.  Below is an excerpt of the information found on

Detroit Shipwreck as she sits on the bottom of
Lake Huron in approximately 200 feet of water
Type at loss : sidewheel steamer, wood
Build info : 1846, Wolverton, Newport, MI*
Specs : 157x23x10, 354 t.
Date of loss : 1854, May 25
Place of loss : about 15 miles off Pte Aux Barques, Saginaw Bay
Lake : Huron
Type of loss : collision
Loss of life : none
Carrying : lumber, coal, hay
Detail : Collided with brig NUCLEUS in a heavy fog and sank, exact location unreported until she was located in 1994. Bound Detroit to Chicago with 2 lumber scows in tow. Most of her cargo was for the Sault Canal Co.  Owned by E.B. Ward of Detroit
*Samuel Ward also given as builder

Wreck discovered by Trotter, et. al. in July of 1994, north of Pte Aux Barques in 200' of water.

Our Dive!
Picture by Cindy Lesinszki
View of the starboard paddle wheel as viewed from on deck of the Detroit
The Detroit shipwreck sits in about 200' of water.  So this is definitely in the ballpark of technical diving (the scuba recreational depth limit is 130 feet).  Diving to the Detroit requires advanced planning for gas consumption.  Typically divers today will dive with a pre-determined gas mix consisting primarily of oxygen, helium, and nitrogen.  This gas is called Trimix.  For this dive since we are diving closed circuit rebreathers (CCR), we utilized an 18/30 dilluent mix (18% oxygen, 30% helium, with the remainder 52% being nitrogen).

Picture by Cindy Lesinszki
View of the bottom of the port side paddle wheel
The Detroit shipwreck is in amazing condition.  Descending down the mooring line at about 150' deep, the wreck started to materialize before our eyes.  Having better than 40-50 feet of visibility, we were able to get a good overall view of the vessel laying on the bottom.  As we descended, the two paddle wheels stuck out predominately as the main features of the wreck.  Most shipwrecks of side wheel steamers have their paddle wheels completely destroyed.  The Detroit however has both paddle wheels, not only in amazingly complete condition, but also still in place on both the port and starboard sides of she ship.  Swimming past the paddle wheels a diver can easily imagine the big wheels rotating, propelling the ship through the Great Lakes waters.

Another amazing feature to see is the large reciprocating engine frame nestled between the two paddle wheels.  This is a stunning structure that extends up beyond the shipwreck.  The mooring to the shipwreck is attached to the upper frame of the reciprocating beam.  It must have been a sight to see this engine in action as the steamer moved across the lakes.  
Picture by Cindy Lesinszki
An eerie view of the bow of the Detroit

Being on a CCR, the sounds of the wreck become more apparent.  Since the CCR does not create any bubble noise, it is possible to hear things that the traditional scuba diver cannot hear.  
As mentioned previously, the mooring line is attached to the upper structure of the reciprocating engine.  The attachment is a steel chain around the steel structure.  With the wave action tugging at the boat moored on the surface, we hear the chain gently "clanging" against the engine frame.  The entire dive this reminded me of the Charles Dickens "A Christmas Carol" and the ghost of Jacob Marley all shackled in chain.  This slow methodical clanging created both a reverence as well as a bit of a bone chill for this once magnificent vessel that now lays entombed on the bottom of Lake Huron.

All too quickly we reached our planned maximum bottom time and it was time for Cindy and I to ascend the mooring line.  One of the things I enjoy about technical dives in the Great Lakes is the time to reflect on the dive, the memories of a magnificent shipwreck and what the vessel would be been like navigating the Great Lakes.  All this as we float suspended in the blue abyss waiting for the dissolved gasses in our tissues to slowly free itself from our bodies and allow us to return to the surface to prepare for our next underwater journey.

- Mike and Cindy

A Few Articles of the Sinking of the Detroit

Steamer DETROIT, and Bark NUCLEUS collide on Saginaw Bay, in thick fog. Steamer sunk in 30 fathoms. Property loss $25,000
      Buffalo Democracy
      February 28, 1855 (casualty list)

      . . . . .

We learn by telegraph that about half-past eight o'clock Thursday night the steamer DETROIT was run into by the brig NUCLEUS in Saginaw Bay, and sunk. The wheelsman of the DETROIT had his leg broken. She was loaded with supplies for the Sault Canal Company. The ill-fated vessel went down in about half an hour after the collision. This is the eighth heavy marine loss on the lakes this season.
      Cleveland Morning Leader
      Saturday, May 27, 1854

      . . . . .

LOSS OF THE STEAMER DETROIT. -- At nine o'clock A. M., on Thursday morning last, the steamer DETROIT came in collision with the bark NUCLEUS, by which accident the DETROIT was stove in on her side, causing her to leak very fast. Every effort was made to keep the boat above water, but she sank in about an hour and a half after the accident, in thirty fathoms of water and about fifteen miles to the northward of Point aux Barques.
There was a very dense fog at the time of the collision, and neither vessel saw the other until too near to avoid the disaster. The DETROIT was under charter to the Sault Ste. Marie Canal Company, and was partly loaded with hay and lumber for the Sault, and had in tow two large scows also loaded with timber for the Company. She was under the charge of Capt. Hubbell, who is in the employ of the Company. The DETROIT was owned by E.B. Ward. She was worth about $12,000, and is, of course, a total loss. ------- Detroit Tribune
      The Democracy, Buffalo
      Monday, May 29, 1854

      . . . . .

      LOSS OF THE STEAMER DETROIT -- FURTHER PARTICULARS. -- The Detroit Democrat learns by a hand who has just come down, that the steamboat DETROIT, which cleared from Detroit on Wednesday for Chicago, and was to take the place of the PACIFIC on the Milwaukee and Chicago Line, the latter being intended to take the place of the GARDEN CITY, came in collision with the barque NUCLEUS at 8 o'clock on Thursday morning, off Point au Barques, and sustained such injury that she sunk in thirty-five fathoms. The cargo and most of the furniture was lost, and it is probable that the boat will be a complete loss. Two of the hands on the DETROIT were severely injured, one of them having had his leg broken.

      Capt. Ward, of the RUBY, gives the following further particulars: At 9 o'clock, A. M., on Thursday morning the steamer DETROIT came in collision with the barque NUCLEUS, by which accident the DETROIT was stove in on her side, causing her to leak very fast. Every effort was made to keep the boat above water, but she sunk in about an hour and a half after the accident, in thirty fathoms water, and about fifteen miles to the northward of Point au Barque. There was a very dense fog at the time of the collision, and neither vessel saw the other until too near to avoid the disaster.
      The DETROIT was under charter to the Sault Ste. Marie Canal Company, was partly loaded with hay and lumber for the Sault, and had in tow two large scows also laden with hay and lumber for the company, upon which her passengers and crew took refuge, and from which they were taken by the steamer GLOBE, and brought to Detroit. The DETROIT was under the command of Capt. Hubbell, who is in the employ of the company. The collision was so violent that the smoke pipe fell and crushed the wheel house, severely injuring the pilot and one other person. The DETROIT was owned by Capt. E.B. Ward, was valued at $12,000, and, not being insured, is a total loss.
      Buffalo Daily Republic
      Monday, May 29, 1854

Friday, June 28, 2013

CCR Trimix Class! (June 20-23, 2013)

June 20-23, 2013


Titan/rEvo CCR Trimix Class

Instructor - Ron Benson
After completing the Titan Air Dilluent Deco Diver certification last year, I have been focused on diving the CCR and gaining experience.  Over the past year we were able to make multiple trips to cave country in Florida to get lots of bottom time and experience on our rebreathers.  Being an Open Circuit Technical Diver, my desire obviously was to have the CCR for my deep technical dives.  This spring I was talking with my instructor Ron Benson (Silent Explorers) about continuing my education with the Trimix certification for my CCR.  I was fortunate enough that there were a few others in the local area that were also looking for training so Ron started planning a class for us.

Everyone's schedule started to align and Ron planned the class for June 20th through June 23.  The plan was to start the training at Gilboa Quarry for class room and skills dives.  Then we would move into Lake Huron for the open water shipwreck dives.  Since the season had already started, finding a charter boat could have been a problem.  However, I was able to get Bruno's Dive Shop charter boat, The Great Lakes Diver, scheduled for the weekend of diving out of Harbor Beach.  Normally The Great Lakes Diver operates out of Port Sanilac, MI and does the wrecks in the Sanilac Shores Preserve.

June 20th, 2013
The first day of class was held at Gilboa Quarry.  The class met at the quarry at 8am.  The theme of today was discussion of theories and tuneup/configuration dives.  Ron spent much of the day discussing the current information and new theories of diving Trimix with a closed circuit rebreather.  Ron provided many useful life experiences as well as new and emerging documentation for planning and executing deep Trimix dives safely.

Our dive for the day was on the deep side of Gilboa.  We each reviewed each others gear configurations and made appropriate adjustments and then splashed.  This dive was a tune up dive and skills review dive.  Overall the dive went great.  We spend a good amount of time deep at Giloba and spent time practicing our CCR deco stops!  :-)

In the evening we continued the classroom training and discussions back at the hotel.  I think we ended things for the day around 9:00 or 10:00pm.  What a long day of intense training!

June 21st, 2013
We met at Gilboa bright at early (7:00 AM!).  Since at the end of the day we had to travel to Harbor Beach for the weekend of shipwreck diving, we had plenty to get done! 

The first dive of the day was a continuation of the skills work Ron worked with us on the day before.  Today we continued our practice of bailouts, semi closed rebreather operation, open circuit rebreather operation, and a host of other skills.  We jumped in from the deep side dock and swam over to the Sikorsky helicopter to perform all of the skills.  Im sure the Trout, Catfish, and other aquatic animals were laughing at us as we work to gain proficiency with the skills.  With Ron's watchful eye, were were able to get things down and by the end of the practice had a good grasp of the skills.

Our second dive was again back on the deep side of Gilboa.  The main goal of this dive was what I would consider a little skills task loading.  At the end of the dive, Ron had each student simulate a complete rebreather bailout.  Then the request came to blow a lift bag from the bottom of the quarry (125').  At this point we each had to ascend under the lift back while on open circuit bailout.  This skill requires that the diver manage not only the reel, but also buoyancy control through management of the wing, drysuit, and CCR (of which you aren't breathing from).  This skill practice always leaves the diver feeling like a 3rd and 4th hand would really come in handy!

After the dive, it was time to get gear ready for the weekend of Harbor Beach dives.  This included blending and mixing gasses in the parking lot to be ready for tomorrows dives.  It was then a 4+ hour drive up to Harbor Beach!

June 22nd, 2013
Shipwreck - Dunderburg
Saturdays Dive's were planned for the Dunderburg.  The Dunderburg sits in about 155 feet of water in the Thumb Area preserve.  The Great Lakes Diver charter boat left out of Harbor Beach Marina.

The plan for the day was to do two dives on the Dunderburg.  The afternoon weather looked a little questionable as there was a fairly large storm moving across the state.  So, we met at the dock at 8am and promptly left the marina at 9am.  The goal was to get in both planned dives in the morning/early afternoon before any weather moved into the area.  It is a relatively quick ride out to the Dunderburg and everyone suited up as the boat left the harbor.

The lake was extremely calm in the morning so hooking into the mooring line was not a problem.  The Dunderburg has mooring lines on both the bow and the stern.  At the time I was unsure of which direction the shipwreck lay, so I just tied into the most convenient mooring line (it happened to be the stern).

The plan for the dive was about a 20 minute bottom time which gave a total runtime of about an hour in the water.  The class dove as a team of 4 divers.  Adam and Jacques were a buddy team and Ron and I were a buddy team.  In order to make the entry and exit easier, four lines were dropped over the side of the boat that held the teams bail out and emergency deco gas.  Once everyone splashed, we quickly donned the bottles hanging under the boat and headed down to the shipwreck.

Dunderburg Figurehead
(Image from

Since I had previously dove the Dunderburg on open circuit, I ended up leading the dive team around the wreck.  From the stern of the wreck, we proceeded along the starboard side to see the damage from the collision that sunk the Dunderburg.  At this point we continued forward the the beautiful anchors still stowed on the bow and the impressive windlass on the bow.  The team then inspected the bowsprit and the figurehead that is a premier attraction for the shipwreck.

The team then turned the dive and headed down the port side of the wreck back to the stern of the wreck.  We ascended and completed all of our deco obligations without incident.

After over an hour of surface interval, the plan for dive 2 was to stick around the stern and do a little more in-depth look at the shipwreck.  The team again splashed, donned bottles hanging under the boat and headed down to the wreck.  Once the team verified "all OK", I headed into the wreck through one of the hatch openings on the deck.  As always the swim through the wreck was incredible.  Its amazing looking at the craftsmanship that was put into these old schooners.  They are truly a work of art!  All to soon, our planned bottom time was reached and we made our ascent back to the surface.

June 23rd, 2013
Shipwreck - Charles A. King
For a final dive of the class, we planned a dive on the Charles A. King.   This shipwreck was found in 2008.  It is a two masted schooner that measured 104' in length by 30' in width.  The King sits upright on the bottom in 215 feet of water.

The dive team again assembled at the Harbor Beach docks at 8:00am.  The weather again looked questionable for the afternoon, so we planned a quick exit of the harbor for 8:30.  In talking with Gary Venet of Rec and Tec dive charters, the King had not yet been dove this year.  We were fortunate enough that there was still a mooring line on the wreck when we got on location.  Once again, the weather gods were smiling on us as Lake Huron was completely flat.

After the two dives yesterday on the boat, everyone was in their groove and prepared for their dive quickly.  We soon found ourselves on the wreck at about 200 feet down.  It had been two years since I had dove the Charles King and she was just as beautiful as I had remembered her.  Once the team settled in we headed down the port side of the ship.  The mooring line was tied into the wreck just forward of the still standing forward mast on the bow.  I was happy to see that the artifacts that were found on and around the ship were still proudly displayed along the port side decking just forward of the stern.  For divers who have the opportunity to dive the wreck one artifact to check out is a delicate pink candy dish cover.  Its is such an amazing sight to see at 200+ feet down and that it has survived over all these years!

We continued to the stern and dropped under the stern transom.  Here, you can still make out the painted stars that adorned the ship as it sailed the great lakes back in its day.  Here is where you will reach the max depth of 215 feet.

After exploring the stern, we then traveled up the starboard side of the shipwreck back to the bow.  The bow is very intact on this shipwreck and is an amazing sight to see.  I enjoy swimming out past the bow and looking back at the wreck.  This perspective gives you a great view of the overall size and magnitude of the wooden schooner.

All too soon we reached out planned bottom time and had to head back to the surface (with many stops along they way to reminisce on what we saw and rid our bodies of the dissolved Nitrogen and Helium we had built up). 

What a great week of training and Great Lakes Diving!  The Closed Circuit Rebreather is an amazing machine.  The technology (although not new) provides the diver with many more opportunities and emergency plans in the event of an issue.  A Closed Circuit Rebreather may not be for everyone, but for me, it is a great tool to have for the many types of dives that I enjoy.

Thanks to Ron Benson and Bruno's Dive Shop for making this class happen!

Dive Safe!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Explores find history beneath the waves

Explorers find history beneath the waves

Lakeport men discover 1876 schooner wreck

10:02 PM, May 10, 2013