Harbor Beach Trip Report (7/24-25/2009)

This past Friday and Saturday I once again had the pleasure of diving Lake Huron near Harbor Beach, MI. The object of the trip was to complete the dives necessary for Brian, Glenn and Jeff to achieve certification as TDI Advanced Nitrox/Deco Procedures Divers. The plan was to dive the Dunderburg Friday afternoon and the bow section of the Morrell Saturday morning.

As planned, we met Gary Venet at the marina about 2:30 for a 3pm departure. The Sylvia Anne is without doubt one of the most comfortable dive boats I’ve ever been on and Gary runs a ship-shape operation. When I reserved our spots on the boat a couple months ago, the guy at the dive shop said we got the last 4 spaces and the trip was full. When we arrived Friday however, we were pleasantly surprised to find out we were the only 4 on the boat! A beautiful Friday afternoon, calm seas, and only 4 divers on the boat. Now that’s living!

We arrived at the Dunderberg, reviewed the dive plan and hit the water. I have to say that I’ve done this dive more times than I can count. But instead of becoming repetitive and boring, the Dunderburg is like an old friend: you may only get together once in awhile, but when you do, it’s like you never were apart. It’s especially fun to take divers on it for the first time. The Dunderburg is one of the prettiest, most intact, and accessible wooden schooners in all the Great Lakes. Visit this link to see some of Andy Morrison’s excellent photos of this beautiful wreck.

After returning to port, we had dinner, debriefed the dive, returned to the motel and rigged equipment for the following day. The “dive in the afternoon one day and early morning the next” schedule doesn’t leave much time in between dives. We finished rigged equipment as the sun set and just before the rain moved in.

Saturday morning it was cloudy and windy. I went to the boat at 7 a.m. and Gary had the weather satellite image on his laptop. There were lots of thunderstorms in the area, one right over the site of the Morrell. Not good. Even worse, there were more lines of storms lining up further west, heading our way. But, if the storms missed us, we might, just maybe, be able to get to the Dunderburg again. We waited. The storms kept marching towards us. At 9 a.m., Gary canceled the morning dive. Our friends from Divers Inc in Ann Arbor, MI were disappointed. My friend Rich Synowiec, owner of DI, had the morning charter booked, so we had booked our spaces through Rich. Long drive for no dive. My team was especially bummed since the cancellation meant we couldn’t finish our coursework. Gary called Dale Musser from Sea Level Scuba, who had the afternoon charter booked and asked if there was room for my students and me so we could finish our course dives. Luckily, there was space. Now if the weather would just cooperate.

Brian, Jeff, Glenn and I went into town for breakfast at Al’s Restaurant. Breakfast at Al’s almost makes it seem OK that the dive was canceled. Homemade food at reasonable prices and outstanding coffee. We headed back to the boat about 11, where we stood under an awning in a downpour, but the wind had dropped to nothing. Storms still on the radar, we still wait. Finally about 1:30 Gary said, “OK, load up. We’ll give it a shot.” It may be cloudy and drizzly, but it should be calm. We headed out to the Dunderburg. There was no disappointment on our part doing the “D” two days in a row. During our debriefing the previous evening, much of what I heard was “And the next time, I want to check out the holds,” and “If we get to dive it again, I have to go out to the crow’s nest.” The conditions were surprisingly good after a stormy morning. Not much wave action, no rain, and even a few peeks of sun.

My team was the second team in the water. They executed the dive nicely and stayed within all the parameters we had discussed on the surface. And they managed to enjoy themselves at the same time. The water seemed warmer than usual; 43 degrees (F) on the bottom, 67 at the surface with the thermocline lurking around 70 feet. We had an excellent dive and there were smiles all around on the boat ride back in.

After unloading the boat and debriefing the dive, we split up to head our separate routes back home. Thanks to Gary and his loyal minions Charlie, Skippy and Tom. Thanks Dale for letting us “stowaway” on your afternoon charter. And most of all, congratulations Brian, Glenn and Jeff!

Harbor Beach Trip Report (7/24-25/2009)

1000 Islands August Trip, Still Room

There are still a couple spots open on my August trip to the 1000 Islands. If you’re not familiar with this region of the Great Lakes, you do not know what you’re missing. The 1000 Islands are in the St. Lawrence River near Lake Ontario. Since it’s a river, there are no waves to speak of, hence no seasickness, no dives canceled to to rough seas, and the best part, warm water. In August the river should be in the mid-70’s with no thermocline. There are lots of cool wrecks to dive in all depth ranges as well as drift dives. Check out my website for more info on this area.

Dive dates are Aug. 11-14. We’ll be driving up on Aug. 10, diving the 11th through the 14th and driving back later on the 14th. Contact me if you’re interested.

1000 Islands August Trip, Still Room

Presque Isle Trip 2009 (Lake Huron)

I just got back this evening from 3 days diving Lake Huron near Presque Isle, MI. Presque Isle is about 30 miles north of Alpena, MI (15 miles south of Rogers City). Some more information is on my website here. The photo at left is a model of the Cornelia B. Windiate on display at the NOAA Thunder Bay Marine Museum in Alpena, MI.

We chartered with Greg Such (www.shipwreckadventures.com) to take us out to such famed and beautiful wrecks as the SS Florida, Cornelia B. Windiate and the Kyle Spangler. This area is known for fickle weather patterns and Greg did a great job of watching the forecasts and picking good weather windows. We didn’t miss a single day of diving. He runs a nice boat and was great helping us gear up and get in the water (although he’ll back off and leave you alone if you prefer).

Anyhow, I was a day late joining the group. On day one, they dove the Windiate. More about that later. On day two (my first day), we met at the boat launch a 7 am to get out before the wind came up. We dove the Kyle Spangler. The Spangler is a beautiful wooden schooner upright and intact on the bottom in about 165′. Both masts are standing, complete with crosstrees (kind of a crow’s nest). Look here for more info on the Spangler. Be sure to click on the link at the bottom of that page to see some awesome photos of the Spangler.

The next day found us once again at the boat launch at 7 am. The weather was sunny, blue skies and no wind. We made the early trip out to the SS Florida and were rewarded with just about flat seas. I’ve been on the Florida a number of times, but it was my buddy Steve’s first time. We dropped the 175′ to her deck and I gave him the whirl-wind tour. We dropped into the hold amidships and swam forward past barrels of flour, some floating up against the overhead. We saw blue enamel pots and pans, hand carts and cans and cans of something. Popping out of the hold near the bow, we eyed the forward capstan cover with the engraving still quite legible. Check out the anchors and time to start working our way to the stern. Down the deck past fallen masts. Huge collision holed on the starboard side. Look inside the aft cabin that looks like a storage area or workshop. Keg of nails on the deck. Brass lantern laying on the deck. Time is fleeting. We drop to the bottom at 195′ to see a bell. Over to the exposed engine to check out the gauge panel and it’s time to get to the upline and ascend. Man, what a dive. We need about 3 more dives to go back and investigate the Florida in more detail.

Today, our last day. Our hope was to return to the Florida. However, the wind was picking up, so we did the Windiate instead. Not a bad consolation prize. The viz was a little disappointing on the way down. But when Steve and I hit the top of the forward mast at 90′, we could clearly see the entire wreck below us. We could see the other buddy team, Marshall and Renee, swimming around the wheel at the stern. We dropped to the deck some 70 feet below the top of the mast. We swim around the bow, with anchors still there. Heading to the stern, we check out the sail hoops and booms still attached to the masts. There are even some small brass grommets (from the sails?) lying at the base of one of the masts. We swim around the wheel at the stern and drop to the bottom (about 180′). The yawl boat is on the bottom on the starboard side. Time to head forward to the line. We swim forward and I marvel at the hatch covers still in place. She surely must have settled slowly to have remained this intact. Before we know it, it’s time to head up.

The lake was still behaving herself and the ride back in was pleasant. One on shore however, the wind came up and within 30 minutes, it blowing hard.

The trip, of course, was too short. We had a great time, great dives, and great friendship. The best epitaph for a trip like this is “Just wait until next year!!!”

Presque Isle Trip 2009 (Lake Huron)