I was surprised to learn that there are an estimated 6,000 sunken ships across all the Great Lakes with about 1,500 Michigan shipwrecks located in local waters. With so many wrecks, it’s no wonder that in 1980 Michigan started establishing Underwater Preserve Sites. The last open water preserve created was the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and Underwater Preserve in 2000. This Lake Huron site is one of only 13 national marine sanctuaries in the United States by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
Michigan’s thirteen Underwater Preserves serve to protect the shipwrecks on its Great Lakes bottomlands to ensure that they remain for future generations to study and enjoy. It is against the law to bring up anything object or move anything without a permit.
Closer to home, there are two underwater preserves in Michigan’s Upper Thumb. The Sanilac Shores and Thumb Area Underwater Preserves.
Sanilac Shores Underwater Preserve
The Sanilac Shores preserve hosts some of the most amazing Michigan shipwrecks on the Great Lakes. Of particular note is the wreck of the Regina. Sunk during the Great Storm of 1913. This 250-foot steel package freighter was discovered in 1986. The ship lays upside down in 80 feet of water and rises 25 feet from the bottom. Cargo is scattered on the bottom with visibility typically ranging from 5 to 25 feet.
Sanilac Shores also is the resting spot for the wreck of the Sport, a 57-foot steel-hulled tugboat that sank in a gale in December 1920. In deeper waters, the debris of the schooner Checotah and steamer New York lie in 120 feet of water. Dives to these ships should only be attempted 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. Another deep dive is the Mary Alice B. This popular dive site is in 94 feet of water with the ship laying upright and totally intact. Other vessels in the preserve include the North Star, Col. A. B. Williams, and Eliza H. Strong.
Thumb Area Underwater Preserve
This preserve offers both wrecks and natural attractions in its 276 square miles of open water. Near Grindstone City marina lies remains of large grindstones along the shore. The current high water of Lake Huron means that snorkelers and divers will be the only ones to see the last vestiges of the Upper Thumb’s primary industry. The tip of the Thumb has exposed limestone all along the shore. Those with a sense of adventure can carefully visit the caves near the edge of the reef near Port Austin Lighthouse.
There are ten significant shipwrecks in Thumb Area Underwater Preserve in Lake Huron. These areas dangerous sholes and limestone reefs made many ships its victim as they made their turn into Saginaw Bay and Bay City. His lecture during the Charity Island Dinner Cruise, historian Bob Wiltse indicated that the ship traffic during the lumbering area was similar today’s highways.
Two of the Michigan shipwrecks sank as the result of a collision in 1893. The Philadelphia and Albany both rest in deep water in the preserve. Sitting at 130 feet, the steamer Philadelphia rests upright and surprisingly in one piece. Divers say that the 236-foot ship still has as cookstove resting on the deck.
The 267-foot steel steamer Albany is just southwest of the Philadelphia in 150 feet of depth. The ship sank while under tow after the collision. Both ships are for advanced divers with vis at between 5 to 15 feet.
The Chickamauga is a famous dive for recreational divers. It sank in 1919. Located only a have hile east of Harbor Beach in 35 feet. It’s a 322 foot, double-deck schooner. Other ships in the preserve include the Enterprise, Iron Chief, Dunderburg, Hunter Savidge, Glenorchy, and Governor Smith.
Michigan Shipwrecks Interactive Map
The Michigan History Center has developed a very informative map containing all the shipwreck information in each of the 13 underwater preserves. You can zoom in on a particular area and drill down for more information on a specific wreck. Search for a shipwreck by name or location. You can also design and print off a PDF map. So you can create your own Lake Michigan shipwreck map or Lake Huron shipwreck map. How handy.
The shipwrecks of Michigan map works great on smartphones or tablets so its perfect when out in the field. You can discover Michigan shipwrecks to snorkel, kayak, paddle-board and dive. It will also give GPS coordinates and indicate the experience level and depth for divers at Michigan shipwreck locations.
Great Lakes ice coverage is hovering along a record low for this time in the winter season. At the same time, Lakes Michigan and Huron have broken records for high water levels last set 33 years ago.