Diving Lake Michigan
A dive report from Peter Den Haan
Flat as a lake does not apply to Lake Michigan. On our first day of scheduled diving, the waves were 6 to 9 feet and unfortunately, the trip was cancelled. We had planned 3 dives on two different wrecks.
On our second day, the waves were 1 to 2 feet, or at least that’s what they started out to be, but more on that later. We had planned 2 dives on the Wisconsin, a 209’ freighter that sank on Black Friday, 1927. She lies perfectly upright, and her top Deck is at 100’, with the bottom at 130’. My diving partner is Tony Balzanto, who is a local diver and certainly was a great help with my first dive in Lake Michigan.
Our boat, “Second Stage”, was a 35’ 6-Pack with a crew of 4, meaning a few extra divers, so needless to say, it was crowded. Most of the divers were diving doubles with deco bottles, so there was a lot of gear on the boat. We left the dock at 1:30 PM, by which time the waves were 2 to 4 feet. A 45 minute boat ride, normally only 25 minutes, put us over the Wisconsin. The permanent Buoy that we were suppose to moor to, was missing, so it took another hour for a diver to set a new line. Since Tony and I were the first ones on the boat, our gear was behind everyone else’s, so it would be awhile before we could get in. The waves now were 3 to 5 feet, which is quite a bit different than the ocean, as they keep coming and you don’t get a break. When it was finally our turn to get in, unbeknownst to me, Tony started to get seasick. After I did my back roll entry, with my 95 Doubles, courtesy of Tony, the waves were approaching 6 feet. It was quite a feat to clip on my Al 80 50% Deco Bottle, as I had to keep worrying to not get hit by the bouncing boat. As soon as Tony got in and his Deco bottle clipped, we literally fought our way to the Bow. When we got there, the waves were kicking our butts, so we did an immediate descent. Finally at about 35’, it started to get calm. Surface temp was 70 degrees, but at 52’ we hit out first thermo cline and at 80’ our second one which must have been around 38 degrees, my head hurt for a little while. Visibility was about 30’. We hit the bow at 95’ and started making our way back to the stern dropping to 112’. A little past mid ship, we turned around, so we would stay within our planned 20 minute bottom time. We got back to the Bow at 21 minutes and started our ascent and Deco. After our deco, it was a challenge to get back on the boat, the waves now were 5 to 7 feet. Looking at Tony, he didn’t look so well. Apparently, the only time he had felt better was on the bottom and he definitely wasn’t up for doing the second dive.
Since other divers were on the wreck, I did the second dive without Tony. After my descent, I went from the bow around the perimeter starting on the starboard side to stern and back to the bow on the port side. Back at the bow I went to the sand at 127’. It was awesome to be on the bottom and look up the bow. The anchor chains are still attached, the Wisconsin sank while it was anchored, and I’m looking 30’ up and it looks like the Wisconsin is still anchored.
The ride back to port was rough for Tony, as the waves now were 5 to 7 feet. Needless to say, Tony didn’t feel up to going out to dinner. The season for diving Lake Michigan is coming to a close, but I’m hoping to do it again next year and possibly Lake Superior as well.
On a side note, equipment configurations for diving the Great Lakes are more serious and more closely resemble Technical setups, such as Doubles and Deco Bottles.
Information on the Wisconsin:
Other names : built as WISCONSIN, renamed NAOMI(1899), E.G. CROSBY(1909), GEN. ROBERT M. O'REILLY(1918), PILGRIM(1920) and WISCONSIN again in 1924.
Official no. : 80861
Type at loss : propeller, iron, passenger & package freight
Build info : 1881, Detroit Dry Dock, Wyandotte, MI hull# 49
Specs : 209x41x21, 1921 t.
Date of loss : 1929, Nov 29
Place of loss : off Kenosha, WI
Lake : Michigan
Type of loss : storm
Loss of life : 18 of 76
Carrying : machine tools, pass.
Detail : Goodrich liner was overwhelmed by the storm and foundered while waiting out the weather off Kenosha. She was an unrecoverable total loss.
See NAOMI for more information.
Orig 204X35x12, rebuilt & enlarged in 1899 and 1920. Originally built for the Goodrich Line and designed by Frank Kirby. Sister of str MICHIGAN.