Wreck Diving the Great Lakes

Wreck diving! It’s one of the biggest watery thrills you can have if you love the water. It can also kill you. But mostly, the thrills thing.

You know who has a lot of shipwrecks? The Great Lakes. These five monstrous bodies of water bordering the U.S. and Canada have become a graveyard of broken vessels and splintered boats. If you dive for wrecks or want to know more about the region, consider these Great Lakes classics on your next trip.

1. The Gunilda

Located near Rossport, Ontario, the Gunilda is widely considered one of the best-preserved wrecks in the world. Yes, the world. Resting in 265 feet of water, the Gunilda settled in McGarvey’s Shoal thanks to the frugality (read: cheapness) of its owner. In 1911, William Harkness decided to take his luxury steam yacht for a cruise but eschewed a pilot to direct the ship, being the penny-pincher that he was. A few navigational errors later, and Harkness found his expensive yacht grounded atop McGarvey’s Shoal. He directed the rescue boat to yank his Precious off the shoal against all basic maritime common sense. As expected, water rushed into the Gunilda through its gaping wounds and sank. To date, two people have died diving the Gunilda, it took six years to recover one of those bodies, and nobody–absolutely nobody–has been able to salvage the old girl.

2. Carl D. Bradley

Measuring at 640 feet long, the Carl D. Bradley is second in size only to the infamous Edmund Fitzgerald to have wrecked in the Great Lakes. On November 18, 1958, the Carl D. Bradley confronted a violent storm on Lake Michigan. Waves were estimated between 60-70 feet tall and the winds were in excess of 30 mph when the freighter hit a wave and crashed back onto the water. What happened next was unbelievable at the time: the ship broke in half. Of her 35-man crew, only two survived. The long-held belief was that the wreck was an “Act of God,” but testing in 1997 revealed structural vulnerabilities were the true culprit behind the Bradley’s demise. Today, the Bradley rests near Beaver Island in the upper part of Lake Michigan and is considered a highly advanced technical dive.

3. S.S. Michigan

For 120 years, the S.S. Michigan lay invisible at the bottom of Lake Michigan. No one could find the passenger steamer until Michigan Shipwreck Research Associates sniffed it out 270-feet down near the coast of Holland, Michigan, in 2005. Sent to assist another ship that was trapped in pack ice, the S.S. Michigan soon found itself unable to escape the same fate. Stuck and with nowhere to go, the crew eventually abandoned ship and made shelter on the tugboat Arctic before walking across the thick ice to safety in Holland. The entire crew survived the 40-day ordeal only to watch their beloved ship finally break free from the ice and sink to her watery grave.

4. Judge Hart

The “Gales of November” is the maritime moniker bestowed upon the treacherous peak of the Great Lakes storm season. Remember the Edmund Fitzgerald mentioned above, the largest shipwreck in the Lakes? It, too, was felled by the Gales. The Judge Hart battled similarly dangerous weather on November 28, 1942, in northern Lake Superior near Ashburton Bay. As if a severe storm wasn’t bad enough, the cold temperatures mucked up the vessel’s nav ability. As a result, the Hart crashed into Fitzsimmons Rocks. Attempts to extricate Judge Hart from the rocks proved fatal as the ship took on water and promptly dropped to the lake floor. The Judge Hart was found in 1990 and is one of the best preserved freighters in the Great Lakes.

5. Dunderberg

Had enough of the steel behemoths? Try out a 19th-century wooden ship for size. The Dunderberg was headed for Detroit carrying corn, 10 mates, and six passengers along Lake Huron when it smashed into a steamer named Empire State. Or rather, the Empire State smashed into the Dunderberg. The Dunderberg plummeted to its watery resting place near Harbor Beach, but only after one passenger was tragically killed during the collision. Later investigations deemed a crew member on Empire State to be at fault for the accident. For a wooden ship, Dunderberg is amazingly pristine and is a must-stop for divers itching to see relics from Huron’s past.