Trip report: World-class wreck diving in Presque Isle, MI with Shipwreck Explorers

Molly V

I will just start by saying it’s been a really busy summer and I haven’t updated this blog as much as I had hoped but I wanted to write a trip report as I just got back from 4 days of diving in Presque Isle, Michigan.  It was some of the best and well preserved wreck diving that I’ve ever done. Seriously the diving up in Presque Isle, MI and in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary is so worth the trip that I’m already thinking of skipping a warm water vacation in Mexico and planning for two weeks up in Lake Huron next year.  The wrecks are amazingly intact and very well preserved due to the cold fresh water and depths that kept them from being pilfered over the years.

If you can stomach the cold (I think me and one other person were the only two without drysuit heaters on this trip) you’ll be rewarded with pristine diving conditions and 50+-100ft of visibility. (A real treat for NE divers..)  At depth the water seems to be a constant 38-39f (~3.5c) however we were greeted with a very warm thermocline at 55-60ft (~18m) and enjoyed water temperatures of 62-65f (let’s  call it 16-18c) on deco. I can only imagine the surface temps in late August/early September.  Honestly the bottom water temperatures are very similar to Boston winter diving so it wasn’t nearly as bad as some people claim especially when you hit the thermocline.

13729026_10100483696291109_8931344928480138889_nBecause I was the only person from Boston on this trip I opted to skip the 14-16 hour drive and I flew into a small regional airport in Alpena, MI (APN) from Boston.  Alpena, MI is only about 20-25 minutes drive to Presque Isle, MI.  Very tiny airport to fly into.  You de-plane on the tarmac and there appears to be one terminal. Hard to get lost.  I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to “find” the rental car area until I realized it is literally a booth about 10ft away from the terminal that I just exited. I’m guessing I might have been one of their only rental car clients for that day because the person at the counter was expecting me and already had car waiting outside with the trunk open.

This is what approximately ~215lbs of gear looks like loaded into 4 bags.  rEvo rebreather with stand, two 3L cylinders and one AL6 cylinder, drysuit + undergarments + extra layers, 3 bailout regs with stage rigging, camera, GoPro, video lights, can light, reels, hood, gloves, laptop, extra scrubber. I think there are some clothes in there somewhere?

Once I picked up my rental car I headed towards Presque Isle to meet up with my buddy Shawn who was organizing the trip. We stayed at the Parker House which has an on-site restaurant and some small cottages about 10-15 minutes away from the marina.  Never tried the restaurant which supposedly does good breakfast because we left too early every day. We were originally supposed to stay at Grand Lake Resort but they were full.  In any case Parker House was fine; Cottages were a bit outdated but for the price it was perfectly adequate.   After we unpacked we headed over to the Presque Isle State Harbor marina to meet up with Jitka so I could grab some tank fills for my rebreather bottles and fill out paperwork.  Shawn was nice enough to lend me and fill a couple AL80s for bailouts; I just brought my own bailout regs and stage rigging.    I dove with 21/35 for my deep bailout and 50% for rich bailout/deco gas for the trip.    This was good enough to cover the entire range of depths that we were diving for the week.    Some guys were carrying a mix AL40s and AL80s and doing team bailout but I figure I would make it very easy on myself and carry a couple AL80s especially since some of my runtimes would have been really stretched it if I only had AL40s.  I really don’t mind carrying two AL80s.  I averaged about 25-30 minute bottom times so nothing earth shattering but as you can imagine an extra 5 minutes at 180ft (55m) tends to add a bit of deco.  All worth it though..

Jitka has a really nice mobile fill station setup in the back of her truck to easily support rebreather divers.  Multiple Ts of O2, Helium and sets of doubles for diluent premix. The open circuit guys on this trip had to bring an ungodly amount of doubles and deco bottles.  It would make logistics up here a nightmare if you were diving open circuit.  I dove with 16/55 for my diluent for the week since that is what she had already had pre-banked.  Shawn and others who drove to Presque Isle were diving similar mixes since they were able to bring already full tanks.   I probably could have got a couple days of diving off my 3Ls filled to 230bar but I didn’t mind having Jitka top them off after each day of diving.  Better to be safe.


For our first day of diving we loaded up the boat (Molly V) in the marina parking lot but for the rest of the week Jitka had slip at the marina. The only things I took off the boat each day was my rebreather, drysuit, and lights to charge. Everything else stayed on the boat for the most part which made loading much easier and of course we could leave our bailouts on the boat for the week.

On our first day of diving (Wednesday, July 20th), we dove the S.S. Florida for our first dive. She was a wooden steamship that was ~271ft long and was built in 1889. She sunk in 1897 after colliding with the steamer George W. Roby in dense fog.  She now sits in approximately 200ft of water.  One word, WOW.

This was my first dive ever in the Great Lakes (not counting St Lawrence river) and based on this wreck I will say that I am hooked.     After a 2hr surface interval we splashed in for our second dive on the Kyle Spangler.  She was 130ft wooden schooner built in 1856 that sunk in 1860 after just only four short years of service when she collided with the schooner Racine.  She now sits in about 185ft of water and is remarkably intact. Her holds are still filled with the remains of her cargo (corn).

SS Florida
Max depth: 183ft Runtime: 81 minutes Visibility: Caribbean like at 100ft. Water temp: 38-39f on bottom and 65f on deco.

Kyle Spangler
Max depth: 181ft Runtime: 85 minutes Visibility: 100ft Water temp 39f on bottom and 64f on deco

For our 2nd day of diving (Thursday, July 21st) the winds unfortunately started to pick up a bit.  The “seas” weren’t too bad but we kept our runtimes a bit shorter just in case the weather drastically changed. As an ocean person the scale of the Great Lakes never dawned on me. They are really “great.”  It didn’t occur to me just how massive they are until I flew over them. We dove the wreck of the Norman which was a steel steamer that sunk in 1895 after being rammed amidship. She sank in 210 feet of water in 3 minutes. She’s about 270ft long. Lots to explore. For the 2nd dive we headed closer to shore to the John J. Audubon, a two-masted schooner that sunk in 1854. She was struck by the schooner Defiance and cut almost in half. We dove the Defiance later on in the week.

Max depth: 190ft Runtime: 68 minutes Visibility: 50-75ft Water Temp: 39f and 64f on deco.

John J. Audubon
Max depth: 168ft Runtime: 71 minutes. Visibility: 50-75ft. Same water temps as above.

For our third day of diving (Friday, July 22nd) I decided to bust out the GoPro and take some video. Unfortunately I didn’t bring all four of my video lights so my video came out a bit dark and grainy. I am definitely upgrading to some 3000+ lumens video lights before next trip up here.  We had an awesome dive on the Cornelia B Windiate. She was 3 masted schooner that sunk in 1875. For our 2nd dive we dove the Defiance. She was a two masted schooner that sunk in 1854. The tiller on the wreck is still fully intact and easily moves the rudder.

Cornelia B. Windiate
Max depth: 173ft Runtime: 82 minutes. Visibility: at least 50-75ft Water temp another cold 38f on bottom and mid 60s on deco above 50ft.

Max depth: 180ft Runtime: 78 minutes. Visibility: 75ft or so.. Water Temp 39f on bottom and 65f on deco. Unfortunately I forgot to bring extra GoPro battery so no pictures or video from the Defiance on this trip.

Friday night we ended up gets some steaks and grilling at the Grand Lake Resort for dinner.   It was a good evening..


Finally for our last day of diving (Saturday, July 23rd) we decided to go back to the wreck of the Norman. This time we spent a lot of time on the bow. Still so much more to explore on this wreck. The Norman and the SS Florida are probably my two favorite wrecks up here that I’ve dove so far. Honestly there is not a bad dive up there so it’s hard to pick a favorite. For our second dive we went to the Typo, a three masted schooner that sunk in 1899. The bell is still on the wreck as well as some human remains affectionately called Typo Tony.

Max depth: 195ft Runtime: 77 minutes. Visibility: 50ft+or so. Water Temp: 39f on bottom and 65f on deco.

Max depth: 184ft Runtime: 82 minutes. Visibility 50ft-75ft+ Water Temp: 38-39f on bottom and 63-65f on deco.

Overall it was a fantastic trip with some great new friends.   We had a great group of divers, John and Jenn from Canada, Russ and Scott from Detroit and my friend Shawn from Detroit who organized the trip. I already can’t wait to return next year, hopefully for a full week of diving.

I feel at this point I should make a plug for Jitka’s operation, Shipwreck Explorers.  Jitka’s boat the Molly V is a 28ft aluminum Marinette boat aptly setup for technical diving.  It is an exceptionally well-run charter operation. It doesn’t feel cramped or crowded at all. I’ve been on some 30ft+ boats that had much less space and that says a lot.

She utilities a carolina rigging system (similar to most NE boats and of course boats in North Carolina) which most divers are familiar with which makes getting down to the wrecks and doing deco easy.  She also hangs 3 oxygen regs at 20ft with an LP inflator hose to plug-in offboard O2 for us rebreather types in case of an emergency.  In addition she also hangs two weighted lines with rings off the back of each side of the stern to facilitates un-clipping and removing of deco and bailout bottles which makes climbing back on board a breeze.    Finally, her ladder is fantastic. Well-built and over engineered with rungs that extend well into the water. 

Even with 7 divers (6 divers + 1 crew) there was plenty of room on the deck for gearing up.  The benches are wide enough that they should fit 8 full technical setups without issue. That is sometimes hard to do when you have rebreather divers with multiple bailout bottles and doubles divers with multiple deco bottles.

Herself and her crew member Mike A. were also very helpful clipping off and unclipping bottles and assisting with any gear or passing any camera equipment we needed.   A first rate operation..

Lastly there is deco the dog. He happily accompanied us on the boat everyday.  Well-behaved and quiet. He sleeps in the cabin and waits for the boat to stop before he anxiously waits for Jitka to get him a bowl of fresh lake water.

Deco the dog

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One Thought to “Trip report: World-class wreck diving in Presque Isle, MI with Shipwreck Explorers”

  1. Chris

    This is a great read. I enjoy reading up on all of your dives. Keep it coming.

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