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Thumb Area Bottomland Preserve
Many vessels transiting Lake Huron pass near Michigan's "Thumb". A scarcity of good harbors has left shipping exposed to bad weather and the concentration of shipping has led to frequent accidents.
At least 22 major shipwrecks lie in and around the Thumb Area Underwater Preserve. The entire area has been the focus of wreck hunting for decades with new discoveries every year.
Among the best shipwreck dives in or near the Thumb Area Underwater Preserve are:
Dunderburg. The schooner Dunderburg was launched in 1867. She sank off Harbor Beach after a collision on August 13, 1868. She rests fully intact in 155 feet of water. A unique, extremely well preserved figurehead adorns her bow and her cargo of grain is still sitting in her holds.
Chicamauga. A large 322-foot double deck schooner, the Chicamauga foundered on September 12, 1919. She sits in about 32 feet of water just east of Harbor Beach and is very accessible to novice divers.
Goliath. The oldest known wreck in the Preserve is the Goliath, a package and bulk freighter. She exploded and burned on September 13, 1848. Her main features are an upright engine, boiler, stove and unique early propellers. They can be examined in about 104 feet of water.
Philadelphia. The 236-foot steamer Philadelphia was built in 1868. She was lost in a collision with the steamer Albany on November 7, 1893. She is upright in 120 feet of water. The wreck is mostly intact with her cargo of heating and cooking stoves resting on the deck and scattered on the lake floor next to the hull.
Albany. The 267 foot steel steamer Albany was launched in 1846. She survived the collision with the Philadelphia on November 7, 1893 and was taken in tow. However, she foundered while undertow and came to rest close by the Philadelphia in 140 feet of water. She lies broken with her stern upright and her bow resting on its starboard side.
John McGean. The "The Great Storm" of November 9, 1913 claimed the large steel freighter John McGean. She was lost with all hands and now rests upside down in 195 feet of water.
Troy. This early steamer foundered in a storm in 1859 and is broken up in 94 feet of water. Divers can view her large steeple engine, boiler, unique propeller and "hogging" arches.
Dump Barge. This 1880's era barge was located in 74 feet of water, just outside of Grindstone City. The wreck is frequently visited by many game fish and usually has excellent visibility. The chain and winch mechanism for opening the large dump doors are still present.
Jacob Bertschy. Lost in a storm on September 3, 1879, the 139 foot long steamer Bertschy sits in 6 feet of water southeast of the Grindstone City Harbor. This is a great shore dive for beginning divers and snorkelers, with many game fish usually seen.
Daniel J. Morrell. This large freighter was lost in a storm on November 29, 1966. The Morrell is famous for having broken into two sections with her bow coming to rest in 200 feet of water. Her stern remained under power after the loss of the bow and continued on for another 6 miles before settling into 218 feet of water. The wreck's portions lie just north of the Preserve boundary.
Gov. Smith. This 240 foot long wooden steamer foundered after colliding with the steamer Uranus, on August 19, 1906. She is up right and mostly intact in 175 feet of water.
Throughout the season, most of these shipwrecks are buoyed, at one time or another, by private groups of divers. However, it is always best to have a backup plan, in case the wreck you plan to dive is not buoyed at the time you go out.
In addition to shipwrecks, other diving opportunities exist in the Thumb Area Underwater Preserve. Limestone ledges, walls and sunken islands are located along the Port Austin reef, near the Lighthouse. The reef is covered with remnants of numerous shipwrecks, lost over the decades. Evidence of grindstone manufacture can be found off Grindstone City. Offshore from Kinch Road, in 30 feet of water, is a large woodstock anchor with 300 feet of chain.
Most of the Thumb area is a rural resort area with many state and local campgrounds and parks. No trip to the area is complete without visiting the Pte. Aux Barques Lighthouse and Shipwreck Museum at Lighthouse County Park, www.pointeauxbarqueslighthouse.org. The area also hosts numerous activities and events throughout the dive season. To learn more, consult the websites for Harbor Beach Chamber of Commerce, www.harborbeachchamber.com, the Huron County Visitor Bureau, www.huroncounty.com, Port Hope Chamber of Commerce, www.porthopemich.com, and the Greater Port Austin Chamber of Commerce, www.portaustinarea.com.
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