By Dan Friedhoff, Secretary – Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve Association
Just off the shores of Mackinaw City lie a multitude of shipwrecks that are frequently explored during the summer months by scuba divers.
The Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve is known as one of the best spots for shipwreck diving in the Great Lakes. From pre-Civil War sailing ships to the third largest shipwreck in the Great Lakes that sank in 1965, the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve is now home to many shipwrecks. The many lighthouses that dot the shoreline, islands and shoals are reminders of the many dangers to the mariners that have sailed their ships through the busy shipping lanes of the Straits of Mackinac. These shipwrecks are time capsules and are protected by the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve, an area that covers approximately 150-square-miles.
One of the oldest shipwrecks in the area is the Sandusky. Almost 40 years before the Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse was erected, the 110-foot sailing vessel was sailing from Chicago loaded with grain when she was met by a vicious early fall storm in September 1856. Despite a rescue attempt by another vessel from Mackinaw City, the Sandusky sank, taking all of her seven-person crew with her to the bottom of Lake Michigan.
The wreck of the Sandusky is located approximately five miles west of the Mackinac Bridge. She was discovered in 1985 sitting upright and fairly-intact in 80 feet of water, her sailing masts having snapped off lay to her side. There is a scrolled ram’s head figure head under her bow sprit and is a popular stop for divers visiting the Preserve.
The Eber Ward is also a favorite of shipwreck divers. She was a 213-foot wooden steam-powered ship that was cut open by ice in April 1909 and sank approximately five miles west of the Mackinac Bridge in Lake Michigan. She took five of her crew with her when she sank in 140 feet of water. She now rests sitting upright on the bottom—her anchors, rudder and propeller still in place. There is even one of her bathtubs and toilets laying on deck.
The most recent shipwreck is the 588-foot steel freighter Cedarville that sank May 1965. She was traveling through heavy fog in Lake Huron when a lack of communication resulted in a collision with a seagoing vessel. After some efforts to recover from the collision, the Cedarville rolled over and sank in 100 feet of water just three miles east of the bridge. Her massive size makes for an intimidating dive. The pilot house, engine room, smoke stack, cargo holds and self-unloader provide many areas to explore. Following her 2017 visit of the Great Lakes, famed underwater photographer Becky Kagan Schott stated that “One of my favorite wrecks from the trip was the freighter Cedarville.”
The Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve also has many shallower shipwrecks closer to shore which can be explored by kayakers and snorkelers. Most of the shipwrecks are moored every year by the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve. The buoys promote safe and easy access for scuba divers exploring the shipwrecks and also protect the shipwrecks for damage from anchors. There is public boat access in Mackinaw City and St. Ignace. There are also a number of charter boats available to take certified scuba divers out to explore the shipwrecks.
For more information about of the shipwrecks in the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Preserve, visit StraitsPreserve.com and like us on Facebook.