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An August weekend in Munising

By: Dave Sommers and Mike Fabish

August 26 was a clear Friday that saw several local explorers headed north to the land of Hiawatha.

The explorers, as in Saginaw Underwater Explorers were heading to Munising for a weekend diving in the Alger Underwater Preserve and checking the sights along the Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore.

The group included Mike Fabish, Greg Prenzler, Dave and Edith Sommers, Tim Hastings, Bill Atkins, Scot Thompson and his German exchange student Sina Porrmann. Tony Piazza and his wife Carol were to meet the group in Munising. With a three-vehicle convoy, that included Tim’s and Dave’s boat, the group departed about 8 am.

After a fuel and lunch break in St. Ignance we headed to the Terrace Motel where everyone took a brief break and readied equipment. The boats were in the water for a short trip to Murray Bay and a dive on the Bermuda, a 130-foot wooden schooner in about 20 feet of water. It sank October 15, 1870

The Glass Bottom Boat runs a regular tour of several of the shipwrecks in the area. They ask that divers stay free of the wrecks during the scheduled tours, and have notices for the divers posted on the buoy marking the wrecks. At least the Bermuda had it. Unknown to us they had added a sunset cruise, which wasn’t posted. Partway through our dive Tim surfaced to see the Glass Bottom Boat and Edith frantically waving him over. He then went down and motioned for everyone to surface. While this disrupted the dive, the staff of the boat gave all of the divers a free air fill.

Saturday morning was clear with a freshening breeze, tossing white caps on Munising Bay. We decided that it would be too rough to head out to the Smith Moore and headed back to the Bermuda, where we got chased off once again by the tour boats.

Trying to dodge the weather, we headed to the west side of Grand Island but the weather was worse. Dave, Tony, Scot and Sina decided the weather was too rough for a fun dive out of the 19’ boat and headed to the Grand Island dock to check out the island. The other group met up with us and decided to head out to the Hettler.

The Herman Hettler was easy to find, it was buoyed and you can see it form the surface. The water was a bit rough when going there but calmed down to mostly flat by the time we ended our tow dives. I was paired with Greg, and Bill and Tim dove as buddies. The Hettler is in about 20’-24’ feet, and there’s not much there other than the main keel and sides of the boat. There was a lot of parts and hardware strew around the wreck to see. But it was still fun to see and I built one of our new SUE Signature Rock Towers on the keel beam before surfacing (see pic). It became a new “thing to do” on each wreck/site we visited (with rocks available), just for fun. Bill and Tim found a different section of the Hettler that still had the big fluke anchor and part of the stern. Greg & I saw it after their dive from the surface.

Sunday started early, with fog still on the lake. The first divers were on the Smith Moore by 9 am. The ship rests in about 80 feet. It is wooden steam barge that sank in 1889. The visibility was only about 10 feet so it wasn’t the best of the dives, but fun nevertheless.

While on the wreck, Pete Lindquest, dean of the Munising dive area, pulled up with a charter. While his group was down we had a nice chat.

Our next destination was the Selvick. A 70’ long steel tugboat that was intentionally sunk in the preserve in 1996 in about 45-60 feet of water. It was a great dive on an intact ship. There was plenty to see and a lot of open spaces. The water was around 68° which made for a nice warm dive, even for those in wet suits.

Tony needed to return to Saginaw so we dropped him off at the Munising boat launch and had lunch. With the day still young, the group decided to head about 20 miles to the Kiowa. Edith came along for a boat ride. About half way there Dave figured he wouldn’t have enough fuel to get there and return. Scot transferred to Tim’s boat as Dave, Edith and Sina toured along the Pictured Rocks.

The dive on the Kiowa became an adventure. We started out with both boats heading out for the 22 mile ride the where the Kiowa was supposed to be. I had GPS coordinates from one of the wreck books. About half way there, it was determined that Dave did not have enough gas on board to make the trip and back, so Scot joined the Satisfaction with Greg, Tim, Bill and I, and the 5 of us continued on. Dave, Edith and Sina turned back and did a great sightseeing tour along the Pictured Rocks and Miners Castle.

We were told the Kiowa was visible from the surface. We knew the wreck was dynamited and scattered over the bottom. At the coordinates, nothing was visible so we dropped a marker and started circles around it. The captain of the Wreck Express (local charter operator) told us it was between the 1st and 2nd staircase on 12 Mile Beach and that lined up about where we were. We found some “shadows”

approx 1/4 mile to the east that showed large structures on the fish finder. We marked that location and continued the circles, finding more shadows to the east, but they did not mark the fish finder as much. We returned to the first sighting, I did a quick strip to my boxers did a free dive, and discovered it was a wreck; must be the Kiowa. We suited up and made the dive. Greg, Scot and I were first in, but it was just a small area and didn’t take long. During the dive, I lost track of my buddies while taking pics and vids, and when I couldn’t locate them, I figured they headed east to the other shadows. I set a heading on my compass and finned out after them.

I did not find them, but I found the huge debris field on the Kiowa, stretching out as far as I could see. I surfaced (only 23’) to let Bill and Tim know what was over there, but they were not on the boat; they had joined the rest of us. I started taking more pics and vids to show them what I found when I returned to the boat, so we could move the boat for the second dive.

Long story short, we all ended up on the main wreck Kiowa, and I reset my GPS with the actual coordinates for a return trip, keeping the bow section as a 2nd location. The wreck is huge and you could spend many dives there looking. One of the main attractions was the mid-ship engine with about 50’ of propeller shaft reaching back until it broke off, and just beyond the rudder system for the Kiowa. There were structures 8’-10’ high off the bottom and a section where you could see the backbone and ribs of the ship. Bill was entranced with the amount of brass fittings and pieces gleaming in the water. There was too much to list, so I took lots of pics & vids. It was a great dive.

The trip back was gorgeous with a stunning sunset and flat seas. We pulled into the launch around 10 PM on a beautiful summer night. We decided we ‘d head back to the Kiowa again someday, but that it would be better to launch in Grand Marais and take the 8-9 mile trip so all boats could cover the distance and not be such a long trip. There are 3-4 more wrecks between Grand Marais and the Kiowa, including a side-wheel steamer that is accredited for causing the most lives lost in all Great Lakes wrecks, and it will be another great SUE adventure!

After a Monday morning breakfast the group went their separate ways. Greg headed back as he had to work Monday night. Dave and Edith loaded their bicycles into their boat and spent the day riding 25 miles around Grand Island. The rest of the group checked out some of the many waterfalls and scenic attractions around Munising before returning home.

It was a great diving weekend with plans underway for a return trip to the area in 2012.

Today is:

Munising 2011
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