Searching for Shipwrecks: What I Learned Planning a Dive in the Great Lakes State

Have you ever had a great day completely ruined in one moment? It doesn’t even have to be a big deal, but it can completely change your day. That’s exactly what happened to me while we were planning a shipwreck dive on vacation.


The Shipwreck

My younger brother Nathan and I are both certified PADI SCUBA divers. Being such, we were intrigued to learn of a huge shipwreck near the city we would be staying in. She was an old 1900’s cargo ship. Huge, loud, and made entirely of metal. After many successful years in service, the ship’s captain ran it aground while attempting to navigate a storm. As a result, most of the ship’s cargo was lost. The Franciso Morazon now sits off the southwest side of South Manitou Island and sits in only fifteen feet of water. Anyone strong enough to reach it will have no issue pulling themselves up onto the remains of the deck, to explore the interior. One can kayak from Leland, Michigan, across an expanse of lake, and reach the wreck. A safer option is to take a ferry to the island and either kayak or hike around to the wreck. This is a much more realistic way to reach the shipwreck, and so we decided this was the plan we would stick with.

The Sudden Storm

After we arrived at our hotel just outside of Traverse City, we decided to do some scouting. We were already planning to rent free-diving equipment from the local dive shop, and wanted to see if there were any good places to get comfortable with the gear. After previewing a few beaches, we called the dive shop. They were closed. It was July 4th.

We quickly checked the hours of the ferry. It was just as I had feared. There was only one round trip ferry all day, and it left port just as the dive shop was supposed to open. We wouldn’t be able to make dive the Morazon. It ruined the day.

The Turn Around

We had already planned to go diving and the dive shop would be open the next morning, so we decided we would stop in and ask about local dive sites then. We drove into town and went to the cherry festival since Traverse City is the cherry capital of the world.

When we visited the dive shop in the morning, we were pointed to three different sites. Each had a shipwreck we could easily access without air tanks.

As mentioned above, we would be free diving. We would swim out to the site with wet suits and dive fins, carrying nothing more than a knife, camera, and dive flag. Knowing this would be physically exhausting, we decided to go for it anyway. We chose the shipwreck where we would be able to see the most fish…the wreck of The Yuba.

The Dive

Within a couple of hours we were suiting up in the parking lot of the park. An older gentleman in a Margarita parked his truck and empty boat trailer next to us. He asked us if we were looking for the shipwreck and wished us luck. We thanked him. After we took a few pre-dive pictures we slipped into the water.

shipwreck Dive pic

We had to wade out about fifty feet before the water got deep enough to sit down with our heads under the water.

I walked Nathan through some breathing exercises to make sure his weight belt wouldn’t be dragging him down. With free-diving everything has to be streamlined. Extra weight would slow the dive down and limit our time exploring the bottom for the shipwreck, as it would take longer to get back to the surface.  Nathan had forgotten his mask at home, so we borrowed one from the dive shop. One of its easy-use water-vents allowed water to seep in during the dive. While it was a nuisance, we decided to press on.

The Return

We swam away from shore at a ninety degree angle from the buoyed off area, just as we were suggested to do in order to find the wreck. Sadly, the buoys were not set up the same way they were last summer. Looking at Google Earth, it is clear we were far from the wreck. About two-hundred yards north. We continued looking for it until we grew tired, and discovered what looked like an old hay-bale on the bottom. When we returned to shore our parents were extremely worried. We had never planned to go out as far as we had, a good six hundred yards from shore. Looking back at our dive, so many things are clear.

Flexibility is key

Although it’s good to plan, it’s also good to be flexible. Rather than allowing one ruined detail to destroy the entire plan, we just picked another dive site. Having somewhere to fall back saved the dive. Especially in the water, with weight and a streamlined suit, simply leaning forward and exhaling quickly allows a diver to effortlessly reach bottom. By learning to go with the flow and make fast and minute changes, one can save so much energy and enjoy everything to its fullest.

Perspective Always Changes.

From our parent’s perspective we must have looked like ants on the ground from a second story window. We were far from shore and in the middle of Lake Michigan. From our perspective it wasn’t a big deal. The water was only ten ft. deep and the waves would assist in pushing us back to shore when we were tired. Everybody is in a different position and sees things from a different angle. This is important in dealing with people, especially in friendships or relationships.

What one thinks or believes makes total sense to and resonates with them. It is important not to brutally attack a person or their idea. Relentlessly bashing opinions or ideas contrary to your own is a jerk move. Never do it. Ever. Resorting to harsh language or mocking another person’s beliefs will only cause tension and hostility. When engaging in one on one conversation this is a great thing to remember.

In addition, sometimes we don’t realize where we screwed up until we look back at something. Just like using Google to see where we went astray while searching for the wreck, sometimes it can be good to view your actions from a different perspective. Even just waiting ten minutes after the situation and allowing yourself to calm down helps you change the lens with which you’re looking at the problem.

Never Try to Carry More than you can Handle

Carrying too much weight can ruin a dive, and it isn’t something that can easily be changed in the water, as whether it is on your belt or not, somebody will need to carry it. It is always important to double, triple check how much and what one is carrying. When in doubt, reduce the weight. This is important not only in diving, but also in a supportive manner. If you can’t carry something and need help, don’t be scared to ask for it. Many men avoid asking for help, but it is important to know when you truly need it, and who can and will actually help you. True friends and family will always be there for you, they usually just need to be asked.

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