Article by ADM Staff Photojournalist
Mel Clark
resque Isle (PI) is a technical divers’ amusement park. This summer we had the pleasure of experiencing most of what PI offers divers in technical shipwrecks and man was it a ride! Presque Isle is located on the northern end of Lake Huron, very close to Rogers City, which is known for the catastrophic shipwreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald. For us, it was an easy flight into Detroit then a five hour, 270 mile drive north. Driving in my mind always beats taking connecting flights and dealing with the lost luggage and small “crop duster” planes that fly into the closer airports like Alpena. Alpena does have a lovely hospital with a chamber if you should feel the need, but this is a completely different story!
Above: Erik Foreman and Blair Mott arrive at the bow of the 210 foot steamer the Florida. The capstans’ brass name and registration plate still clearly show the ships name and ship builder’s information.
The most noteworthy wrecks in the area are the Defiance, John J. Audubon, Typo, Florida, Norman, Cornellia Windiate, Barney, Bentley, Kyle Spangler and Franz. We were blessed with great weather on our trip allowing us two dives a day and visits to six of the nine local wrecks. The diving environment for a technical dive was very pleasurable. Most of the wrecks are a short boat ride from the docks. The water temperature in the summer months is cold on the bottom, around 41F, with two distinct thermoclines making the deco really easy and pleasant. The first thermocline is at about 60 feet and the water temperature jumps to 55-60F. The second thermocline, just below 20 feet, brought the temp up to 65F which made the majority of the deco a breeze. The wrecks are mostly above the 180-200 foot mark allowing for a nice long bottom time to really explore the wrecks. I compare this to our Carl Bradley trip last year with a depth of 370 ffw and our deco time was often greater than four hours. Almost all of our deco on the Presque Isle wrecks was less than two hours and this came with a healthy forty minute bottom time. All of these factors in addition to some well preserved shipwrecks from the eighteen hundreds and you have a great week.

The team consisted of the usual guys and a few new ones. Curt McNamee, Erik Foreman, Tom Kean, Blair Mott and Terry Kovacevic would be my models for the week. The first day Capt. Jitka of Shipwreck Explorers took us to the two most talked about Presque Isle wrecks, the Florida and Windiate. What a way to start to the trip. The Florida is a 270 foot wooden steamer that was lost in 1897 after colliding with the George Roby. The Florida at the time was one of the biggest ships on the lakes. It is of course unfortunate that she managed to find the even larger ship the Roby, in a dense fog bank. After the collision the Florida sank in 205 ffw. We started our descent to find the bow sitting intact on the bottom. The capstan with the shipbuilders name and Florida on it makes for a great picture to start the dive.

Above: Erik Foreman poses by the gauges on the Florida’s steam engine. The stream engine is easy to examine as the engine room has disintegrated and all that is left standing is the engine now exposed in open water.
As we swam down the starboard side towards the stern it became very apparent the reason she sank as we swim past the huge gaping hole in her side. The main deck cabin managed to survive the sinking and is completely intact. In front of the cabin the main mast with the crows nest lies on the deck.

As we continued on the swim aft We see the ship splayed open like a fish. There is a large debris field and in the center is the completely exposed triple expansion engine. The brass gauges become visible as we wipe away the zebra muscles. As we continue aft the ship is more intact but broken. The stern section sits upright on the bottom with the rudder and prop visible but embedded in the bottom. During the swim back to the up line I recommend a tour through one of the intact levels of the forward section.

After a two hour surface interval we explored the Cornellia Windiate. This wreck is a three-masted schooner 138 feet in length built in 1874 and was lost less than a year later in 1875. It is believed that she was trapped in the ice and experienced fatal damage and sunk. All nine hands were lost. This wreck is simply put, stunning. She is perfectly preserved and her beauty shows through even as destructive zebra muscles begin to cover her rigging and ornate woodwork . I would have assumed there to be some crush type damage to her from the ice pack but this is not the case.

Above: Blair Mott swims by the Florida’s engine room that is now completely open to the surrounding waters on his way to the ships stern.
Above:Erik Foreman stops to admire the Windiate’s stern steerage. The wheel is completely intact with the ivory bone tips still sparkling white. Terry Kovacevic another team member is seen in the background.
Above: Erik Foreman stops on the bow of the Windiate. The rigging now dangles over the port side of the ship. Two of the ships masts are seen here still standing in the background, a site not often seen due to the water force ripping the masts away when ships sink.
As we descended on the stern all structures are intact. This is probably a result of ice encasing her and protecting these structures often lost during sinking. The aft cabin has an open door but it would be very difficult to penetrate and should be avoided to preserve this great ship. The wheel is still in place displaying the ivory bone tips. Given this ship was built in 1874 I would think ivory was not as taboo then. I always find it saddening to see the life boats on the bottom next to sunken ships and this is no exception. Just off the stern starboard side is the aft life boat the oars still tied in place. After a quick trip to the ships massive rudder, we swam to the bow and noted all three masts are still standing, reaching more than 30 feet toward the lakes surface. This would suggest that the sails were down when she sank, and further points to her being trapped in the ice.

On the swim to the bow the decks are littered with wood blocks and other rigging. There are a few holds with the hatches collapsed inwards. These holds were filled with wheat. On the starboard bow a huge anchor is still tied to the deck. As this ship sits in 170-180 ffw granting us a fairly easy decompression schedule. Two world class dives and it was only our first day.

We all arrived at the bustling Presque Isle harbor to meet Capt. Jitka for day two’s dives. Today she told us we were going to dive the Norman. This had to be my favorite wreck of the trip. The Norman is a steel steamer of 297 feet in length sunk in 1895 after a collision with a Canadian ship, the Jack, once again in a fog bank. This collision resulted in three soles perishing. During our dive Erik found one of the sailor’s leg bones. The ship lies at a 45 degree list to the port side very intact with the exception of one large split from the top deck down to the keel amidships.

As we descended on the bow the ships main anchor is standing in the sand below the bow as if holding the great ship in place. I watch as my six foot buddy is dwarfed by the anchor which must be over twenty feet tall . Off the port bow is the pilot house with the ships large double wheel still very much intact. There is also a lifeboat lying near the pilot house with the ships profile visible in the background. Most of the cargo holds hatches are missing, providing us very easy penetration into the ship. We did two dives on the Norman; the first was an external survey, the second we penetrated the holds, various decks and the engine room. The roof of the engine room must have blown off when she sank exposing the triple expansion engine. As we enter the engine room from the aft side of the engine we slip under a railing and around a set of stairs to find the engine’s brass gauges and telegraph. All of which are in pristine shape. Be careful there is a lot of rust to stir up and can make for a less then perfect exit. After exiting the engine room we rounded the stern to find the prop and rudder. The prop has two blades visible the third buried in the sand. The rudder is bent almost 90 degrees up and toward the bow. It is amazing the rudder did not sheer off with the forces it took to bend it this dramatically. On our way back to the bow we swam over several deck winches and past the still standing mast. Even though this ship sits in 200 feet of water the ambient light at depth is amazing. If you have to make a choice on which dives to do in Presque Isle I would suggest making sure the Norman makes the list.
Above: My buddy Erik who is over 6 foot tall is dwarfed by the Normans massive anchor. The anchor here looks like it is holding the mighty ship in place on the bottom. The Norman is an almost 300 foot steel steamer that went down in 1895 after colliding with the Jack, a wooden lumber hooker.
Above: Erik finds the bell of the Typo, a three-masted schooner that sank in 1899. The clapper is long gone but the bell still rotates on its mount. They don’t make em’ like they use to for sure!
Day three we dive the Typo and the Kyle Spangler. The Typo was the first dive of the day. She is a three-masted schooner that was built in 1873 that sunk in 1899 after a collision. The bottom is at 190 ffw and the main deck is around 180 ffw. Some of my favorite shots of the trip were on the Typo. This schooner still has her bow mast standing. The bow has both her anchors still fasten to the deck, but best of all, the bow still has the ships bell. The Typos bell is still on its mount and is a great photo op. The clapper from inside the bell has long since fallen off but the bell still rotates on its mount! The second and third masts are broken off and lying on the deck. The crow’s-nest is still in place on the mast. The main deck is littered with ropes and other rigging for the sails. The stern of the ship is obliterated and lies in a debris field. In this field, off the port side, is the remains of a sailor. His shoes, shin bones, and thigh bones are still laying in perfect formation. We can only assume that the rest of his remains lay under the pile of rubble right beside his legs, a rather sobering site. We penetrated the main cargo holds from the broken up stern. Penetration is very easy but there is not much to see. The entire top deck superstructure is missing undoubtedly torn off as she sunk.

Above: A sobering discover; the remains of a crew member off the stern of the Typo. Here you can see his two shoe soles, his shin bones and then his thigh bones. I will assume the rest of his skeleton is under the rock ballast pile below Erik.
Above: Blair Mott and Captain Jitka Hanakova look at the rear steering on the schooner, the Kyle Spangler, a 130 foot two-masted schooner.
We surfaced after a pleasant deco to lunch on the Molly V. Capt. Jitka then cruised over to the Kyle Spangler. She is a 130 foot two-masted schooner built in 1856 and sunk in 1860 after a collision with the schooner Racine. The main deck is around 170 ffw with the bottom at 185 ffw. I had the pleasure of diving with Capt. Jitka on this wreck and started the dive at the bow. As soon as we see the wreck it becomes very clear who hit who in the fog bank. The Spangler has a large chuck of her starboard bow missing with both of her masts remaining intact. This is interesting as she was under sail at the time and often a sinking ship with sails up will tear the masts from their moorings. Another interesting feature of this wreck is the aft cabin superstructure is still intact. Penetration into this structure is fairly tight but possible. The name plate on the port aft section of the ship is still visible. Divers have been wiping the invasive zebra muscles off or it would be completely covered. The stern wheel is located right behind the aft cabin and still in place. When looking at the huge rudder of this ship, it makes me glad I was not the one who had to turn the wheel. It reminds me of how un-maneuverable these ships must have been couple that with the lack of depth sounders, radar and GPS and you have the shipwreck wasteland of The Great Lakes.

The last day of our trip we decided to do only one long dive as we had to fly the next day. After consulting with Stan and Tracy, local shipwreck explorers and experts, we decided to dive the John J. Audubon. This was the oldest of the wrecks for this trip being built in 1854. She is a two-masted brig, meaning a square sailing ship like the pirate ships you see in movies. She sank quickly after hitting the Defiance.

Above: Blair heads up to work on his decompression as Capt. Jitka takes a final look at the Kyle Spangler’s mast. Both of her impressive masts are still standing, perhaps implying that her sails were down when she sank.
Above: Terry and Curt McNamee spend a little time exploring the bow section of the brig the John. J. Audubon while Blair heads to the huge two piece mast. The ships decks and lake bottom is littered with steel railway tracks from the wreck.
Above: Blair can be seen behind the John. J. Audubon port side anchor. The ships bow is split in two. This is most likely from the impact of the heavily loaded ship smashing into the bottom after a collision with the Defiance.

Below: Blair and Terry examine the John. J. Audubon massive bow damage. The Audubon, a two-masted brig built in 1854; she sunk the same year and was the oldest of the shipwrecks we visited on this trip.

The damage from the collision is very obvious as you reach the bow. There is a large chunk of the keel of the bow missing and the ship is split in two at the bow. The damage to the bow is likely not only from the collision with the Defiance but also the impact when hitting the bottom, as she was loaded down with heavy iron railway tracks. There is a large debris field of railway tracks around the ship. Both of the ships masts are broken off. One is laying on the main deck and the other is laying perpendicular to the ship mainly off the port side. The masts are really interesting as they had to be so tall for the square sails that they are two pieces of wood lashed together in the middle. Several cargo holds offered us very easy penetration. The stern wheel is still in place, next to the tiller that the wheel would have turned.

This is my fourth trip with Capt. Jitka of Shipwreck Explorers. I would not hesitate for a moment to recommend her to any divers OC or CCR looking to do these shipwrecks or any wrecks in the great lakes for that matter. Jitka is a technical diver herself allowing her to understand the needs of a technical diver so she can provide the best service possible. I will be doing two more trips with her next year and that says something as I am a fairly picky diver. I like my trips to be run in an organized fashion and not to have wimpy captains who won’t go out with a slight breeze. Jitka is not this person. Her trips are well organized and she will go out when the going gets tough.

A huge debt of gratitude needs to be paid to Tracy Xelowski and Stan Stock. These two divers have spent unknown hours locating many of these wrecks and sharing them with us so we may enjoy them. Stan and Tracy also spend their own money and time to place proper anchor lines to these historical wrecks. This really saves us time and stress when diving these wrecks. This also prevents damage to these historical sites by preventing the grappling of wrecks by dive boats. Presque Isle should be on every technical divers “bucket list”. If you need any further information on these wrecks please contact Capt. Jitka at