U.S. Water News Online
KELLEYS ISLAND, Ohio -- Bright streaks of light cut through
Lake Erie's shallow waters and illuminate a hulking skeleton.
Divers float past the green moss and zebra mussel shells that
cover the anchor lift and wooden hull of the F.H. Prince, a
propeller-driven steamer that caught fire in 1911 just off the coast
of Kelleys Island.
``To know that there were actually people on that ship just gives
me a feeling of connection to that period in time,'' says Cheryl
Hubans, who is making her second dive in the lake.
``I've looked out on that water many times and had no idea what
was out there.''
Over the last two decades, pollutants that turned Lake Erie into
an environmental mess have decreased dramatically, opening a new
underwater world to divers. They come to explore the skeletal remains
of dozens of shipwrecks that are strewn throughout the lake. Even
those wrecks dating to the early 1900s are well preserved because
there's no salt in the water.
``You're going places not many people go,'' says Hubans, a retired
art teacher. ``It's just so peaceful. Nobody talks -- it's just you
and the fish.''
While Lake Erie doesn't offer exotic marine life or the bright
hues found in popular diving spots in warmer climates, there are
hidden caves to discover, shipwrecks to find and countless freshwater
fish to watch.
``There are a lot of wrecks to pick from,'' says Steve Sheridan,
who operates dive charters on his 27-foot boat out of Port Clinton.
``You get to dive in your back yard. It's better than diving in a
Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes -- its depths
averaging about 60 feet. Its western basin between Toledo and
Cleveland is littered with shipwrecks from the violent storms that
can whip up in a hurry.
That's where divers can find rusted propellers, anchors, boilers
Many wrecks -- thought to number anywhere from 1,800 to 4,000 in
the entire lake -- are in easy-to-reach waters.
The shallow waters are perfect for beginning divers or divers who
want to keep their skills sharp without traveling too far.
The biggest drawback is that it does not take long for storms to
stir up the lake's bottom, making visibility near zero and putting
planned trips on hold.
``After a storm, we usually have to wait a few days to dive,''
The state bans divers from taking anything from the wrecks, but
years of diving have left some ships without original artifacts.
The lake was considered dead 20 years ago -- so bad that former
late night TV host Johnny Carson sarcastically called it ``the place
fish go to die.''
But because of anti-pollution efforts that have dramatically cut
the amount of wastewater dumped in the lake and the introduction of
zebra mussels, which act as filters and absorb sediments, visibility
now extends beyond 30 feet (9 meters) on a good day.
On a recent outing, the weather and visibility are perfect. A
predicted storm holds off, and the water is so warm a wetsuit isn't
needed although the divers wear them.
Sheridan starts his group of four divers at a wreck less than a
mile (two kilometers) off the mainland. It's a former prison ship
called the Success that sunk after a fire July 4, 1946.
Visibility on the dive, though, is poor and the group moves on
``I think we felt it, but we couldn't see it,'' says Charlie Gunn,
a retired electric company worker from Cleveland who has been diving
about 15 years.
He's by far the most experienced diver on board. The others have
been diving for little over a year.
Next up is the Prince. Its rusted remains are just a few feet
below the surface, giving the divers a glimpse of the ship from the
Dozens of minnows and 14-inch bass swim through the ship, hiding
in its crevices. There's hardly a ripple in the water.
``It was clearer than I thought it would be,'' says 15-year-old
Jack Kroeger of Minneapolis, who is making his first dive in the lake
with his father, Barry.
``It's hard to find things that we can enjoy together,'' his
father says. ``This is something we can share.''
Interest in diving Lake Erie is increasing, and Ohio is working to
establish a shipwreck preserve to encourage diving and tourism. The
preserve is to ring Kelleys Island in western Lake Erie and cover 40
Hopes are to have it established next summer.
The area includes at least 30 shipwrecks, and project officials
want to have some sites marked off for divers to explore. Mooring
buoys would be set up around ships to help divers locate the wrecks
and boaters avoid them.
There are a handful of charter boats that now offer dive trips.
Sheridan, who makes as many as three trips a week, spent about
five years finding spots to dive before offering charters five
``There are little spots all over the place,'' he says. ``My
little corner of the world.''
Return to the
U.S. Water News Archives page
Return to the U.S. Water
Use a comma to separate e-mail addresses:
Hi, I thought you might like to read this article.