In these days of quarantine, in which nature seems to be reborn thanks to the forced interruption of human activities, many photographs circulating on the web of clear waters, or animals that reclaim spaces previously occupied by man.
The images of wrecks that stand out distinctly on the bottom of Lake Michigan, in the United States, could seem to be taken these days, due to the extraordinary transparency of the water. Instead, each spring on this lake, if you’re lucky, you’ll be able to see shipwrecks due to the incredibly clear springtime waters.
Every winter, ice forms on the Great Lakes often thick enough that the people can go ice fishing, and ride snow mobiles across their surfaces. At the coming of spring, the ice melts, leaving the waters especially clear for a while until warmer weather creates algae blooms and other events that reduce the water’s clarity, also fed by the discharges of agricultural activities.
In Traverse City, in the state of Michigan, there is an US Coast Guard air station that regularly patrols the lake with helicopters. The photos on this article, published on their Facebook page, were taken over an area called Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve, which is “one of Michigan’s richest areas of submerged wrecks.” The area became part of a shipping route to facilitate the lumber industry, since the Manitou Islands offered a sheltered place for ships to find some shelter during storms.
Michigan Lake is a dangerous lake and it’s been estimated that there are 6,000 shipwrecks lying on the floors of the Great Lakes, with around 1,500 located in Michigan waters.
Only two of the five wrecks the Coast Guard shot have been identified. One is what’s left of the James McBride, a brig which lies at a depth that varies between 1.5 and 4.5 meters, depending on the water level in the lake. It ran aground on October 19, 1857 during a storm, while carrying a load of timber.
Another of the wrecks is that of the Rising Sun, a steamer that ran aground on October 29, 1917, after a snowstorm. The ship was probably full of farmers bringing their harvests southernmost coastal areas for sale. When the ship ran aground, the crew and all the passengers, except one, managed to reach the shore. When the men of the Coast Guard climbed onto the ship’s remains the next morning, they found an elderly gentleman who had slept at all time.
The underwater reserve of Manitou Passage is the favorite place for those divers who like to dive to discover old shipwrecks. There are a number of other wrecks in the preserve, including the Congress, the deepest wreck, sitting under 50 meters of water. It was built in 1867 and went down on October 4, 1904, after a fire started onboard, burning most of the stern. Or the Lady Elgin, sunk on September 8, 1860 during a strong gale. The wooden hulled steamship was rammed by a much smaller vessel, the schooner Augusta, at a speed of 11 knots. Over 300 people lost their lives in the disaster.
Despite the clear blue water may be beautiful, the waters of Lake Michigan remain extremely cold in April. The frigid water temperatures and the fact that the lakes are fresh water contribute to the conservation of the old wrecks, despite the fact that they have been down there for over a century, sunk in a lake that sometimes takes the form of a stormy sea.