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LOCAL DIVING LAKE

LOCAL DIVING LAKE MICHIGAN MILWAUKEE-AREA SHIPWRECKS Text and photos by Becky Kagan Schott My first dive in the Great Lakes was 20 years ago. I remember vividly the descent into dark green water. Soon after that dive I moved to Florida with my family and forgot all about the Great Lakes because I had warm water and tropical reefs in my backyard. Fast-forward to five years ago and my next Great Lakes experience: I was blown away by the pristine state of the wrecks I saw in Lake Superior. This ignited in me a new passion for Great Lakes diving. Not long afterward I was fortunate enough to work on a documentary in Lake Huron, The EMBA, a wooden three-masted schooner barge that was scuttled in 1932, sits upright in 170 feet of water. Opposite: The Milwaukee coastline where we located and explored several new wrecks. I was surprised by how blue and clear the water was. The unfortunate introduction of invasive quagga mussels has improved the water clarity dramatically in many of the lakes. They now cover the wrecks in four out of five of the Great Lakes, but visibility can be 100 feet or more. The water looks Caribbean blue on most days, and the lakes are no longer as dark and murky as they once were. The Great Lakes have quickly become my personal favorite dive destination; there are numerous wrecks within recreational diving limits and beyond. I’ve traveled to many of the world’s top wreck-diving 36 | WINTER 2016

HOW TO DIVE IT Getting There Milwaukee is an easy airport to access, with many direct flights there available. Visitors driving from the Chicago area can take I-94 straight into Milwaukee. WISCONSIN Milwaukee S.S. Milwaukee Prins Willem V Grace Channon Conditions Kenosha May through September are the best months for S.S. Wisconsin diving. Air temperatures are typically between 50°F and 80°F, with conditions ranging from dense fog to bright sun. Water temperatures vary by time of year and depth. June water temperatures are in the high- 30s°F or 40s°F, but late in August water temps can be 50°F-60°F. There is typically little or no current on the wrecks, and most have at least one mooring buoy for ascents and descents. Topside Adventure There are plenty of things to see and do in Milwaukee. The Denis Sullivan is a three-masted replica schooner similar to what you would have seen plying these waters more than a century ago. Milwaukee also has many museums, breweries, lighthouses, parks and excellent food. LAKE MICHIGAN destinations, and I believe that the Great Lakes are among them. The wrecks here are frozen in time, preserved by the cold, fresh water. Many of the wooden steamers and schooners have sat intact for more than a century; they would no longer exist if they were in salt water. Diving in the lakes is like peering into a time capsule: Here you can read the ships’ names, see cargo such as automobiles from the 1920s, find intact schooners with rigging still in place and much more. I’ve made a half-dozen trips to various places on the lakes, most recently Milwaukee, Wis. There’s much more to Milwaukee than cheese and beer: It’s a wreckdiving wonderland for those adventurous enough to take the plunge. The dives range in depth from just 10 feet to more than 300. S.S. MILWAUKEE Our first destination was the S.S. Milwaukee, a railroad-car ferry that once conducted year-round, cross-lake service for the Grand Trunk Railroad. The ship went down in a storm Oct. 22, 1929, killing its crew of approximately 50. It was carrying 27 railcars filled with wood veneer, vegetables, cheese, butter, bathroom fixtures, corn, feed, seed, malt and automobiles. After 1920 all railroad car ferries were retrofitted with a clamshell transom called a sea gate to prevent waves from coming aboard in a following sea. The Milwaukee’s sea gate was bent in by the tremendous waves of the gale that sank the ship. Water entered at the stern and filled the lower compartments. Rail cars broke free and smashed through the side of the hull. The sea gate unhinged on the starboard side when a refrigerator car’s wheel trucks broke through it as the ship was sinking. The 338-foot steel-hulled Milwaukee went down just seven miles northeast of Milwaukee, three miles offshore in 120 feet of water. As you descend onto the wreck, its reinforced, icebreaking bow comes into view, standing upright on ALERTDIVER.COM | 37

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