THE WRECKS OF THE ST. LAWRENCE RIVER
The St. Lawrence River is one of the best freshwater shipwreck diving locations in the world. Navigational hazards on this essential route from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic have ensured that the bottom of the St Lawrence River is littered with wrecks preserved as only fresh cool water can.
The region, known as The 1000 Islands, gives you an inkling of the problems faced by vessels and an understanding of why so many now languish on the seabed. The river is the border between the US and Canada with wrecks lying on either side; on the Canadian side, between Kingston and Cornwall, and on the US side between Watertown and Massena. This geography complicates matters if you are coming from the US to dive wrecks on the Canadian side, but it is doable.
For divers, the environmental disaster of the introduction of non-native zebra mussels to the river was a happy accident that cleaned up the visibility. The green water offers the best visibility from late summer through fall and into winter. The wrecks, a lot of them wooden, date back to the 1800s but include more recent steel vessels too.
There is usually current which can range from negligible to quite strong, but most often it’s felt only on the surface and during ascent and descent. Once on the wrecks, it’s mostly manageable, but divers should be cautious on shallower sections. The bottom is silty, and visibility can be easily stirred up so do take care to keep your fins up.
There are many wrecks but here are some of the highlights:-
Built in 1868 the 40m long Lillie Parsons is a two-masted schooner and is one of the most popular wrecks. She lies upside down on a cliff edge with her mast pointing down and coal in her holds. In 1877, a sudden squall caused her cargo to shift, which slammed her against Sparrow Island shoal causing her to take in water, capsize and sink.
The 41m long A.E Vickery is a wooden three-masted schooner built in 1861. In 1889, on a trip to take grain to the Wiser Distillery, she struck a shoal and sank. Today she sits upright in 35m of water. She’s in very good condition, and her hull can be penetrated. Her bow sits at 20m, and her stern hangs over the edge of a ledge dropping to 33m where you can see her wooden rudder intact.
Dating back to 1871, The Islander sits at 14m. She is a 38m long wooden sidewheel steamer that carried mail and gave river tours. In 1909 she caught fire in the dock and sank which means she can be dived from shore. Her stern lies at 5m and her bow at 18m.
The Robert Gaskin is a three-masted wooden barque dating from 1863. She sank three times in the salvage of the railroad ferry Armstrong and now rests between 16m and 21m deep. Although she is quite damaged, she is still an interesting dive, don’t forget to check out the anchor 12m off the bow in the direction of the shore.
Lying upside down, the 67m long Henry C Daryaw is a steel freighter dating back to 1919. This wreck lies at 29m and features very impressive props-in-the-air vistas and a terrible gash from her fatal collision with the shoal.
The Roy A. Jodrey is a 213m long freighter that sank in 1972. Her stern is at 45m, and her bow at 73m; this depth coupled with dark, cold, and fast-moving waters make her a technical dive for the experienced only. She was carrying iron ore pellets when a navigational error caused a collision with Pullman Shoal. The captain did all he could to save her, but after 5 hours she succumbed. Her impact with the bottom severed power lines causing a temporary outage.
A local favorite, the 42m long two-masted schooner King Horn dates back to 1871. She was refitted as a barge and, in 1897 loaded with grain, was one of seven being towed by the Hiran A. Walker when a storm hit. Three barges were lost immediately, and although she initially survived, she was taking on water and subsequently sank in 29m of water.
The Eastcliffe Hall is a 100m long bulk freighter. On her final voyage in 1970, she was carrying pig iron and collided with a shoal. She sank in minutes, and nine sailors lost their lives. Her superstructure has been dynamited as it was causing a hazard itself, but it’s still a great dive.
The Effie May and Aloha lie almost side by side. The Effie May was a liveaboard vessel that often took divers to her now neighboring Aloha. Their shallow resting place makes them popular with novice divers and those looking for an easy dive.
Hit by lighting which caused an explosion, the 42m long John B. King is badly damaged but still a popular site. The Muscallonge is also quite badly damaged due to the fire and fuel tank explosion that sank her. She’s a 40m long steamer dating back to 1896 that lies in 30m of water and is popular with divers due to the abundance of fish life.
The SS Keystorm is a 76m long steel coal freighter that went down in 1912. In fog, she hit Scow Island shoal and sank. She sits on her starboard side on a slope between 8m and 35m. She’s popular because she is almost perfectly intact with lots to see. Bathtubs are still attached, and there’s a winch, plenty of machinery, 15m tall mast, a rounded wheelhouse complete with ladders and funnel and props half buried in the silt.
The American is a motorized single screw steel drill barge. In 1932, she was dynamiting a shoal when an explosion caused her to roll and sink. Today she lies upside down in 23m of water under the shipping channel. To get to the site divers must follow the buoy line down and then a chain along to the shoal where the barge lies.
Launched in 1878 the Conestoga is a 77m long passenger steam freighter that caught fire in 1922. She’s 10m deep and upright with her stack poking out of the water. There’s plenty of rigging and machinery to explore.
Our list is far from exhaustive but enough, if you’ve never been, to whet your appetite. Have you dived any of these wrecks or any that lie in The Great Lakes? Tell us about your favorites in the comments below.