WRECK DIVING IN TOBERMORY
The South Bruce Peninsula in Ontario, Canada juts out into Lake Huron and there, on its northern tip, lies Tobermory. This pretty little town draws wreck diving enthusiasts to dive the clear fresh waters of the 45 miles square Fathom Five National Marine Park. The numerous islands in the lake are navigational hazards which have thwarted captains throughout the years leaving a trail of wrecks suitable for beginner to experienced.
Around 20 wrecks lie quietly preserved; the sight of a wooden wreck over 100 years old with visible decking unadorned by mussels feels strangely intimate. The region is blessed with great visibility and due to the protection offered by the many islands, whatever the weather there is nearly always a place to dive. Here are just a few suggestions;
The 66 m (217ft) long Forest City sank in 1904 after running full steam into Bear’s Rump Island in thick fog. A schooner converted from a three-master steamer; this site is more advanced due to its 18-36 m (60-150ft) depth range. The bow is the shallowest portion, and damaged from impact exhibits alluring broken decking which drops to a relatively intact stern with photogenic railings at the deepest point. The smokestack and boilers are in place, and you can still see the name on the transom.
The Arabia is one of the big-ticket sites, but the three-masted wooden barque lies at 40 m (130ft) and is a dive for the experienced only. It’s well worth the wait though, being arguably the most photogenic down there. The bow-sprit looms hauntingly in the eerie quiet, and while the wreck isn’t wholly intact, she has just the right amount of damage to make her worthy. Anchors, windlass and bilge pump still sit on broken decking, and while the masts have fallen, you can still revere the pride they held themselves with. Deadeyes, pinrails, and pulleys are still clearly visible, and the ships wheel and steering gear make great photographs; the Arabia a great example of the freshwater preservation that makes time stop.
City of Cleveland
The City of Cleveland is a 78 m (255ft) long steamer that went down in 1901. Technically she lies outside of the Fathom Five National Marine Park; it takes around 2 hours to get to her, but she is very much worth the journey. She was forced off course by fatal waves that sank her in shallow water which, today, means she’s a very impressive shallow dive. Her depth ranges from 3-10 m (10-30ft). Divers are treated to a steam engine and boilers along with a rudder and an admiral upright 3.5 m (12ft) propeller. While the hull is intact, the decking has collapsed, but this does little to detract from the sheer pleasure of a delightful shallow water wreck.
The Niagara was a 55 m (182ft) long sand sucker that was scuttled in 1999 to help alleviate some pressure from the other wrecks. The top of the wheelhouse is at 14 m (45ft), the deck is at 20 m (65ft) and the bottom at 30 m (100ft). The depth means this site is great for all levels of diver and there’s lots of time to explore. There’s some nice penetration through the hull and some great swim-throughs via windows, doors and around the stacks and pilothouse complete with wheel.
This two-masted schooner was damaged off Cove Island in 1885 and was being towed to the harbor for salvage but sank before she got there. Sweepstakes lies in just 7 m (20ft) of water very close to the shore. The hull is still intact, and the windlass and parts of the bow rail are easy to see. It’s very popular as its depth attracts snorkelers and tour boats
City of Grand Rapids
30 m (100ft) off the bow of the Sweepstakes lies the wreck of the City of Grand Rapids. Once an elegant 37 m (123ft) long passenger steamer, she caught fire at the dock in Little Tub Harbour and was towed away to burn so as not to endanger the harbor. She burnt to the waterline and sank in 5m (15ft) of water. That was 1907, and yet today you can still see her timbers, parts of the steam engine, crankshaft, boiler, propeller shaft, and coupling.
Wetmore and James C King
The 65 m (214ft) long Wetmore was a steamer that ran aground in 1901 while towing barges, one of which was the James C. King. The Wetmore site features lots of timber wreckage as well as an impressive boiler, anchor, chain and large (4.5 m / 15ft) oak rudder. At 7 m (20ft) deep this is a great novice dive. Laying close by, the 53 m (175ft) long James C. King barge lies at a depth of 6-30 m (20-100ft) with the stern being the shallowest point and where you will find the rudder and steering gear. Roman numerals adorn the bow, and you’ll find a large debris field around the site.
The 40 m (130ft) long San Jacinto sank in 1881 but laid undiscovered until the late 1980s. She struck rock on the Manitoba Ledge in thick fog, and this puts her outside of the Fathom Five National Marine Park, but she’s worth the trip. The deck is intact, but the sides have collapsed giving her a flattened aspect which rather adds to the enjoyment. The bow railing is still in place, and you can see the windlass, hatches, deadeyes, and pulleys as well as mast and crows nest.
The topography of the area also means there are some great non-wreck dive sites, grottos and much more to be explored and topside is great too with lots to keep the landlubbers happy. What’s your favorite dive in Tobermory?