Thumb Area Bottomland Preserve

Morrell Engine Room

Thumb Area Bottomland Preserve

Many vessels transiting Lake Huron pass near Michigan’s “Thumb”.  A scarcity of good harbors has left shipping exposed to bad weather and the concentration of shipping has led to frequent accidents.  At least 22 major shipwrecks lie in and around the Thumb Area Underwater Preserve. The entire area has been the focus of wreck hunting for decades with new discoveries every year.

Throughout the season, most of these shipwrecks are buoyed, at one time or another, by private groups of divers. However, it is always best to have a backup plan, in case the wreck you plan to dive is not buoyed at the time you go out.

In addition to shipwrecks, other diving opportunities exist in the Thumb Area Underwater Preserve. Limestone ledges, walls and sunken islands are located along the Port Austin reef, near the Lighthouse. The reef is covered with remnants of numerous shipwrecks, lost over the decades. Evidence of grindstone manufacture can be found off Grindstone City. Offshore from Kinch Road, in 30 feet of water, is a large wood-stock anchor with 300 feet of chain.

Most of the Thumb area is a rural resort area with many state and local campgrounds and parks. No trip to the area is complete without visiting the Pte. Aux Barques Lighthouse and Shipwreck Museum at Lighthouse County Park. The area also hosts numerous activities and events throughout the dive season. To learn more, consult the websites for Harbor Beach Chamber of Commerce, the Huron County Visitor Bureau, Port Hope Chamber of Commerce, and the Greater Port Austin Area Chamber of Commerce.

Shipwrecks & Dive Sites

Wreck Name Depth GPS/LAT/LON Skill Level
Albany 140′ N 44° 06.351 W 082° 42.016 Advanced
Arctic 131′ N 43° 41.462 W 082° 28.712 Advanced
Berlin 8′ N 44° 04.189 W 082° 54.713 Novice
Jacob Bertschy 6′ N 44° 03.434 W 082° 52.810 Novice
Chickamauga 32′ N 43° 50.950 W 082° 37.430 Novice
Consuelo 6′ N 43° 57.411 W 082° 42.841 Novice
City of Detroit 176′ N 44° 12.473 W 083° 00.840 Technical
Detroit 200′ N 44° 13.611 W 082° 45.435 Technical
Dump Barge 74′ N 44° 07.401 W 082° 51.276 Advanced
Dunderburg 155′ N 43° 55.641 W 082° 33.391 Advanced
E.P. Dorr 175′ N 44° 08.774 W 082° 43.979 Technical
Glenorchy 120′ N 43° 48.580 W 082° 31.792 Advanced
Goliath 104′ N 43° 47.008 W 082° 32.721 Advanced
Iron Chief 129′ N 44° 05.632 W 082° 42.588 Advanced
Fred Lee 196′ N 44° 12.428 W 082° 45.600 Technical
Barbara Lyn 19′ N 44° 04.685 W 082° 57.002 Novice
“Mackinaw” Style Boat 8′ N 44° 03.373 W 082° 53.481 Novice
John McGean 195′ N 43° 57.196 W 082° 31.717 Advanced
Mystery Schooner 145′ N 43° 57.851 W 082° 35.018 Advanced
Daniel J. Morrell (stern) 218′ N 44° 15.478 W 082° 50.088 Technical
Daniel J. Morrell (bow) 205′ N 44° 18.320 W 082° 45.161 Technical
Dorcas Pendell 6′ N 43° 50.649 W 082° 38.316 Novice
Philadelphia 120′ N 44° 04.120 W 082° 42.992 Advanced
Gov. Smith 175′ N 44° 09.333 W 082° 42.001 Technical
Troy 94′ N 44° 08.654 W 083° 01.940 Advanced
Waverly 124′ N 43° 45.872 W 082° 30.816 Advanced
Marquis aka Tobias Butler N 43° 54.718 W 082° 40.777 Novice
Off Harbor Beach N 43° 50.195 W 082° 37.475 Novice
Off Oscabe Point N 44° 00.952 W 082° 46.192 Novice
Off White Rock N 43° 42.851 W 082° 36.211 Novice
West of Pt Aux Barques N 44° 03.770 W 082° 56.907 Novice

Among the best shipwreck dives in or near the Thumb Area Underwater Preserve are:

Albany

The 267 foot steel steamer Albany was launched in 1846. She survived the collision with the Philadelphia on November 7, 1893 and was taken in tow. However, she foundered while undertow and came to rest close by the Philadelphia in 140 feet of water. She lies broken with her stern upright and her bow resting on its starboard side.

Jacob Bertschy

Lost in a storm on September 3, 1879, the 139 foot long steamer Bertschy sits in 6 feet of water southeast of the Grindstone City Harbor. This is a great shore dive for beginning divers and snorkelers, with many game fish usually seen.

City of Detroit

167’ long, intact, arched propeller resting upright in 176’ of water.  Foundered December 4, 1873, with all hands (20 lives were lost.)  Was bound Chicago to Sarnia with a cargo of wheat, flour and merchandise.  This unique ship is upright and mostly intact with both arches still standing.

Chickamauga

A large 322-foot double deck schooner, the Chicamauga foundered on September 12, 1919. She sits in about 32 feet of water just east of Harbor Beach and is very accessible to novice divers.

Dump Barge

This 1880’s era barge was located in 74 feet of water, just outside of Grindstone City. The wreck is frequently visited by many game fish and usually has excellent visibility. The chain and winch mechanism for opening the large dump doors are still present.

Dunderburg

The schooner Dunderburg was launched in 1867. She sank off Harbor Beach after a collision on August 13, 1868. She rests fully intact in 155 feet of water. A unique, extremely well preserved figurehead adorns her bow and her cargo of grain is still sitting in her holds.

E.P. Dorr

The 120’ long salvage tug was launched in 1855 in Buffalo, NY.  The Dorr was lost on June 28th, 1856 after colliding with the Oliver Cromwell.  At the time of loss it was carrying salvaged parts from other vessels (anchors, windlasses, and tools) and several steam pumps.  These parts and tools are scattered around the ship and on the deck.  The ship rests upright in 175’ of water.

Glenorchy

This 365’ steel steamer was launched in 1902 as the A.E. Stewart.  On October 29, 1924, the Glenorchy collided with the Steamer Leonard B. Miller and sank in 120’ of water without loss of life.  The ship now rests upside down with penetration opportunities for those that are trained.

Goliath

The oldest known wreck in the Preserve is the Goliath, a package and bulk freighter. She exploded and burned on September 13, 1848. Her main features are an upright engine, boiler, stove and unique early propellers. They can be examined in about 104 feet of water.

Iron Chief

This wooden steamer was lost in a storm on October 4, 1904. She lies broken in 129 feet of water. Whitefish are frequent visitors to this wreck, swimming around her large piles of coal.

Fred Lee

70’ wooden tug, lost November 13, 1936 in 196’ of water off Grindstone City with a loss of 5 crew members.  The Lee was bound from Sarnia to the Soo when it foundered.  The remains of the tug are upright and mostly intact.  The stack has recently fallen but the ships wheel and 3-chime whistle remain.

Barbara Lyn

51 foot, aluminum tug launched in 1958 in Alabama.  This tug was lost October 1, 1990 during a storm, while towing 2 barges, at the cost of one life.  The ship sank in 208’ of water, off Pte. Aux  Barques.  A salvage attempt raised the tug from deep water but it was once again lost in a storm and now rests in 19’ of water near Port Austin.  This is a great beginner level dive with plenty of fish usually present.

“Mackinaw” Style Boat

Remains of a sailing vessel just outside of the Grindstone City Marina.  This vessel was a double ended design with a drop centerboard.  The ship is broken but is almost entirely there.  The drop centerboard is present along with the remains of a deadeye, from the little vessels single mast.

John McGean

The “The Great Storm” of November 9, 1913 claimed this large steel freighte. She was lost with all hands and now rests upside down in 195 feet of water.

Daniel J. Morrell

This large freighter was lost in a storm on November 29, 1966. The Morrell is famous for having broken into two sections with her bow coming to rest in 200 feet of water. Her stern remained under power after the loss of the bow and continued on for another 6 miles before settling into 218 feet of water. The wreck’s portions lie just north of the Preserve boundary.

Emma Nielsen

The Emma Nielsen was built at Manitowoc, WI as a 75’, 3-masted schooner, and launched in 1883.  She was later lengthened to 98 ft.  On June 26th, 1911, the Nielsen was upbound in the fog when the Steamer Wyandotte suddenly appeared dead ahead.  The Nielsen slammed into the side of the Wyandotte, crushing her bow, and immediately began filling with water.  The captain and crew were able to escape in the yawl boat.  The wreck lies upright and intact in 190 feet of water.

Philadelphia

The 236-foot steamer Philadelphia was built in 1868. She was lost in a collision with the steamer Albany on November 7, 1893. She is upright in 120 feet of water. The wreck is mostly intact with her cargo of heating and cooking stoves resting on the deck and scattered on the lake floor next to the hull.

Gov. Smith

This 240 foot long wooden steamer foundered after colliding with the steamer Uranus, on August 19, 1906. She is up right and mostly intact in 175-ft of water.

Troy

This early steamer foundered in a storm in 1859 and is broken up in 94 feet of water. Divers can view her large steeple engine, boiler, unique propeller and “hogging” arches.

Waverly

Bound for Wisconsin, she was towing the barge W.S. Crosthwaite.  When 5 miles SE of Harbor Beach she was struck and sunk by the steel  steamer Turret Court. The crew was picked up by the Crosthwaite.  She sits upright but badly broken at a depth of 124-ft.