The Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve offers divers a variety of Lake Michigan attractions - from historic dock ruins to fascinating shipwrecks of two centuries.
The Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve's most popular dive site is also the most recently discovered. The Three Brothers, a steam barge that hauled lumber on the Great Lakes, grounded on South Manitou Island in 1911 after taking on water. The 160-foot vessel was exposed in 1996 after a large area of Sandy Point eroded due to winter storms. The Three Brothers is an excellent shore dive as it is located about 150 feet offshore with the bow in 7 feet of water and the stern in 45 feet of water. Snorkelers and boaters can easily observe the wreck in the relatively clear water.
The wreck of the Francisco Morazan, a package freighter that ran aground during a December 1960 snowstorm, is a few hundred yards offshore from the south end of South Manitou Island . The Morazan is easily accessible and lies in only 15 feet of water. Those factors make it a great dive for those just learning about Great Lakes shipwreck diving. Divers enjoy exploring the hull of the 246 foot ship. Some machinery remains in the engine room. Although much of the Morazan is above water, divers should not attempt to explore the superstructure. This is a nesting area for cormorants and gulls.
A few hundred yards to the south of the Francisco Morazan is the wreck of the Walter L Frost, a wooden steamer that ran aground in 1905. The Frost is broken up because the Morazan literally ran over the wreck during the disaster of 1960.
Divers enjoy the Frost because much of the vessel remains. Large sections of the hull, machinery, boilers, and related artifacts offer exploration opportunities for divers of all skill levels. The Frost lies in about 12 feet of water.
Another of the most popular dive sites in the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve is also the most newly discovered. The wreck of the Alva Bradley was discovered between North and South Manitou Islands in 1990. Many small artifacts are associated with the wreck of this schooner. Some of its cargo of steel billets can be found near the bow of the vessel. About 200 yards northeast of the main wreck divers will find rigging and other artifacts from this shipwreck.
In addition to shipwrecks, divers enjoy dock ruins that can be found throughout the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Massive pilings were driven into the sandy bottom to create docks and wharves for loading lumber, fruits, grain, and other products onto schooners and steamers that transported such goods on Lake Michigan .
These dock ruins attract schools of fish and many artifacts, including anchors and pieces of shipwrecks, can be found among the pilings.
There is an excellent interactive map showing the location and description of over 45 shipwrecks in the area in the outdoor recreation section of the Traverse City Convention and Visitor's Bureau: www.traversecity.com.
No person shall recover, alter or destroy property which is in, on, under or over the bottomland of the Preserve. State and Federal law provide stiff penalties for violators so please: "ENJOY, DO NOT DESTROY."
Planning Your Visit
Access to some of the best diving is from South Manitou Island, which can be accessed by private boat or by passenger ferry service operated by Manitou Island Transit (231) 256-9061. More information on scuba diving is available on their web site or from local scuba shops in the area. The ferry service operates from the Fishtown Dock located in Leland, MI. The ferry operators have been servicing the islands for many generations and the company is still run as a family business.
Between June and August, the ferries for each island leave daily from the Fishtown Dock in Leland at 10:00 AM. Reservations are recommended. Plan to arrive at the Fishtown Dock 45 minutes prior to departure. Leland is located 27 miles north of Empire on M-22.