With over 275 shipwrecks in Door County alone, and many of those in less than 60 feet of water, this area is the ideal spot for a diving destination vacation. In fact, the Door County and Green Bay region is the largest of the Wisconsin Maritime Trails.
This August was a windy one in Northern Door, and it was tough to get on the water for any extended period of time. Today was different and my wife, Kathy, and I were going to take advantage of it. We loaded our dive gear into the back of the truck and headed to Gills Rock for a quick shore dive on the wreck of the Fleetwing.
The Fleetwing is a 135’ schooner that ran aground during a storm in October of 1888. It is broken apart and its remains lie in water that is only 15-30 feet deep and less than 100 yards from shore. It is the perfect spot for a shore dive in Northern Door County because there is a small public park and kayak launch located at the site of the wreck. The Fleetwing is part of the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Maritime Trail which usually displays a sign at the launch with information about the wreck.
The Fleetwing is one of the easiest shore dives in Door County. There is minimal boat traffic in the area and little to no currend to content with. If you don’t have dive gear, the water is shallow enough see the wreck by snorkeling or kayaking over. Or, if you’re feeling up to it, you can take advantage of one of the area’s boat tours. Take a tour with Lakeside Shipwreck Tours, Lakeshore Adventures Inc. or Shoreline Scenic Cruises – Gills Rock for a look at more shipwrecks from the 1800s.
On this day, as we set up for the dive, the lake was calm and the sun was high and bright. It was a perfect day to dive. Kathy and I walked our gear out past the rocky shore, did our pre-dive checks, swam out over the wreck and dropped below the surface.
The water wasn’t as clear as we would have liked with only about 15 feet of visibility due to the algae and debris that had been washed in by the recent wind. There were plenty of fish to see as soon as we neared the bottom. Gobies darted in and out of the rocks and debris all around us. Smallmouth bass made slow circles around us in the water column. They would hug the bottom and rocky ledge and then swim out to meet us in the open water as we explored.
When we turned our attention away from the fish, we began to notice the pieces of the wreck. We could see what was left of the wooden ship below us. Flat boards and the thick ribs of the hull were protruding from the bottom. Many years of sand deposits and rock from the wave action and erosion had partially buried parts of the ship. Every hard surface on and around it was encrusted with zebra mussles, and their shells littered the bottom. The wreck most likely looked a lot better prior to the zebra mussel invasion.
We swam out deeper, slowly scanning for the other parts of the wreck. Eventually we found them and spent some time looking them over. The cold waters of Lake Michigan do an amazing job preserving these old ships, but unfortunately people don’t do a very good job. Due to the proximity of this wreck, much of it has been taken away by divers that came before us looking for souvenirs. Now, all shipwrecks around the peninsula are protected from salvaging and looting under stiff penalty of law.
After about 40 minutes of bottom time we made our way back toward the shore but, not before attempting to snap an underwater selfie to remember the dive. Not too bad of a shot.
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