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As Kathy and I slid the boat off the trailer at the town launch in Bailey’s Harbor the wind was just starting to pick up. Other than that, it was a beautiful and sunny early August afternoon. We loaded our dive gear into the boat and headed out to the wreck of the Christina Nilsson on the northeast side of Baileys Harbor. The Christina Nilsson was a three-masted, 140-foot wooden schooner that ran aground and sank in 1884. She now lies in about 15-20 feet of water just off shore near the old Baileys Harbor lighthouse.
Anchoring the boat in the waves was a bit tricky. The bottom in that area is smooth limestone with scattered rocks here and there. The anchor kept wanting to drag until it finally made contact with a large enough rock to grab ahold. Kathy thought it was a little rough with 1-2 foot waves bouncing the boat around but I reassured her it would be calm on the bottom. We put on our dive gear, did our safety checks and rolled overboard into the lake.
As soon as we were below the surface the wreck was in sight. Its wooden deck was very much in tact with the ribs of the hull protruding from the sides. There were many smaller pieces scattered around the bottom. The long iron rods used to hold the wooden ship together were sticking out and each was covered by a cluster of zebra mussels.
We started at the stern of the ship and made our way toward the front, swimming down the middle of the deck. It was much longer that I was anticipating. When we made it to the end we moved down along the sides and made our way back toward the stern. As we did, smallmouth bass, rock bass and goby watched our every move. They swam up to us, curiously looking us over before making their way back into the holes between the ribs of the ship. Once we were past, they would poke their heads back out and continue to watch.
Exploring the wreck even closer we discovered crayfish living between some of the planks near the bottom. Their antenna would stretch out to feel our hands if we put them close enough. Not recognizing the object close to them, they would turn and open their claws to defend themselves until we pulled our hands away.
Kathy and I explored for about 45 minutes, cruising up and down the wreck. We ventured closer to shore and farther out to look at the scattered pieces that lay all around the bottom. The last cargo the Christina Nilsson was carrying was pig iron and because she sank in waters so close to shore, all of the crew survived and all of her payload was salvaged. Like many of the other wrecks in the area, cold waters of Lake Michigan have done a great job preserving what is left of her.
While we were enjoying the calm bottom water, the waves had continued to build on the surface. Getting back into our boat with all of our gear on proved to be a challenge so we removed most of it in the water. Timing the waves just right, I climbed aboard and Kathy handed up the gear. It was a bit of a struggle as some of the waves were now closer to 3 feet. After a few minutes everything was on board and secured. We pulled anchor and headed back to Bailey’s Harbor town launch. Another successful Door County dive in the books!
View the full October 2016 Newsletter here.
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