Lake Erie shipwrecks
Photo Jack Papes
By Shannon M. Nass -The Post Gazette
The marine forecast is perfect. Winds are southwest at 5 knots and waves are 1 foot or less. The surface of Lake Erie is almost placid, beckoning a local diver to don his gear and dive 200 feet to the lake floor below.
He begins his descent through tepid water, but as he passes through the thermocline the water temperature drops 30 degrees, cold water envelops his body and visibility is limited.
Suddenly, out of the darkness the mast of a ship comes into view, beckoning from its watery grave. The diver's doubt is replaced by exhilaration as the wreckage of a ship from the 1800s is unveiled, perfectly preserved in all her glory.
For centuries, Lake Erie has been a bustling thoroughfare. But weather-related sinkings, collisions and other calamities claimed many vessels, leaving the lake floor littered with their remains.
It is estimated that the Great Lakes are home to 8,000 shipwrecks, with approximately 2,000 located in Lake Erie. Most of the wrecks have yet to be discovered, drawing divers from all over the world in hopes of being the first to uncover a lost piece of history.
"I can imagine standing at the pier on Lake Erie over 150 years ago. It must have been just a massive traffic jam of ships on the horizon," said Jack Papes, a diver from Akron, Ohio.
Papes has been documenting and photographing the wrecks of the Great Lakes for the past 10 years and has visited nearly 120 of them. He's traveled all over the world to dive to shipwrecks, but he prefers the ones close to home.
"People have asked me, if you could have an all-expense paid trip to anywhere on the planet, where would you go," said Papes.
"I tell them, well, I'd be up on the west coast of Lake Huron diving. I think that's some of the best shipwreck diving there is."