I was an Open Water diver, very content with diving in the local quarry, maybe a day trip to Devil’s Lake in Wisconsin Dells. I didn’t own my own gear yet, except the basics of fin, mask, snorkel, and boots, so I didn’t dive often, as renting got expensive. Then my dive shop told me about a weekend trip to Door County, Wisconsin. I grew up roughly halfway between Door County and my current home in Milwaukee, so I was very familiar with Door County and loved going there. I thought a weekend in Door County was fun to begin with, and to add diving to the picture as well, it couldn’t get much more exciting. My dive instructor also said it could count towards my AOW certification, so I coughed up the cash for the trip, got directions, and headed up there after work to meet the other divers, having no idea what to expect.
It was my first time out with a group of divers, and they all happened to be guys except for me. Everyone else in the group also had a lot of diving experience, but I was still pretty brand new to the sport. But despite these differences, I fit in just fine. Everybody was warm and welcoming, and offered advice and help when I needed it. We hauled our gear to the dive boat, and headed out on Lake Michigan…my first boat dive…my first Lake Michigan dive…
I was told we were headed out to the newly-discovered wreck of a schooner called the E.R. Williams…my first wreck dive. I didn’t know much about the schooner, and don’t remember much of what I heard for that matter, because it was all so new and so much to take in. But I do remember hearing that the mouth of the bay, where ships would come in and go out, was referred to as Death’s Door, because so many ships would go down there as weather conditions clashed at the opening.
A few divers went in the water before me, and then my instructor went in. I sat on the edge of the boat, ready to do a backwards roll, nervous as could be because I’d never really done one before. I rolled backwards off the boat and my first instinct was fear, but then I remembered: I had the regulator in my mouth and that I had nothing to fear! I could breathe despite the choppy lake water! I found my way to the descent line and started down…to my first deep dive…
It got sort of murky, but I had my light and just kept on going, reassuring myself despite the unnerving darkness. After a short time I could see a flashing light ahead of me, which I knew was a marker on the bottom of the line, then all of a sudden a huge mass appeared before my eyes. It was breathtaking! My instructor came over to me and signaled for me to follow, so I obediently did. And I saw "wood," and more "wood," and he pointed out some more "wood." I couldn’t understand what I was seeing, but I was in awe and hooked. I knew I wanted to do this again. We eventually headed up, and I remember hanging out at our safety stop and being amused by the other divers blowing bubbles and pretending to take naps. As we neared the surface, I saw the bottom of our boat, and that even amazed me. I had never seen one from that angle before! After we were all out of the water, the guys were just talking nonstop about how neat the dive was, and asking did you see the mast? Did you see the anchor? Did you see the stove? All I could do was shake my head as all I had seen was "wood." Then my instructor assured me we had seen some of that stuff, and he sort of described when we had seen it. Then it started to make more sense. I could picture this wreck in my mind a little better. I couldn’t wait to go down again and this time really SEE it.
When it was time to roll off the boat for the second dive, I did it like a pro, and even got applause for my complete summersault in the water. I had no fear whatsoever and descended with confidence. My instructor knew where the stove was just off the stern of the schooner, so we headed in that direction. Just after we started along the way, my inflator hose came unsecured from my BCD and floated behind me. I wasn’t neutral yet, so I sank down and knelt on the bottom of Lake Michigan, at 104 feet! My instructor came back to me and helped me secure the hose, let me get neutral, and then we went on our way. It was exciting to see the jagged break in the hull of the boat where the stern had sheared off. And just as promised, a few yards off the stern, there sat an old stove. On our way back, when we crossed one of the fallen masts, I recognized it for what it was, and was thrilled. We ascended, and this time I could chime in on the beauty and sereneness of the wreck.
I was excited to go out again the next day, but weather didn’t permit our boat to go out, so we "settled" for shore dives. But I will always remember that dive of firsts, and I am completely hooked on diving wrecks. The feelings you get from such an experience are hard to convey; it’s just something that every diver should try!