The Manitou Passage was the highway of commerce on the Great Lakes moving passengers and freight between the Erie Canal and Chicago from 1825 until the early 1900’s. Even today you can often see a freighter making its way through the passage. The Manitou Passage between the Manitou Islands and Sleeping Bear Point is the shortest distance around the point and the islands provide protection from Northwest winds. But the gravel shoals and unpredictable storms especially in the spring and fall caused this area to be treacherous and resulted in many shipwrecks.
The area around the Manitou Islands and Sleeping Bear Point is protected as part of the Manitou Passage Underwater Preserve, which maintains locations of many of the shipwrecks and offers information to divers. Another source of interesting information about shipwrecks in the Manitou Passage comes from Ross Richardson’s web site: www.michiganmysteries.com. He’s got some great photos and videos of diving around some of the larger shipwrecks in the Manitou Passage.
Most of the shipwrecks are near shore but in deep enough water that diving or snorkeling is required to explore them, but a few of them can be observed from shore. The Lake Michigan shoreline is dynamic. Changing water levels, wind, waves, and currents can bury shipwrecks or scour the sand away exposing new ones. The photos below capture the shipwrecks at a point in time. Another day they may be completely buried in sand.
Shipwrecks Observable from Shore
The largest, most exposed shipwreck is the Francisco Morazan, which was built in 1922 and lost in a snowstorm in 1960 off the south coast of South Manitou Island. The 247 foot long package freighter is partially out of the water and is visible from the shore of South Manitou Island. Take the ferry to the island and hike a couple of miles to the shipwreck.
There are two shipwrecks on the beach near Sleeping Bear Point. Neither of these has been identified, but both are wooden structures and are right on the beach at the water line. If you start walking from the Maritime Museum west of Glen Haven, the first shipwreck is located about 1.5 miles from the museum, and the second one is about 1/4 mile further. Another 1/4 mile and you will come to where the Dune Climb Trail comes out to Lake Michigan.
This second and larger shipwreck washed up on shore after a big wind storm in October, 2010. This shipwreck is located about a quarter mile north of where the Dune Climb trail comes out to Lake Michigan. The blue rope tangled in the shipwreck was washed from shore during that same windstorm and got tangled on the shipwreck before being washed ashore. The presence of this shipwreck has changed the shape of the shoreline since it washed up and depending upon the wind direction and magnitude of the waves, portions of it may be buried in sand.
Another large shipwreck washed ashore in the summer of 2014 during a big storm. This artifact is located about 300 yards south of where the Dune Climb trail comes out to Lake Michigan. A large door with heavy metal hinges and latches are evident on the back side. The shipwreck was completely covered in large slabs of ice in the spring of 2015 to the point that you couldn’t see it at all. When the ice melts, it will be interesting to see if it has moved or has been damaged by the ice.
There are three ways to get to these two shipwrecks: 1. walk from the Dune Climb – very strenuous hike requiring at least an hour one-way (usually takes longer to get back), 2. Hike along the beach from either the Maritime Museum or the Sleeping Bear Point Trail – takes about 1.5 hours one way, 3. kayak from Glen Haven – takes about an hour one-way in good weather (no wind or waves) – this should not be done in high winds or waves. The waves can become a challenge when you turn south around Sleeping Bear Point.