Lemon Shark in Bora Bora

Lemon Shark in Bora Bora

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Scuba Diving the Wreck Wolfe Islander II Kingston Ontario, Canada

My ultimate dives, Where to begin.  I guess there is no better place to begin than the place I know best.  Kingston Ontario Canada.

Now many people who enjoy the sport of Scuba diving spend there bottom time in places like, Bonaire, Mexico, Rotan, and other exotic vacation spots that offer crystal clear warm water and lots of interesting critters to view and photograph. Kingston is not that type of place.  It is a medium sized city of Approximately 117,000 people located on the North East corner of Lake Ontario almost at the mouth of the St. Lawrence River.

  Kingston has long been a place of great significance in Great Lakes Maritime history.  Kingston’s harbor has been in use since the mid 1600’s.  It has been a major shipping port serving both Canadian and American cities along the shorelines of the Great lakes. 

 It was home to thousands of Loyalists who chose to head North during the American revolution leaving behind their homes, farms, business’, friends and in many cases even family members who did not share the same loyalty to Good King George.  It has been the site of numerous shipyards populating the waves with, schooners, paddle wheelers, passenger, and cargo vessels of every type.

  It was home to many soldiers stationed in its forts and it played a key role in the War of 1812 between the Americans and the British.  Fort Henry is still a major tourist attraction and offers Battle reenactments and a chance to better understand the life of the colonial solider.  Due to its long history of maritime activity it also provides easy access to countless shipwrecks spanning several centuries.

The Wreck that I would like to take you to first is the wreck that I experienced first.  The Wolfe Islander II. 

The Wolfe Islander II was a ferry built near Collingwood Ontario in 1946 originally it was Named the Ottawa Maybrook and was being built as part of an aid package for China.  At the end of World War II the aid package seems to have been cancelled and the Approx 160’ 16 car ferry was renamed the Wolfe Islander II and replaced the aging Wolfe Islander ferry that had been in service since 1904.  In 1976 the Wolfe Islander II was replaced by the larger 55 car Wolfe Islander III that still serves the residents of Wolfe Island today.  For roughly the next 10 years the Wolfe Islander II was used as the reserve ferry to the Wolfe III until on Sept 21st 1985 she became the first intentionally sunk commercial ship in the great lakes.  She was scuttled about 3 miles east of Kingston in the waters near Dawson’s point in aprox. 85’ of water. 

 She sits upright and has had most of her hatches removed and some large cutouts created for both easy access and diver safety.  She is marked by two permanent buoys one near the bow and another located near the stern. GPS Info- LAT 44* 13’ 55” LON 076* 24’ 98”.  It is arguably one of the most dived wrecks in the Great lakes.  It is a suitable dive for all levels of diver and I usually make it the first wreck dive for my students. 

The superstructure is found at aprox. 42” and offers a new diver many things to see and explore.  The wheelhouse or bridge is a must to see with its wheel and throttle control. 

 Over there are stairs that lead down the superstructure and you will find a large safe that many divers like to peek in to see if anything of value might still be found inside and also some small cabins that can be entered.

  Over the stern rail you can go to a depth of about 83 feet to view the large propeller still mounted on the wreck.  As this depth exceeds the training for an open water diver it is best saved for advanced divers or maybe it can be seen under the supervision of your instructor.  Also for the more advanced diver with the right wreck training and equipment you can enter a large passenger seating area on the stern. 

 There is access on both the port and starboard sides it is a large and open space with a few gear lockers, likely for life preservers, located around the room.  You will also find the ships head complete with toilets just inside the port side access.  This has been the site of many fun photographs as you can imagine. 

There is also a set of stairs that will allow you to go even further into the wreck itself.  Again this area of the wreck should only be explored by divers with the right training and equipment as you can become lost or silted out.  One of my favorite things to do in this particular wreck is to move towards the back of the room and slowly ascend into a small air pocket.  Here at almost 60’ of depth you can actually talk to one another and it seems to be a very exciting part of the dive.  Remember to continue to breathe from your regulator as the air in this space is made of the air exhaled by other divers and aside from bad breath and lower O2 who knows what else may be contaminating the air found here. 

 There is a large open hatch that will give you access to the engine room where you can witness a maze of pipes and machinery that helped this once great vessel make the almost 5 mile trek between Kingston and the scenic Wolfe island. 

 Forward of the superstructure you will find the main deck where the cars would be parked during the voyage.  Now you can find only a couple bicycles and an old Motorcycle.  Again another perfect Photo op.  A bowling ball is also known to be located on this deck, or I have several times returned it to this deck from either the bottom of the lake from one of the holds that are also open from this level.

  On the forward deck you can visit the anchor winch with anchor chains extended to the bottom.  Many fish are to be found in and around this wreck as it has become home to many varieties of sea life. Also notable are the lifeboat davits that are found along the sides of the ship.  It is always fun to swim along the walkway weaving in and around the empty davits. This is a pretty large wreck and it is serviced by numerous Dive charter boats who in most cases offer a two tank charter for around $75.  I recommend at least 2 dives to see this wreck and explore all that it offers.

  I have probably been on more than 50 dives to this particular wreck and I always seem to see something that I have not seen on my previous dives.  Always remember which of the two lines you used to reach the wreck because it is pretty embarrassing to come up the wrong line and see your boat bobbing gently 150’ away from you at the surface with your dive buddies pointing and laughing at you from the deck.  Speaking from personal experience, or maybe even experiences (plural) it can happen   

 I never grow tired of this wreck and would have to place it close to the top of my most fun wrecks to dive the Kingston area.