Friday, July 20, 2018

Glass Bottom Boat and a Joke

Location: Alpena County Fair Campgrounds; Alpena, Michigan

Thru stop # 10

One of the main reasons for coming to Alpena was to take a boat tour on the glass bottom boats to look at the shipwrecks of Thunder Bay. Alpena sits on the shore of Thunder Bay with over 200 "known" shipwrecks in the bay, which is a lot considering the bay is only roughly 100 square miles. Notice the word "known". It is unknown how many shipwrecks are actually in the bay since ships disappear or never show up at their destinations and are considered lost but the location of the sinking is unknown. One of the known shipwrecks in the bay was thought to have been lost in a storm on Lake Michigan but apparently survived it only to sink in Thunder Bay. It was a surprise to everyone when it was found in the bay by divers and identified. Some wrecks iced over during the winter and sank due to the excessive weight. When ships sank from ice weight, they sank perfectly intact and are resting on the bottom sitting as if they were still floating. One of those is sitting on the bottom and their lifeboat is right next to it. Apparently, the crew left the ship before it sank only to have the lifeboat ice over and sink as well. I don't remember if the crew survived.
A birch bark canoe in the NOAA museum as part of the boat tour. These were sometimes as long as 30 feet. The contraption on the front is a fire platform. Once they got into a good fishing spot, they would set that of fire to attract fish to be speared. The thing below the boat is a fish trap and is not part of the boat.

This boat preceded the birchbark canoe. It is a dugout canoe. Made by taking a log, and in a series of setting it on fire and digging it out, arrive at this canoe. It is a step above riding on a log, but miles away in design, stability and cargo carrying capacity of the birchbark canoe. 

It water was calm going out but got a little rougher on the way back in to port. The Captain explained that no one, not even experienced Captains and fisherman can accurately predict the condition of the waters in/around Thunder Bay.

Some of the Islands out in the bay.

What's left from a very large Fish Camp village on Thunder Bay Island.

Thunder Bay Island Lighthouse and Life Saving Station. There were hundreds of lives saved by both. 
One of the interesting wrecks is a barge without a name and was simply called Barge Number 1. At the time of its sinking, it was loaded with timber and chickens. It was one of a few barges being towed at the same time so when Number 1 started taking on water, the crew just cut it loose so it wouldn't jeopardize the other barges. However, a couple of the crew, feeling sorry for the chickens, managed to cut the ropes tying the chicken cages to the barge. They also freed hundreds from their cages before the barge sank. Who knew chickens could swim, but swim they did. Some were strong enough swimmers that they swam with the cages still around them. They needed a compass though because instead of swimming to the nearest land, they swam all the way to Thunder Bay Island which was nearly 8 miles away. The lighthouse and life saving crew as well as many in the Fish Camp enjoyed chicken instead of fish for a long time once the thousand or so chickens started arriving on the island.
A picture of the deckhand and the viewing bays. Once over a wreck, everyone scrabbles to look. I learned quickly, that simply looking over the side you could see just as much because the water was so clear and shallow.

Looking over the side at one of the wrecks. One others you could see their propellers, boilers, etc. 
A mooring buoy over one of the wrecks. The rope you see floating away from it is used to tie you boat too so you don't damage the wreck with your anchor. If you look a little bit into the distance, you can see another one.

Navigation aide leading to the Thunder Bay River. Nice large flag flying in the background.

It was a good day for a boat tour.
Alpena is a nice town. They have a very active downtown and a few public parks on the shore of the bay.

Looking out to the bay from one of the parks. I caught another gull in this picture. Pure luck.

A fishing/walking pier from one of the smaller parks. 

Looking back from the end.

A man and his dog. The guy would splash water and the dog would run into the water to the guy but then turn around and go back to land. I wasn't sure if the dog was trying to save him or playing with him. They were at it for 30 minutes or more before coming out. 

Looking down at the public beach area from the pier. Several people were swimming in very cool water
During the shipwreck tour I was reminded of two things. One very serious and the other a joke. The serious one was remembering "abandon ship" drills when I was in the Navy. One of the several cruises I was on during the 1970's was to the North Atlantic from Little Creek, Virginia. We were to sail with several other ships but one of the ships had engine trouble so my ship was designated to "stand-by to render assistance" while the ship attempted repairs. After a few days, it was determined that she was not going to able to repair herself so she limped back to port. We on the other hand headed to the North Atlantic to catch up with the fleet. We knew we would not catch them before arriving near Norway. That meant we would be crossing the Atlantic alone. Never a good thing. We weren't a large ship, only 522 feet long and a crew of 200. Big ocean, small ship. The Captain decided to hold an abandon ship drill. During the drill, the word is passed on the ship's PA system telling the crew to prepare to abandon ship. Part of that message is the distance to the nearest land and nearby ships. Since we were in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, the message was similar to "All hand prepare to abandon ship. Nearest land is 1,200 miles to the northeast, nearest ship, unknown". Now, after all of these years, I don't remember the exact mileage that was mentioned but do remember it being greater than 1,000. Coincidentally, I looked at the fathometer (depth of water beneath the keel) just as the message was being passed. It was reading 1,000. That is in fathoms. One fathom is 6 feet so the depth was 6,000 feet, a little over a mile. We wondered how long it would take us to hit bottom if we really sank. The thoughts of 10 foot tall and bullet-proof teenage sailors. The nearest ship information came from where I worked in the Combat Information Center. To have "nearest ship, unknown" meant no surface contacts on the radar. Our radar at that time had an effective range of about 25 miles. That drill drove home just how alone we really were during that cruise. During the shipwreck tour, I wondered how many abandon ship drills had been run and how serious they were taken by the crews of the shipwrecks. 

The second thing I was reminded of was a joke about divers and is told by Thibodeaux and Boudreaux. I guess I first have to explain to my non-Louisiana friends about Thibodeaux and Boudreaux. To pronounce the names, think of "eaux" as "oh". So the names are pronounced, Tib-a-doe and Boo-droe. They are two fictitious Cajuns who are the butt of jokes similar to Aggie jokes, Polish jokes, etc. I have never heard any cajun say they were offended by the jokes and most are told by full blooded cajuns. I use the word cajun but if you're familiar with the area, substitute "coon-ass" and it will be OK. I was reminded of the joke when the tour guide mentioned divers diving on the shipwrecks. It goes like this:

Thibodeaux: "Hey Boudreaux, I wonder why dem divers always fall backward when dey leave da boat to get in da water."
Boudreaux: "I know da answer Thibodeaux, it is cause if they fall foreward they would still be in the da boat". 

Finishing the evening at the picnic table next to Liberty. The weather is nice. Highs in the upper 70's to low 80's with a cool breeze. Lows at night in the 50's. Rain is predicted for this weekend. 
Ya'll take care of each other. I'll Cya down the road.     


  1. Thanks for the great coverage of the area and the lake. Tell my cousans Tib and Boo howdy fer me.

  2. Great photos and information. Scary thoughts about the ocean depth. I was rooting for the swimming chickens and sad that they became dinner.

  3. Really enjoyed this post. I see you're still reading books from you favorite author!