MARQUETTE, Mich. (WLUC) - Eric Smith, Executive Producer of WNMU-TV’s documentary, Superior Destiny says by late spring of 1990, the ice had broken up enough for a Navy salvage team to begin efforts to sink the Mesquite.
"They had to let the ship sit there over the winter because you obviously have a hard time working when there's ice and storms. That’s when they did all of the clean-up work. They cut the superstructure off the wreck. They prepared it so that they could lift the boat off the reef,” Smith declared.
The Mesquite was sanitized of all asbestos and other hazardous material and towed 3/4 mile to Keystone Bay where the 47-year-old cutter would be lowered into Lake Superior.
"You could have heard a pin drop. Nobody said a word. It was a solemn event. It was a sad event. It was essentially a funeral for a ship that had served us well. but was no longer going to be useful on top of the water," Smith recalled.
Originally commissioned in 1943, the Mesquite saw extensive duty during WWII in the South Pacific before being reassigned as a Great Lakes buoy tender by 1949. But the Mesquite now serves a new purpose.
"The correct term is a cultural resource. But it's a diving attraction," Smith clarified.
Smith, a diver himself has logged about a dozen dives on the Mesquite. He says it’s now the centerpiece of the Keweenaw Underwater Preserve.
"As we all know, the Coast Guard has an amazing history in the United States. They are the guardians of our coastal waters. They provide life-saving services. They’ve just done amazing things. And this ship represents much of that service," Smith stated.
Negaunee resident, Dan Fountain, is also a Great Lakes diver with a dozen or so dives on the Mesquite. He says as a more modern shipwreck, the Mesquite is one of the more unique dives in the world.
"Our first dives on the Mesquite were approximately a week after it was removed from the reef and settled in its final resting place. At that point the Mesquite was pristine," Fountain commented.
He says most shipwrecks are 80 to more than 100 years old. They tend to collect algae, sediment and barnacles. But as a fresh shipwreck, the Mesquite had none of those features in the early 1990s.
Fountain also warns divers interested in investigating the wreck not to venture too deep into her cabins.
"Wreck penetration in general is something that an average sport diver should, unless specially trained, probably should avoid," Fountain advised.
He says if you find yourself down there, remember it's a crime to remove anything from this and other shipwrecks.
"Take only pictures, leave only bubbles," Fountain chanted.
Maritime Historian, Fred Stonehouse says the Mesquite and many of the 550 shipwrecks on Lake Superior will remain watery reminders of our past, for future generations.
"The Mesquite certainly would stay in one piece for a very long time. I would suggest we'd at least get a century out of that wreck," Stonehouse reasoned.
Click here to read about the events leading up to the sinking of the Mesquite.