GTPulse: Local Diver Documents Great Lakes Shipwrecks

There are over 6,000 shipwrecks in the Great Lakes and Chris Roxburgh is on a mission to photograph all of them. Although he’s only been diving and taking photos of shipwrecks for three years, his dedication to becoming a more advanced diver has accelerated his diving and underwater photography skills rapidly.

“There are boots from people who have passed away, there’s silverware, plates, cooking utensils. Not all of them have that, but the deeper ones have more artifacts.”

The closest I’ve ever gotten to experience a shipwreck was going to a 3D walkthrough of the sunken Titanic at an Imax theater. Chris experiences seeing a shipwreck almost every weekend and finds the underwater adventures addicting.

Chris discovered his love for discovering shipwrecks by accident on a winter weekend.

Photo by: Chris Roxburgh

“Three or four years ago me and my wife were paddleboarding in Northport by Peterson Park. We came across a shipwreck.”

He found out that the wreck was undocumented on any maps and the photos he had taken were the only known photos of the wreck of a ship called the George Rogers. 

“A lot of the shipwrecks are listed so people can go dive them or check them out. So, this one wasn’t even in a Google search or anything. There are pictures of it in the Lighthouse Museum. So, they have pictures of it when it burned in the ‘30s. There were no lives lost. It’s on private property in Northport and that’s part of the reason they keep it so quiet. They don’t want a lot of people going there.”

He returned the following weekend despite cold temperature and captured the wreck from above with his GoPro. 

“That’s when I was told that we were the first people to ever record it and take pictures of it underwater. So, it was pretty significant and kind of got this thing going. After that, I wanted to get certified right away.”

After getting certified Chris quickly became immersed in the diving culture. After finding another shipwreck called the sinkhole, local media ran stories about him.

“So, I made the news my first dive.”

Chris was excited about the idea of exploring the Great Lakes more to see other shipwrecks.

What started as a weekend hobby became a regular fixture in his week. He met a fellow diver Dusty Klifman and underwater photographer and the two started going out on weekends regularly to find shipwrecks. They began going on deeper dives which required more advanced certification, and they both decided to commit to capturing shipwrecks regularly and with quality.

“We’ve done over 50 wrecks together and they’ve all been great dives. People really started tuning in. This month marks a year since I opened my divers Facebook and I have 10,000 followers on it. I’ve been published 27 times all over the country, it’s just really happened fast. Me and Dusty both bought professional cameras. We had so many people interested in it and we ourselves wanted to take better pictures.”

Having the proper equipment has paid off.

Photo by: Chris Roxburgh

“We were doing presentations before the pandemic started. We’ve been doing them all over the state of Michigan for historical societies.”

He and Dusty have done dives for historians to document shipwrecks too. 

“We went out to the Fox islands and dove shipwrecks nobody has dove before. We documented eight wrecks out there. We took photos and measurements for a book.”

He received his first diving certification in the Great Lakes, despite many novice divers having a preference to get certified in warmer, ocean waters.

“A lot of people that dive hare, don’t really dive here. They dive in the ocean. They’re certified, but they want to see the coral reefs and the fish.”

His preference for the colder, Great Lakes temperatures comes from an artistry standpoint. The colder water has more clarity, visibility, and makes capturing details of a wreck easier.

“Water clarity changes over the years. High waters have made the visibility not as good because it kicks up all the sediment from the bottom and changes the currents. Also, it brings in all the stuff off the shoreline.”

Chris has been to so many Great Lakes shipwrecks that he has doubled or even triple visited some of them. He takes photos every time, but the public hasn’t seen all of them yet. With the mass of pictures he has, the ones that don’t make it to Facebook are going to make it into a book he is working on that will detail not only the photos of shipwrecks but also of the stories behind them, historical and personal.

“I’m writing a book right now called Leelanau Underwater. I’m going to have every single shipwreck in Leelanau County, including the south and north fox islands, and the whole shore from Northport to the bottom of Leelanau County. It’s my first book.”

He also is coming up with a book plan that will document all the shipwrecks in the Great Lakes, but even if he weren’t writing books or selling some of the underwater photography, Chris would still be just as passionate about diving and exploring shipwrecks as he is now.

“I love to do it. Even if I wasn’t making money doing it, I still would.”

Categories: GTPulse