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5 Great Lakes, 5 dives in 24 hours

August 7, 2012
Jessica Nikolich - Assistant News Editor , The Alpena News

The plan was to scuba dive all five Great Lakes in 24 hours. It only took Wayne Lusardi and Phil Hartmeyer 16 1/2 on Aug. 1.

Lusardi and Hartmeyer worked alongside each other for the past 14 months at the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary but never got a chance to dive together.

"We just had faith in each other and went for it," Lusardi, a Michigan Department of Natural Resources archaeologist, said.

Lusardi came up with the idea driving his family back from a trip to Maine, New York and Connecticut.

"We were coming over the bridge at Niagara Falls, and I thought, you know, and I think this all the time when I go through Niagara Falls, I was like, well, Lake Erie's right there, there's Lake Ontario, you kinda got the same setup in the Straits ... and this would be really easy I bet to dive all the lakes at the same time," he said.

Hartmeyer, a former AmeriCorps volunteer at the sanctuary, was instantly on board, and Lusardi quickly realized Hartmeyer would be the one person adventurous enough - and, arguably, crazy enough - to follow through.

"(Wayne) said, 'I got this crazy idea,' and I said, 'All right, when are we doing it?'" Hartmeyer said.

After a minor holdup waiting for Hartmeyer's passport to arrive in the mail from his San Francisco-area home, the two headed for Canada in his Subaru around 3 p.m. July 31.

Hartmeyer had never seen Niagara Falls before - "It was pretty amazing. It's unreal," he said.

"It was like a honeymoon trip," Lusardi joked.

They worked their way south to get to Lake Erie across from Buffalo, N.Y., entering the dark water off a rocky shoreline.

"We suited up and got in the water at six minutes after midnight on Wednesday morning the 31st and walked through knee-deep muck, seaweed that was washed up on the beach there, and I got into the lake and it was actually really pretty," Lusardi said. "We did the night dive. It was fast-moving current, but it was really clear and there were lots of perch swimming.

"And we came out and were like, all right, that's one ... Next."

Lake Ontario was also a night dive, and the only lake Lusardi hadn't ever dove in. He said it can be a bit spooky when all you can see is what's captured in the beam of the flashlight in front of you. He and Hartmeyer kept their wetsuits on for the drive from Erie to Ontario, thinking it wouldn't be very far. Lusardi had spotted a pirate ship sticking partially out of Lake Ontario on numerous highway drives and envisioned it to be an ideal dive site. Upon closer examination, it resembled a weedy swamp, and they opted to "scamper around the bushes at 2 in the morning" until the beach opened at the bottom of a 30-foot vertical embankment into the water. Another beautiful dive, Lusardi said, complete with little yellow catfish.

Next came the long haul, an eight-hour drive back into the United States toward the Straits of Mackinac, which connect Lakes Huron and Michigan. They were done in two distinctive dives -Huron's off a roadside park near Cheboygan and Michigan's off the north end of the Mackinac Bridge.

Hartmeyer said "to pop your head up every once in a while and see that gorgeous bridge in front of you" made Lake Huron's dive a close tie for the prettiest with Lake Superior, which they did near Paradise. He said Superior's 68-degree water, a good 10 degrees cooler than the other lakes, was "nice and refreshing."

"The whole planning process lasted about 12 minutes," said Lusardi, who pieced together any rudimentary calculations via a quick Google Maps search. They simply chose publicly accessible spots on a whim.

Lusardi said they were afraid about time constraints first setting off and limited their shore dives to 20 minutes, keeping them all shallow, averaging about 12 feet in depth.

Lake Michigan turned out to be the "biggest surprise dive" because they found a collection of rooted tree stumps on the bottom, something that tied back to submerged forests, which has been a research topic at the sanctuary lately.

They met a firefighter by Lake Superior who was also a diver from San Francisco, and was drawn to the area because of the SS Edmund Fitzgerald wreck. After they told him about their mission, he asked the obvious question - "What's your hurry?"

"It was fun, we had no particular reason to do it than just to say you did it, to know it can be done," said Lusardi, who hopes to go at a more leisurely pace on the next Great Lakes diving trip and focus on shipwrecks.

Hartmeyer is on his way to North Carolina this week to begin a master's program in underwater archaeology. He said he probably couldn't have done a trip like this without Lusardi.

"There's no better way to say goodbye to the lake for a little while," he said.



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