For some reason, in the two days, I have become obsessed with the idea of diving the Morgan Shoal. A few months back I was at work surfing the web, and was looking for possible dive sites on the shore of Lake Michigan near Chicago. During this time I stumbled upon the minutes from the meeting of some kind of neighborhood group’s website that notes maintaining the area as a possible snorkeling preserve.
But let me back up a minute here and perhaps bring context to my enthusiasm. Six years ago I moved from the sticks to The City That Works(when the wheels are greased.) I’ve heard people from all over complain that when they were growing up, they had nothing to do. Some of them lived in the Rockies, some of them lived in California, and some of them lived in Florida. What they really all had in common was to forsake and take for granted those abundant natural resources that are mountains and oceans. For those not in the US and are relatively unfamiliar with Chicago beyond the Bulls and stereotypical machine gun noise, here’s a quick summary. The Bulls aren’t what they used to be, however yes crime’s still fairly prevalent in many (albeit not all) parts of town. It’s the 3rd largest city in America and is the largest one that isn’t located on the ocean. In fact, it’s located in the vast ocean of cornfields known as the mid-west. Some might even go so far as to say it’s the big island in the ocean of corn . . . but I digress.
What’s important is that despite being in the middle the great plains and some 750 miles from the ocean, the city grew up as an port as it is located at the end of a chain large lakes that are effectively inland seas. Because of this you’d think that the area would have a relatively strong maritime connection, but yet despite being next to a body of water that’s 33% larger than the nation-state of Denmark (excluding Greenland,) this is not the case. You could blame the freezing over in the winter or the widespread governmental corruption (or just possible incompetency) leading to an extremely limited number of docks and harbors or even just poor underwater visibility, but somehow people don’t get all revved up about boats and scuba diving around here. I guess the scuba thing might not be too hard to understand: diving in the tropics means you see lots of colorful fish and coral. Here you see some lake grass and maybe some carp, if you saw anything at all, right?
So I moved here with high hopes and expectations, and looked into diving. Inspired by the following website (check it out, it’s some of the best amateur underwater photography I’ve ever seen and it’s in the same lake that Chicago sits on): http://michiganfreediving.zenfolio.com/ taken in another state that also has a shore with Lake Michigan, I bought a used farmer-john 7mm wetsuit on eBay for $8 and jumped in around the first of May up by Loyola Beach. I had even looked up spearfishing beforehand and made notes on what kind of speargun I would buy depending on the number of fish I saw (the goal of spearfishing is still listed in my 43 things to this day.)
That was a valuable lesson learned. The visibility was so bad I couldn’t see the finger tips of my outstretched hand and after a little puttering around, returned home to my dorm room room, fairly dejected. I was later scuba certified with a buddy, however it was at an old quarry in the south suburbs. Apparently Illinois is not only known for being flat with little interest in the lake aquatic, it’s also notorious for bad visibility underwater.
Flash forward these six years. I bought an inflatable kayak some five months ago, and sure enough the things actually pretty legit. I was concerned that it would be little more than an inflatable pool toy however it’s a 15 foot long rec kayak that can be converted from 1 to 2 people and from a sit-own to a sit-in and has a total weight capacity of 550 lbs. As I use the thing and get ready for the eventual spill into the water, I used the knowledge gained from researching wetsuits for spearfishing/freediving to pick up a cheap 2.5mm shorty on leisurepro. While I was shopping for the wetsuit, it reminded me of the idea I had to try diving around here. Part of what made me eventually decide against it was that I had concluded that the water deepened too slowly for the sand not to be disturbed by the tide.
Until of course I was appraising something that was by Hyde Park and noticed some extremely clear water off the coastline. I looked for a depth map of the lake and found that the water gets approximately 10 feet deep within a quarter-mile east of Promontory Point. After some additional google searches I came across the minutes from the meeting and, voila, an idea was born.
Plus now I have a kayak that holds two people with room for gear to boot.