Meaghan Gass didn’t know much about the sport of diving before she moved to Alpena, Michigan, in 2015.
That’s what made it such a surprise to her friends and family when they found out that she was going to be diving all five Great Lakes in 24 hours in the summer of 2016.
Watch Great Lakes Now’s segment on the Big Five Dive:
“I was part of the Mississippi River watershed growing up, but I’ve lived in Michigan since 2015, and I’m a very proud Great Lakes state resident,” she said. “The Great Lakes are what brought me to Michigan.”
She currently works for the Michigan Sea Grant and Michigan State University Extension as an extension educator. She started diving recreationally after moving to Alpena to work for the Northeast Michigan Great Lakes Stewardship Initiative network, housed out of the Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary offices.
She started learning about diving and shipwrecks through coworkers, including Jacque Edwards who also participated in the Big Five Dive.
The Big Five Dive came about as she and some others were brainstorming what Women’s Dive Day could look like while planning a summer activity to look forward to through the winter. From there, it grew into an opportunity to bring attention to the Great Lakes, shipwrecks and cultural resources.
Great Lakes Now spoke with Meaghan Gass. Here’s an edited transcript of that conversation:
Great Lakes Now: Had you done those dives before?
Meaghan Gass: No, I had not. Before that, for most of our recon missions we were snorkeling on location and in some of them, like for instance Lake Erie on Big Five day, that was our first time on that site, because when we visited it on our recon mission we decided it wasn’t safe to go out. And sometimes conditions change, so our Lake Superior dive, we dove that in the afternoon, the sun was out, the water was clear like glass. And when we dove for the actual dive, it was 12:01 a.m., it was windy, dark. So there were differences between when we did the recon and when we did the actual Big Five Dive Day.
GLN: What were your thoughts before the dives and after the adventure?
MG: Before completing the adventure, I was a little unsure how exactly it would play out. My biggest concerns were related to how many people were completing the dives. We had 14 divers of various experience levels and skills. There were a lot of concerns just around logistics and also just making sure we were keeping in good spirits, just how are we going to get all these dives accomplished, keep everyone together and do it all safely.
When I think back to the experience, I think how did we do that? That was amazing—900 miles driving, five dives and the time driving and diving and getting place to place—and so I’m still amazed we managed to get that accomplished, but I learned a lot about myself.
I love now being able to share with people, especially kids, that I dived all five lakes in 24 hours, and they’re often really surprised to hear that, just visiting all five lakes, let alone diving it.
GLN: What are some of the standout moments from the five dives?
MG: One that wasn’t included in the documentary but was a standout moment was when the police were actually called on our dive team when we were at Lake Erie. We were such a big caravan and it was a private dive site, so there was some concern from neighboring residents. It was cleared up but we ended up another hour behind schedule.
And all of the driving and jumping from car to car, I think I was in five different cars by the end. I started in a vehicle where I drove, and then I was in another vehicle I drove, and then I was carpooling in another vehicle… It was a lot of changing logistics.
GLN: What are some of your favorite places to dive?
MG: I love diving in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. That’s where I’ve dived the most. Most of my dives have been limited to the Great Lakes so I’m definitely more of a cold water diver than a warmer diver. I love diving in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary because it’s easy to find the shipwrecks and see where you’re going.
Just for ease of accessibility, Thunder Bay.
GLN: Any last thoughts?
MG: Dream big.
And if anyone is interested in doing an adventure like this, don’t hold yourself back even if you think it can’t be accomplished. The planning sometimes was more fun than the actual diving. The whole experience from beginning to end was rewarding, but it was the connections we made along the way that made this whole experience worthwhile.
Featured Image: Big 5 Divers prepare to enter lake Erie to dive the wreck of the Penelope