Lake Superior, nestled in the northern Midwest United States, has been a longtime mecca for adventurers both underwater and topside. Beneath the chilly waters, scuba explorers can uncover historically enriching heritage sites: the ambitions and stories of merchants, military personnel, seafarers, travelers, and all sorts of people who shaped the region into what it is today. These opportunities are open for both recreational and technical scuba divers, opening more possibilities for a diverse array of adventures. Sharing these encounters on the northern edge of the US side of Lake Superior is Isle Royale Charters: one of the region’s premiere charter operations, which provides five-day, four-night excursions to popular diving destinations.
By John Tapley; images courtesy Isle Royale Charters
Isle Royale Charters is owned and operated by Captain Ryan Staley with Captain Mike “Ozzey” Oswald supporting charters. A veteran diver, instructor and captain, Staley was introduced to scuba diving through a college friend, and he earned his open water certification in the summer of 1993. After graduating, Staley earned his instructor status and joined the scuba diving industry. While working for Isle Royale Charters, he shared dive trips, made connections in the scuba diving industry and his local dive community, and learned valuable skills. All these factors would coalesce into what would become his business: in 2008, owner Ralph Soren passed the torch to Staley.
“It was always a dream of mine to do this: to combine my love of being out on the water, my love of scuba diving,” says Staley. “When the opportunity came and I was able to do it, I definitely took it. It’s been great. I’ve been able to bring people to a place they may not have even thought about going to and show them the islands and shipwrecks.”
Isle Royale Charters primarily explores Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior: an area well-liked for its numerous wrecks, which offer a good variety of recreational and technical opportunities for clients of different interests. Recreational divers enjoy sites such as the American and portions of the Emperor while technical divers explore wrecks like the Kamloops. The charter also offers trips to other areas in Lake Superior, such as the Apostle Islands and North Shore. The company provides these services from early-June to mid-September each year when conditions in Lake Superior are at their finest.
Beyond diving, Isle Royale Charters complements group excursions by sharing the majesty of Lake Superior’s wilderness. Hiking trips are especially popular, and the groups often travel to historically significant destinations such as the Rock Harbor Lighthouse. Nature abounds in this area, with residents being moose, wolves, bald eagles, and much more. As Isle Royale Charters’ season comes to a close, it offers excursions to the Apostle Islands where shallower wrecks and wild hiking and kayaking await.
“There are miles of hiking trails on Isle Royale: the island’s about 48 miles long and there are trails that go from one end to the other along with shorter trails,” Staley explains. “If we have a day where we can’t go out diving or if the group decides they’d like to have a day on the island, we’ll go out and take the trails, and see the old abandoned mines and inland lakes – get out there and be one with nature. It’s neat to go someplace that’s not touched, per se, by the modern world. There’s no cell phone service or Internet.”
These services are enjoyed aboard the Discovery: a custom-modified, 42-foot-long boat that offers plenty of amenities for lengthy excursions into nature. The vessel includes a fireplace, hot tub, a walkthrough transom, and plenty of space for storing and equipping or removing gear: an advancement Staley added to help technical divers manage their bulky loadouts.
Looking forward, Isle Royale Charters is thrilled to announce an upcoming US-Canadian Lake Superior tour in 2022, working alongside Captain Paul Turpin, owner of Discovery Charters in Rossport, Ontario. These weeklong trips will satiate wreck divers with a multitude of destinations across both countries.
“It was a dream of mine since the beginning when I started running the business. I always wanted to do a ‘mega wrecks’ trip that would entail not only diving the wrecks of Isle Royale but also in Canada. I’ve always wanted to do a weeklong dive trip starting in Isle Royale, diving Kamloops, the Cogden, the Emperor, and then end up all the way up in northern Lake Superior, diving the Gunilda and the Josh Hart, and then come back and wrapping up on Isle Royale before heading back to Grand Portage. After all these years of dreaming it up, I’ve booked not one, but two of these mega wreck trips.”
One man’s dream has opened the doors for others to partake in the majesty and wonder of northern Lake Superior, and today Isle Royale Charters enjoys successful dive season: bookings fill up quickly and in advance. Through the Discovery vessel and the upcoming US-Canadian trip, Staley will continue to share this unique area with the greater world.
For more details on Isle Royale Charters, including scheduled trips and rates, visit isleroyalecharters.com.