October 2014, Cape Hatteras, NC:
I don't think that I had ever dived in Hatteras during the month of October. I had always imagined it was too late into the season--and to far into hurricane season--to make diving here more than a fantasy. But we had heard that the month was sometimes blessed by calm days and fabulous visibility. Figuring we'd take one last shot for the season, Karen Flynn, "Yoda" Richardson, Dave Etchison, Mike Powell, Mike Boring and myself chartered the Under Pressure. Of course, upon arriving on Friday night we found that it had been slick-calm that day, and the winds were forcast to pick up on Saturday. (the old "you should have been here yesterday.....") Braving "snotty seas" the following morning, we managed to squeeze a single dive in on the wreck of the Lancing. But what a dive it was! I had dived this wreck quite a bit back in the 1990's on Art Kirchner's boat Margie Two, and the visiblity was a hit-or-miss affair. This day in October, however, showed us the best visibility I have ever seen here! It proved a spectacular dive, and with the help of my DPV, I saw the wreck from stern to bow and back again like I had never seen it before. A long drive to Hatteras and back for a single dive seems a bit much, but that single dive was worth the drive. All I could think of for a week afterwards was how to return to see her again.....
August 2014, Cape Hatteras, NC:
Labor Day in Cape Hatteras has become a bit of a tradition now. Karen Flynn charters JT Barker's boat Under Pressure (the only east coast boat with a diver lift!) for the long weekend. This is getting into hurricane season, but when the weather cooperates, the diving can be fantastic. The recent roar of hurricane Cristobal as it raced up the east coast, albeit far offshore, had sent swells onto Carolina's Outer Banks, and it wasn't clear if it had affected the underwater visibility or not. We headed far offshore for the best chance of blue water, and found it on the wreck of the Manuela. Scootering the wreck from stern to bow and back again, I was struck at just how pretty a wreck this is. The deep blue Gulfstream water that bathes the wreck, combined with prolific marine life--so thick it is sometimes hard to see the shipwreck--make this an incredible dive. The water was so blue it seemed like I was living inside an undersea version of a velvet Elvis painting! For the second dive we trolled to an old standby--the Proteus--where the visibility was a bit murky but with signs that it was improving. As usual, the sharks on the wreck were thick as theives, making for an exciting and fun dive.
July & August, 2014, Montauk, NY:
Joe Mazraani moved his boat Tenacious to Montauk NY for the month of July for a number of planned trips to the east. The weather in these waters is often challenging--wind and sea are often an impediment to getting to targeted wrecks here, as most lie far offshore. Currents can be a problem as well, as they are often strong and at times unpredictable--this year was no exception!
Between bouts of wind and current, we managed to squeeze in a dive on the stern of the World War II tanker Pan Pennsylvania. The stern of the wreck lies in approximately 340 feet of water. After being torpedoed by U-550 on April 16, 1944, the tanker broke in two, with the stern settling to the ocean bottom while the rest of the huge ship turned turtle and drifted north for two days before sinking. We first dived the forward half of the ship in 1994 and 1995 from the dive boat Seeker. At that time it was believed to be the entire ship, but the stern was discovered during the search for U-550 in July 2012, and first dived in July 2013.
The Pan Pennsylvania's stern section is huge. Lying on its port side, the wreck rises a good 60 feet or more off the bottom. In 2012 the visibility was apparently spectacular (I missed that dive due to equipment issues); this year the visibility was not nearly as good, but I did manage to dive the wreck and snap a few images in the dark, green and somewhat murky condtions, mostly by using the stray light cast by my fellow diver's lights. Dropping on her upturned starboard side, there were many portholes evident in the side of her hull. A short companionway along her upper gunwale is partly intact, while most of the superstructure seems to have fallen to the ocean bottom. She is draped with, or perhaps wrapped-in is a better description, massive large-mesh fishing nets. That dive provided a sense of closure for me, for I had now dived both halves of this monstrous tanker, as well as her killer, U-550.
After making a dive to Pan Pennsylvania's stern, the sea conditions deteriorated, and a planned return trip to U-550 the following weekend had to be cancelled due to weather. When we finally got to sea again, it was August 1 and our destination was the famed passenger liner Andrea Doria, a wreck I had only visited once in the past 19 years. I had dived the wreck extensively from 1984-1995, when the wreck was basically an intact ocean liner lying on her side. In 2006 I had returned for one dive and found her a shadow of her former self--largely collapsed into a rolling debris pile on the ocean bottom.
We anchored into the wreck somewhere aft of midships--exactly where is difficult to tell in her current condition. You can still follow the remains of the Promenade Deck fore and aft, but the wreck appears to be mostly rubble. Pat Rooney and I swam aft and found the remains of the swimming pools and one of the port cargo booms. Among the broken debris, an open stairwell seems an inviation to the adventurous to venture inside her collapsing remains; swimming pools are still lined with tile, ladders in place. As the wreck has collapsed, the decks seem to have slid outward, along with the pools, so that they are now closer to their intended horizontal attitude--when the wreck was more intact, these same decks stood vertical. The result is that in some ways the wreck is a bit less disorienting than it once was, but navigation is much more difficult, and there is always the worry of becoming lost in the confusing pile of rubble and unable to find the anchor line again. I suspect this will be my last trip to the Andrea Doria--to me, it is much better to remember her as she once was--a majestic and intact ocean liner lying in the ocean's depths, a collapsing but navigable interior beckoning to be explored......
Our last trip out of Montauk was surely the best--I guess good things do come to those with patience. The weather turned blissfully calm, and a Gulfstream eddy drifted north, bathing the remains of U-550 with warm, clear blue water. Conditions were so good it reminded me of Cape Hatteras! The incredible condtions, combined with my new toy--a Submerge scooter--made the three dives we did on the wreck the best dives I've done in years. The scooter easily enabled me to circumnavigate the wreck whereas on previous dives it was a struggle just to swim from the conning tower to the bow carrying three stage bottles.
My second dive of this trip was simply spectacular. Diving with Mark Nix, we scootered around the bow, conning tower and stern like tourists in a subsea Disneyland 300 feet beneath the surface. I was madly snapping photos at every opportunity as we explored this fabulous wreck like never before. On deep wrecks like this, what you can accomplish with your limited bottom time using a scooter is simply incredible. While the dives were long, the surface water temperature was an incredible 78F, which almost seemed too hot! As a team we combined our efforts to gather evidence on the wreck's condition and a number of open questions. All this information will help flush out Randy Peffer's forthcoming book on the U-550 story due out next year, to be published by Penguin.
June 2014, Pt Pleasant NJ:
During June a number of us made several trips to the World War I U-boat victim Carolina aboard Joe Mazraani's boat Tenacious. The story behind both the sinking of the Carolina, and her discovery, is a fascinating one. A small passenger liner operated by the New York and Puerto Rico Steamship Company, the Carolina was no less than the U-151's sixth vicitim of the day on June 2, 1918--a day that Gary Gentile has termed "Black Sunday." The wreck of the Carolina was sought by wreck divers for many years before finally being discovered, and first dived, on June 15, 1995 by a team, led by John Chatterto, on Paul Raguso's boat Bounty Hunter. The wreck lies in 230-feet of water off the New Jersey coast.
The visibility was fantastic this year, as it usually is here, but the water was icy cold on the bottom--no doubt due to the cold winter we had. The bottom water was so cold that I was forced to limit my bottom time when my hands became painfully cold--despite wearing 7mm three-finger mitts! Once again the new scooter proved an asset, getting me down the anchor line quicker and allowing me to easily go from midships, where we were anchored, to either the bow or stern. It had been a long time since I had seen the bow, which is mostly broken down, but there are a couple of interesting anchors lying in the sand, along with a pile of anchor chain and a winch. The stern has changed a lot since I was there last--most of the curved fantail has broken down, although her prop and rudder still seem to be holding-up the very bottom of the stern structure.
June 2014, Cape Hatteras:
We finally got to the U-701!!
I've lost count of how many times we have tried to dive this wreck. Karen Flynn runs three trips a year on JT Barker's boat Under Pressure based at Hatteras Inlet. In the past we have had too much wind to go here, too much current reported to go here, gotten there several times only to find too much current to dive, as well as other assorted technical difficulties. The wreck sits on Diamond Shoals, and the current whips over the wreck on a normal day, so to dive here you are really looking for an abnormal day. When we got here this time there was minimal current--at least for this wreck. It was still a hand-over-hand pull down the anchor, but it was quite diveable.
Not only was the wreck diveable, but the visibility was decent and both the bow and stern of the wreck were largely uncovered. Apparently, the shifting underwater sand dunes of Diamond Shoals regularly cover and uncover the wreck. Indeed, midships at the conning tower and gun there was a mound of sand covering the wreck right up to her deck, with just the very upper deck framework, conning tower and deck gun standing above the sand. A huge washout was present at both the bow and stern, however, giving a fine view of both propellers and rudders aft, and the lovely lines of her steeply raked bow forward. Both bow and stern appear remarkably well preserved, I suppose due to the covering of sand that often carpets the wreck. On many other U-boats, such as the U-85 off Oregon Inlet and the U-352 lying south of Morehead City, the pressure hull seems to be nearly all that is left, along with the frames that once supported the outer hull. U-701, however, seems to have both the forward and aft outer hull nearly completely intact, while the upper deck works amidships appear more like other U-boat wrecks; the outer hull of her conning tower is, of course, missing as on almost all U-boat wrecks. Perhaps the hardest part of trying to photograph the wreck was waiting for a break in the steady procession of amberjack that were apparently assigned guard duty for the day--they just would not get out of the way, making it difficult to see the wreck sometimes, much less photograph it!
We had targeted wrecks lying north of Cape Hatteras on this trip, and since the weather was favorable, we stayed out overnight, anchoring up on the "Green Buoy Wreck," which we did our second dive of the day on, as well as two the following day. (The wind kicked up on the U-701 in the afternoon, and it got particuarly nasty on the shoals, forcing us to leave the German wreck.) The "Green Buoy Wreck" proved a fascinating dive. Although the visibility is not what you generally see south of the shoals, it was reasonably good and we spent three dives exploring this wreck. Her identity has not been positively established, but the leading candidates seem to be the World War I tanker Mirlo, sent to the bottom by the submarine U-117, and the World War II tanker San Delfino, sunk by U-203.
Observations on the wreck site showed that there is a 4-inch gun on the ship's stern, which lies listing over on its starboard side. Much of the midships section of the wreck lies upside-down, and there are at least some rivets in its construction, leading to the conclusion that she is old. The tip of her bow lies fallen over to port with a large upright section of hull, or tank section, standing essentially upright just aft. This part of the wreck is separated from the midships section by a stretch of barren sand. Mike Powell found some ceramic tiles stamped "England," thus it can be assumed that she was built there. The distinctly cruiser-shaped stern, however, seems to be a dead-on match to the shape of the San Delfino's stern as evidenced in historic pictures of that ship. This is exactly the conclusion that Mike Barnette comes to in his Wreck Diving Magazine article "Scrambled History: A Tale of Four Misidentified Tankers" (Summer 2006). The following day our weather window began to quickly evaporate. We managed to sqeeze in a single dive on the Lancing in the morning in rather rough conditions before being chased home again by howling winds and sloppy seas.
May 2014, Pt Pleasant NJ:
Taking my new scooter to the World War II freighter Arundo, for the second week in a row we took in an entire wreck in a single dive. We anchored near the wreck's stern, only a stone's throw from the propeller, and proceeded to scooter all the way to her bow. Visibility was only so-so (the Arundo isn't renowned for spectacular visibility, sitting on the edge of the Mudhole), but good enough to operate the DPV and navigate well enough with a couple of well-placed strobes.
The bow was particuarly interesting to see, for the last time I saw it was probably 20 years ago. I remember one dive in particular, diving off the old Sea Hunter. We anchored into the Arundo and found that the visibility from the surface to the top of the wreck was an astounding 50+ feet, unheard of for this wreck. The visibility dropped off to only 10 feet on the bottom, so there was this odd phenomenon where the highest parts of the wreck rose above the silty layer that looked like a visual version of a thermocline, protruding into a clear sea, while lower parts of the wreck were immersed in a pea soup of silt. The bow was one of those higher parts of the wreck that rose into the clear water. At the time it was far more intact than it is today, and while it listed over it was pretty much in one piece, and even had railings along the gunwale. I also remember a prominent anchor sitting in the hawsepipe. The visibility on the higher sections of the wreck was so spectacular that day, that I borrowed a roll of high-speed color print film (Kodacolor 1000) from Theano for the second dive, as I had no fast film. (High ISO options were rather limited in those days!) I tried to shoot available light images, but when I got the film back (you also had to wait a few days before you could see the results of your efforts then--digital photography is wonderful in so many ways) the golf-ball sized grain in the images was horrid! (Theano insists to this day that I yelled at her for giving me that film--but I'm skeptical of that!).
After scootering all the way to the bow, it was like taking a trip back in time for me. But the wreck had changed so much since I had been here last! Hard over on its starboard side now, the stem was intact and obvious, along with that same anchor I remembered from years ago, still sitting in its hawsepipe. The bow I remember had a definite list, but it has apparently fallen almost completely over on its side since then, and is not nearly as majestic as it once was, and seems almost tiny in comparison to my memory of it. In some ways it is hard to believe that this is the bow of a once-great ship.
Scootering our way back the wreck's stern, we passed the big boilers and partially buried engine (under a fallen deck or hull plate), as well as much of the cargo and twisted beams that typifies most of this wreck. I remember in my younger days having a very difficult time making sense of this wreck. We almost always seemed to be anchored into some non-descript section of the ship amongst its cargo--largely truck parts and tires--lots of tires everywhere! The visibility was not usually very good, and I could never really put together the big picture here. While that is still partly the case, just the act of traveling the entire length of the wreck in a single dive seems to help enormously, something the DPV really helps facilitate.
The Dutch freighter Arundo was torpedoed very close to New York Harbor's entrance by the submarine U-136, near the end of April 1942. The attack seems rather bold, considering how close to New York the submarine's commander, Heinrich Zimmermann, must have taken his boat. Six men were lost in the sinking. The Allied ship was loaded with war supplies for the North Africa campaign, including 123 trucks and two locomotives. The remains of the trucks are evident almost everywhere you look on the wreck, with tires and axles in jumbled heaps that sometimes seem to make up more bulk than the ship herself. She lies in 130-feet of water on the edge of the "Mudhole," so the visibility is generally limited.
May 2014, Pt Pleasant NJ:
For me, 2014 will be the "year of the scooter." After being left in the wake of my friends scootering shipwrecks for the past few years, I broke down and bought myself one (Submerge Minnus 1.5). This has the potential to change diving as I know/knew it! The Resor was my first ocean dive with the new unit, and we literally scootered the wreck from stern to bow and back again in a single dive! That would have been nearly unheard of without a scooter, and it seems to give a whole new perspective on the wreck. Instead of seeing a little piece of the wreck in each dive, the DPV seems to allow you to put the "big picture" together much more easily--how each part of the ship lies in relation to the others. It also seems to have the potential to make much more efficient use of limited bottom time, particuarly on deep wrecks. The big question for me is, and I haven't quite worked it all out yet, is just how best to carry and use an underwater camera in concert with the DPV.
I haven't made all that many dives on the Resor over the years, but do have distinct memories of several features. I recall many years ago making a dive on the ship's bow from Sal Arena's Sea Hunter. The bow was standing upright and quite intact at that time, with a full foc'sle deck and winch in place. Today there seems to be little resemblance to that scene--the remains of the bow still seem upright, but the only thing left is the lower hull and a small bit of the stem. It looks as if someone took a meat cleaver to the bow, cutting it in one bold, horizontal stroke.
Another section I remember well, and wish I had gotten a photograph of, was a big midship tank section. I remember it as a massive, upright "slice" of the ship standing high--very high--above the bottom. You could swim through it then, and maybe you still can today, but it is not nearly the same. Back then it stood the full height of the ship off the bottom--it was enormous! Buried in the back of my head is a picture of what it looked like, but unfortunately, that image can no longer be captured, for it no longer exists. Perhaps another photographer had the foresight to make a record of that scene, for it would have made a spectacular image...
The stern of the wreck seems to have survived the years best, and it still stands fairly high above the bottom, although it is certainly not as high as it once was. Viewed from directly astern, it appears like the entire port side of the ship lies buried in the sand. Remarkably, the deck gun still stands stoutly on her sloping decks, an iconic image of a World War II tanker waiting to be taken.
The RP Resor was torpedoed on February 27, 1942 by the German submarine U-578 with a tremendous loss of life. She burned furiously for several days before finally sinking, and today sits on a 130-foot bottom. Her wreckage lies far enough off the New Jersey coast that the visibility on the wreck is normally excellent.