A coast littered with Civil War ships and Spanish fleets
by Lynn Seldon
September 6, 2004
When most experienced divers think of diving in the Western Hemisphere, they think anything north of Florida will likely involve cold water,
low visibility, and little to see. That's because many experienced divers haven't been to North Carolina. It's a wreck diver's dream.
Mother Nature has cooperated to provide near-perfect conditions for a diving experience unlike anything else in the world. The warm Gulf
Stream flows closer to the North Carolina coast than anywhere else in the east, except for the tip of Florida. The result is abnormally
warm and clear water. Add to this mix more than 2,000 natural wrecks and just thank Mother Nature and the diving gods and goddesses.
The Gulf Stream provides Caribbean-like diving, with tropical conditions and marine life, but the wrecks are what make North Carolina so
interesting. Abnormally shallow shoals along the coast have contributed to the large number of wrecks along the Atlantic's bottom, along
with wars, weather, and wary seamanship.
"Warm and tropical waters sown with hundreds of natural shipwrecks make this part of underwater America one of the finest for recreational
diving," says Rod Farb in his excellent book, Guide to Shipwreck Diving: North Carolina (Pisces Books, Gulf Publishing, P.O. Box 2608,
Houston, TX 77252-2608, 713/529-4301 or 800/231-6275).
The dive season along the coast of North Carolina usually lasts from May to October or November. Visibility generally averages between 40
feet to over 100 feet. The average temperature is usually in the upper-70s and often reaches into the 80s. The wrecks range in depth from
about 25 feet to more than 170 feet, but most of the popular dives are between 80 feet and 125 feet.
The variety of wrecks is what keeps bringing back divers. Wrecks date from the Spanish fleets of the 1500s through current times. Civil
War ships, merchant marine boats from two centuries, wrecks from both world wars, commercial shipping casualties, fishing vessels, and
much more await adventurous divers. The area truly deserves the nickname, "Graveyard of the Atlantic."
Some Special Dives
With dozens of dives from which to choose, there are definitely some favorites among local divers.
One of the closer, shallower wrecks provides a perfect introduction to North Carolina diving. Two popular introductory choices are the
W.E. Hutton and the Suloide. The W.E. Hutton was a freighter sunk by a German U-boat in 1942 in 70 feet of water just 14 miles south of
Morehead City. The Suloide struck the wreck of the W.E. Hutton in 1943 and sank about a mile away at 65 feet. Both wrecks offer lots of
colorful marine life.
The deeper shipwrecks offshore remain the main reason for heading to North Carolina. Some popular picks include U-352, HMS Bedfordshire,
the U.S.S. Schurz, and the Papoose.
The U-352 is perhaps the most famous dive site north of the Florida Keys. This German submarine was sunk by the U.S. Coast Guard cutter,
Icarus, in 1942. It now lies at 115 feet only 26 miles south of Morehead City and offers much to see in a small space. Though coral life
is limited, the submarine remains are of continuing interest. It is the only U-boat off the coast of the U.S. generally available to sport divers.
Just two days after the U-352 was sunk by the Icarus, the Bedfordshire (an armed trawler) was sunk with a single torpedo by another German U-boat.
The wreck is in several interesting sections, with lots of tropical marine life and several unexploded depth charges to be avoided.
The Schurz was originally a German warship before being interred by the U.S. in 1917. It was accidentally rammed by a tanker in 1918 and
lies in 110 feet of water 28 miles south of Morehead City. The wreck is strung along the sand, with lots of artifacts and much marine life.
The tanker Papoose was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1942 and lies upside down at 130 feet. Entry into the hull is possible through several
wide openings and marine life throughout is fascinating. Just a quarter-mile away, the Ella Pierce Thurlow sits in 125 feet of water and
provides an interesting view of a four-masted schooner sunk by a storm.
There are many other diving opportunities all along the coast. In the colder waters of the north, the most popular destination off Nag's
Head is the U-85. Between Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout, check out the Proteus and the U.S.S. Tarpon. In the Cape Fear area, the dives of
choice include the Normannia, the City of Houston, and the Cassimir.
The Morehead City area serves as the heart and logistical soul of North Carolina diving. This area provides ideal access to many of
the best dive sites. "This area is the perfect base to explore 'The Graveyard of the Atlantic,'" says Debby Boyce owner of Discovery
Diving in Beaufort, a quaint waterfront community.
The Olympus Dive Center and Discovery Diving are the companies to contact for great diving, lodging recommendations or packages, dining
ideas, and the many local sightseeing options for surface intervals. Contact the Olympus Dive Center at 713 Shepard St., Morehead City,
NC 28557, 252/726-9432 or 252/726-2594. Contact Discovery Diving at 414 Orange Street, Beaufort, NC 28516, 252/728-2265. For more
information about the area, contact the Carteret County Tourism Development Bureau at 3409 Arendell Street, Morehead City, NC 28557, 252/726-8148
In addition to the local dive shops, visiting divers should definitely consider the packages and services offered by Kamala 'Wreck Wrench' Shadduck
and her company Red, Wet, and Blue Diving Charters(link to www.redwetandbluediving.com). Offering Caribbean-style diving packages to the North
Carolina coast, this company offers one-stop shopping when it comes to seeing North Carolina's wrecks in style (and at a great price)!
Their ongoing all-inclusive packages can include diving, hotel accommodations, airport transfers, rental cars, breakfast, lunch, snacks,
beverages for the boat, dockside barbecues (including adult beverages), full equipment rentals, tank fills, and more--all at a very reasonable
rate. Kamala has found that even those who don't fly into the area take advantage of her packages.
Kamala personally leads every trip to rave reviews and every experience level is made to feel welcome. Red, White, and Blue Charters also features
a full range of dive services, including divemaster-led tours of the wrecks for newer divers, nitrox or other certifications from several agencies,
and lots of flexible and unrestricted diving. Check 'em out if you want to dive the Graveyard of the Atlantic in style!
North Carolina's Crystal Coast has lots of accommodations possibilities. Some of the best include: Sheraton Atlantic Beach Resort (800/624-8875);
Langdon House B&B (252/728-5499); the Best Western Buccaneer Motor Inn (800/682-4932 or 252/726-3115); or one of many unique villa or condominium
possibilities with Ocean Resorts (800/682-3702 or 252/247-3600), which are great for groups of divers or families.
There's great seafood in the area, with local restaurant recommendations including: the legendary Sanitary Fish Market & Restaurant
(252/247-3111) and Clawson's 1905 Restaurant (252/728-2133).
For off-days from diving, there's lots to see and do. One of the most interesting outings for divers is the North Carolina Aquarium
(252/247-4003), located at Pine Knoll Shores. This public aquarium serves as a focus for public information, education, research,
and advisory services. The facility features many exhibits, a touch tank, and an underwater shipwreck tank that is a favorite of
young and older salts.
Another popular stop is the North Carolina Maritime Museum (252/728-7317), located on Front Street in Beaufort. This museum
interprets North Carolina's many-faceted historical alliances with the sea. Exhibits commemorate both maritime history and the
coast natural history, as well as an impressive collection of ship models. The rest of historic Beaufort is great for walking and
whiling away some surface time.
With so much to see above and below sea level, the North Carolina coast should be part of every diver's dreams. "The Graveyard of
the Atlantic" is certainly a heavenly haven for divers.
Editor's Note: Check out Lynn Seldon's website.