EAST COAST USA - Dive Atlas Of The World: An Illustrated Reference To The Best Sites - Jack Jackson

Dive Atlas Of The World: An Illustrated Reference To The Best Sites - Jack Jackson (2016)



by Jack Jackson

STRETCHING OVER A VAST AREA FROM THE Canadian border to Florida, the East Coast of the US is one of the most active scuba diving areas. Often bathed by the clear, warm waters of the Gulf Stream, the marine life is good with tropical species found much further north than normal. There are shipwrecks from many eras: Spanish galleons, centuries of buccaneers, warships and commercial vessels of all ages. They were sunk in natural disasters, by poor navigation and various accidents, in acts of war, in explosives testing and some were environmentally cleaned and sunk to serve as artificial reefs. During World War II, in 1942, the commander of Germany’s U-boat fleet, Admiral Karl Donitz, sent five U-boats to attack shipping off the East Coast in what was termed Paukenschlag or Operation Drumroll. The US was not prepared for this onslaught and German U-boats sank nearly 300 vessels, while suffering few casualties themselves.


The 212m (697ft) luxury liner SS Andrea Doria was the flagship of the Italian Line. In dense fog 72km (45 miles) south of Nantucket, at 23:22 on 25 July 1956, the Swedish American Line’s MV Stockholm powered into her starboard side. The Andrea Doria took 11 hours to sink and, although it happened near enough to New York for an efficient rescue, 46 of the 1706 passengers and crew on board the Andrea Doria and five of the Stockholm’s crew were killed. The Stockholm managed to limp into port.

Today, the Andrea Doria lies on her starboard side in 73m (240ft) of water with unpredictable ocean currents kicking up the silt to give poor visibility. On the ship, summertime water temperature is around 7°C (45°F). Most divers penetrate the ship looking for china. The Andrea Doria has exerted its attraction on scuba divers from the moment it sank. It is not the deepest wreck, nor the largest, but it has mystique and has become known as the American divers’ premier challenge - the Mount Everest of wreck diving.


Off the coast of North Carolina, aptly named ‘the graveyard of the Atlantic’ for the hundreds of ships that have sunk there, over 100 wrecks are on the regular itineraries of diving charter vessels. Located in the Gulf Stream, the diving conditions are easier than those further north and in the late summer months the water temperatures are warm enough to find tropical species such as angelfish and butterflyfish.

One of the most popular wrecks in the area is the Proteus, a 125m (406ft) steamship that sank after a collision with the SS Cushing 40km (25 miles) south of Hatteras Inlet on 19 August 1918. She lies in 39m (125ft) of water with the stern mostly intact, listing to port. Large shoals of Raggedtooth Sharks gather on the stern and bow in October and November. The current ranges from slight to very strong and the visibility is mostly better than 18m (60ft).

3 U-352

Southwest of the Proteus, and south of Beaufort, the U-352 was a 67m (218ft) type VII-C German submarine sunk by depth charges from the United States Coast Guard cutter Icarus on 9 May 1942. She lies at 35m (115ft) with a heavy list to starboard. A relatively small wreck that can be navigated easily, most of the outer casing has corroded away, exposing the pressure hull. Animal life is good, visibility is generally better than 15m (50ft) and the currents slight.


The aircraft carrier USS Oriskany became the world’s largest artificial reef when it was sunk on 17 May 2006, 42km (22 ½ nautical miles) southeast of Pensacola Pass in the Gulf of Mexico. The bottom of the ship is 65m (212ft) deep but the island is now only 24m (80ft) below the surface and is easily accessible to the average diver.



The USS Oriskany (CV/CVA-34) was laid down in 1 May 1944 and launched on 13 October 1945. Construction was suspended on 12 August 1947 and the vessel redesigned and updated, which changed her dimensions. She was commissioned on 25 September 1950. An Essex-class aircraft carrier with a displacement of 27,100 tons, she was 278m (911ft) long, 45m (147ft) beam and 9.3m (30 ½ft) draft, she was nicknamed ‘Mighty O’. She served in Korea and Vietnam and was decommissioned in September 1976.

When sunk the ship was upright with the bow facing south and the flight deck at 40m (130ft). However, 12-m (40-ft) seas from Hurricane Gustav in 2008 gave her a slight starboard list and helped her sink further into the sand by as much as 2.5-3m (8-10ft).

The stairways and railings of the Oriskany are already covered with marine life. The fish include damsels, triggerfish and filefish, and sharks, amberjacks and barracuda pass by. Because of the depth the lower structures are only suitable for technical divers.


Novice divers and experienced deepwater wreck divers alike are attracted to the Florida Keys by the combination of clear, warm waters, reefs in marine sanctuaries and wrecks. The United States Coastguard cutters Bibb and Duane were stripped of armament, their hatches removed, partly sealed and ‘environmentally cleaned’ before being sunk as artificial reefs just south of Molasses Reef on 27 November 1987. Unfortunately, some divers have damaged or removed the barriers, allowing creatures such as turtles, and inexperienced divers, to penetrate areas where they can become trapped.

The 100m (327ft) vessels are buoyed, so divers descend the shotlines to the buoys. Due to the Gulf Stream, visibility is often over 30m (100ft), but the current is usually very strong. Although they are sister ships, they are two completely different dives. The Bibb lies on her starboard side in 40m (130ft) of water with the port gunwale railing at 29m (95ft). As a result she is less frequently visited by divers and in better condition than the Duane. The hull is encrusted with corals and goliath groupers, cobia, barracuda, amberjacks and turtles are common. The Bibb is popular with technical divers.

One of the most spectacular dives in the Florida Keys, the Duane sits upright at 28m (90ft) with her crow’s nest reaching nearly 18m (60ft) from the surface. She lies 0.8km (half a mile) south of the Bibb. Barracuda, angelfish, butterflyfish, jacks, grunts, snappers, wrasse, turtles, sharks and even manta rays have been seen.


The 6,880 ton, 155.5 (510ft) landing ship dock USS Spiegel Grove was designed to transport amphibious craft that carried combat troops ashore. A system of internal tanks could be flooded to allow up to 5m (17ft) of water to flood the well deck to create a seagoing dock, and the entire stern could be opened or closed hydraulically to allow amphibious craft to drive on or off.

After a distinguished career, the Spiegel Grove was environmentally cleaned and made safe for divers before being sunk as an artificial reef off the coast of Key Largo, Florida in 2002. However, she began to sink prematurely, rolled over and remained upside down for several days with her bow above the surface. Three weeks later a salvage team managed to sink her, but she came to rest on her starboard side and attempts to right the ship using tugs and cables failed. Nature corrected the problem three years later when currents from the waves generated by hurricane Dennis rocked the vessel into an upright position.

The Spiegel Grove now lies in 40m (130ft) of water. The anti-aircraft guns and twin propellers make for excellent photographs. The hull is now coated with red algae, and although not yet covered in as much marine life as the Bibb and Duane, she is quickly becoming an entire reef ecosystem.


Bermuda is in the path of the Gulf Stream so, despite its relatively northern location 970km (600 miles) off the coast of North Carolina, it has the northernmost coral reef system in the world. Much of the marine flora and fauna is that found in the Caribbean, including angelfish, butterflyfish, goliath groupers, eagle rays, parrotfish, stony corals and gorgonias, while the Tropical Western Atlantic is being invaded by lionfish from the Indo-Pacific as far north as Carolina. The good visibility in summer, shallow-water reefs and a number of underwater caverns make it a popular destination for scuba divers.

Lying on top of a seamount, Bermuda’s treacherous shallow reefs have over 350 registered wrecks dating back to the 15th century: wooden vessels from early explorers including Spanish treasure galleons; majestic tall ships; iron-hulled freighters; and cruise liners. The list of wrecks include the Constellation, which inspired Peter Benchley’s novel The Deep. Often dubbed the Shipwreck Capital of the Atlantic, treasure hunters have found cargoes that included gold and jewellery and thus the name, Bermuda’s Golden Circle was coined.


Taking some of the popular Bermuda wrecks in a clockwise direction around the ring, the largest is the Cristóbal Colón, a 150m (500ft) Spanish luxury steam liner that ran aground 13km (8 miles) north of Bermuda at North Rock on 25 October 1936. She was easily looted and salvaged and during the Second World War, US Navy aircraft pilots used her for target practice, blowing most of her to pieces and finally breaking her back across the reef. The Cristóbal Colón’s wreckage is spread over a large area, ranging in depth from 5m (16ft) at the bow to 25m (80ft) at the semi-intact stern. The marine life includes stony and gorgonian corals, wrasse, snappers, barracuda and schools of chromis. Turtles pass by and large groupers hide in the hull. Propellers, turbines, drive shafts, boilers, evidence of cruise liner luxury and even unexploded artillery shells litter the ocean floor.


The Aristo was a 75m (250ft) Norwegian freighter whose captain mistook the Cristóbal Colón for a ship under way, altered course to follow her and ran aground in 1937. She was towed off the reef, but soon sank and now sits bow and stern intact at 15m (50ft). The bow rises to within 5½m (18ft) of the surface.


These three wrecks all ran into Mill’s Breaker, northeast of St George. The 60m (200ft) iron-hulled English sailing vessel Beaumaris Castle ran aground in April 1873. The most intact of the three, her bow is at 12m (40ft). The Avenger was a wooden brigantine wrecked in February 1894 and the Colonel William Ball was a 40m (130ft) luxury yacht that sank in 1943.


The 99m (323ft) English cargo vessel Pollockshields ran into a storm on 2 September 1915 and struck the reef five days later. She was later blown up and scattered wreckage is found at 5-12m (16-40ft).


One of the most popular wrecks, the Hermes was a 50m (165ft) American freighter sold to a Philippine company and abandoned in Bermuda. She was eventually seized by the government and sunk by local dive operators as an artificial reef in 1985. She now lies fully intact and penetrable in 25m (80ft) of water with her mast around 9m (30ft).


A 90m (300ft) English steel-hulled freighter on her maiden voyage, the Minnie Breslauer hit the reef on 1 January 1873 and sank during the attempted rescue. Today she lies at 12-20m (40-65ft) deep.


The 69m (225ft) Marie Celeste was a side-wheeled paddle steamer used as a blockade runner during the American Civil War. Cruising at speed under a Bermudan pilot, she hit the reef 0n 26 September 1864. Today her remains lie in 17m (55ft) of water.


L’Herminie was a 90m (300ft) French frigate sunk on her way home from Cuba on 3 December 1838. The wreck has mostly rotted away, but 59 cannons are spread over a wide area in 9m (30ft) of water.


The 60m (192ft) four-masted wooden schooner Constellation sank on 31 July 1943 after striking either the northwest reef or the wreck of the Montana. Carrying cosmetics, haberdashery, bags of cement, 700 cases of Scotch whisky and drugs, she inspired Peter Benchley’s novel The Deep and the film of the same name. Today she lies broken-up in 9m (30ft) of water with the top of the cement cargo reaching 2½m (8ft) from the surface.


Very little is left of the structure of L’Herminie, but there are 59 cannons strewn over a wide area in 9m (30ft) of water.


The Constellation, which was carrying cement, drugs, cosmetics and haberdashery, inspired Peter Benchley’s novel The Deep.


Europe’s most popular wreck diving destination, Scapa Flow, is a sheltered, open lagoon encircled by the Orkney Islands.


The Churchill Barriers were constructed after the german submarine U-47 sneaked past Scapa Flow’s blockships and sank HMS Royal Oak.