There’s lots of reasons to go wreck diving: cool perspectives that can’t be found anywhere else, iron-clad nooks and crannies that challenge the most experienced divers, and lots of underwater locals who stop by to say hello, from moray eels to swarms of sharks.
But do you know the story behind some of the most popular wreck sites in the world? The history attached to an underwater wreck is often just as fascinating, and ominous, as the site itself.
In this series we’ll go “behind the scenes” for some of the most notorious wrecks around the globe, and share the legends, facts, and stories that make these destinations truly unique. From manmade explosions to deadly war skirmishes, there’s always a reason why a wreck site exists in the first place
While you can fly halfway around the world to the graveyards of the Pacific, let’s start with one of the most convenient — and most storied destinations along the East Coast:
Where’s it’s Found: Off the coast of North Carolina, along the Outer Banks
The Story: The miles of water off the North Carolina coastline earned this ominous nickname due to a deadly history which extends for centuries. More than 5,000 vessels have sunk in these waters since historians began keeping track, with the earliest shipwreck – a Spanish ship exploring the New World – being reported in 1526.
The reason why this region is treacherous to mariners is the configuration of the off-shore region itself. The North Carolina coast is close to two major currents, the Gulf Stream and the Labrador Currents, which run parallel to each other just off-shore. The result is a mixture of shifting sandbars, known as the Diamond Shoals, which have confused and trapped mariners for more than 400 years.
Natural water hazards aren’t the only reason for the mess of shipwrecks found off the coast, and one of the more interesting chapters of the Graveyard of the Atlantic’s dark reputation revolves around World War II.
Many Americans don’t know that for the majority of the war, the East Coast was under constant threat of attack due to a fleet of German U-Boats, or submarines, which lurked just miles away from the eastern US coastline. These ships would often attack American and British ships that were trying to bring desperately needed supplies to the UK, resulting in a string of shipwrecks and a new, equally-dark nickname for the Outer Banks, “Torpedo Junction.”
More than 400 ships were sunk in this area during World War II, which included massive U-Boats and tankers or steamer ships alike.
You’ll find no shortage of wreck dive sites throughout the Graveyard of the Atlantic, but some of the most popular, and the largest, are those WWII relics along Torpedo Alley.
U-352 – Located 28 nautical miles south of Morehead City, the U-352 is a German U-Boat that lost a David and Goliath-style battle with a scrappy US Coast Guard Ship, the Icarus. Destroyed in 1942, and now half-buried in 110’ ft. of water, this vessel is a fascinating relic that still has a surprisingly large number of its components, including the conning tower, still intact.
Papoose – Even though this site is actually the wreck of the W.E. Hutton, (yet another vessel lost during WWII), it’s still referred to as the Papoose by most divers and local dive shops. But get past the confusion, and you’ll discover a haven for sand tiger sharks and a wide array of marine life that congregates around the 120’ ft. deep and 435-ft. long tanker.
Proteous – The Proteous was a luxury liner that met its end in 1918 roughly 20 miles south of Cape Hatteras when it collided with another vessel, the SS Cushing. Now considered a gem of the North Carolina diving scene, the site is a popular spot for shark sightings, massive groupers, and a host of “giant” species, including amberjacks, barracudas, and African Pompano.
Caribsea – This WWII casualty is a bit of a hit-or-miss site, but when the visibility is good, divers will be rewarded with a sighting of up to 100 sand tiger sharks that swarm around the 251-ft. long freighter that rests in 90’ ft. of water. In the summer months, it’s a popular spot for shark mating, and a potentially fantastic site for brave shark-diving fans.
Aeolus – This vessel was sunk in 110’ ft. of water as part of a state-wide artificial reef program, and eventually split in half during a 1990s hurricane. Extending 400’ ft. and sitting in 100’ ft. deep waters, this site is one of the most popular destinations for North Carolina shark divers, thanks to more than a dozen sand tiger sharks who currently live inside the decaying ship.
However, before you race out to start wreck diving, make sure you have the appropriate gear! Wreck diving is fascinating but it can be dangerous. We covered wreck diving gear in a previous post.
Have you dived a WW II era wreck? If so, let us know which one(s) in the comments below and what you thought!
Image attribution: https://www.flickr.com/photos/mattkieffer/