Scuba Diving in the Graveyard of the Atlantic

Scuba Diving in the Graveyard of the Atlantic

The North Carolina coast has been called the No. 1 wreck-diving destination in North America

The number and variety of wrecks lures lots of scuba divers to the coast of North Carolina. There are more than 600 wrecks that date from the Spanish fleets of the 1500s through current times. The area truly deserves the nickname “Graveyard of the Atlantic” and even boasts a museum of the same name in Hatteras.

Learning to dive is easy and well worth the time and effort. Dive shops along the coast and inland offer dive certification classes, as well as snorkeling for those not yet certified.

Beaufort’s Discovery Diving and Morehead City’s Olympus Dive Center are two key companies to contact for great instruction, diving, gear, and more. In addition, Cape Fear Dive Center in Carolina Beach (south of Wilmington) is a great option for divers looking to explore North Carolina’s underwater world around Wilmington and its nearby beaches. Up on the Outer Banks, Ghost Fleet Dive Charters, Outer Banks Diving, Outer Banks Dive Center, and others await visiting divers. Many other dive shops can also be found along the coast and inland.

The dive season usually lasts from May to October or November. Visibility averages between 40 feet to more than 100 feet and 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.

Two popular introductory choices are W.E. Hutton and Suloide. 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. Suloide struck the wreck of W.E. Hutton in 1943 and sank about a mile away at 65 feet. As with most North Carolina diving, both wrecks offer lots of colorful marine life.

The deeper shipwrecks offshore continue to draw divers from near and far, including: U-352, HMS Bedfordshire, City of Houston, John D. Gill, Normannia, Schurz and Papoose.

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.

Just two days after U-352 sunk, Bedfordshire was hit with a single torpedo by another German U-boat. The fish-filled trawler is in sections.

Sunk in 1878, City of Houston is one of the oldest wrecks regularly dived in North Carolina. Lying in about 120 feet off the tip of Cape Fear, there is typically much marine life.

The huge oil tanker John D. Gill and Normannia due east of Carolina Beach are also typically covered with fish.

Schurz was originally a German warship before being interred by the United States 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 tanker Papoose was torpedoed by a German U-boat in 1942 and lies upside down at 130 feet. Just a quarter-mile away, Ella Pierce Thurlow sits in 125 feet of water and provides an interesting look at a four-masted schooner.

There are also numerous “artificial” reefs, which are intentionally sunk ships. Spar, a 180-foot Coast Guard cutter, is a more recent addition to the artificial reef scene. Nearby is Aeolus, a 439-foot cable layer that was once intact – but the hurricanes of 1996 broke it into four distinct pieces. Visiting divers should ask local shops about other artificial wrecks, including Indra – a shallower option.

Down off Wilmington, Hyde was intentionally sunk in the 1980s. It stands intact and upright in about 85 feet of water. In the colder waters of the north, the most popular destination off Nags Head is U-85. Between Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout, there’s Proteus and Tarpon.

North Carolina diving isn’t limited to wrecks. Around the Wilmington area, divers can find massive fossil shark teeth, as well as huge grouper. Abundant lobsters are also much larger off North Carolina than those typically found in the Caribbean.

Lynn Seldon

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