You can lead a Horse to water but can’t you make him wreck dive?
Off shore from Nag's Head in North Carolina hidden beneath the waves is the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Countless ships have sunk or been driven ashore due to destructive weather, hard currents and even human sabotage. Join Pete Nawrocky on a tour de force of some of the best shipwrecks in the area. by Pete Nawrocky
A group of straggly dressed men walked along the dark beach, the only light was cast from a lantern that hung from the neck of an old nag. The hope was to attract a wayward ship looking for a beacon. Their goal was to draw the ship in so that it would “wreck” on the beach and be easily plundered. This is one of the favorite tall tales that could have led to the town name of Nag’s Head in North Carolina. Other tales also include buried treasure left behind by the pirate “Blackbeard”. Although one historic event happened only minutes away as the Wright brothers completed mans first powered flight in Kitty Hawk.
Located on the half way point of the east coast on a strip of barrier Islands called the Outer Banks, Nag’s Head is a vacation destination for millions of visitors. An area well known for its Sport Fishing it is also the location of the third largest Estuary in the world. Just off shore is the area known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” This is the northern most portion of the “Graveyard” and many types of vessels have met their end through acts of nature or man. The mixing of two distinct ocean currents can have a volatile effect on the weather patterns. During recorded history fierce and unpredictable storms have created conditions that have sunk ships outright or caused them to be driven ashore. Hurricanes have also claimed a share of the sinking’s.
Beach Diving is possible from Nag’s Head and guided dives and /or directions are available through local dive shops. If you are not comfortable with surf entries or compass navigation a guide is recommended. Plan ahead! The Huron is in 25 feet of water and north of the Nag’s Head Fishing Pier, the Triangle wrecks, Kyzickes and the Carl Gerhard are located in approx. 20 feet of water and require swims of 100 and 200 yards respectively. The shifting sands cover and uncover some of the wrecks throughout the year. Check with the locals on what would be considered diveable.
Water temperatures vary depending on not only the time of the year but wind direction. Southeasterly winds can push warm water from the Gulf Stream closer to shore; temperatures can reach 80 degrees in the summer. These conditions can also reward the diver with visibility ranging from 40 to 100 feet. Coast Guard Cutters, U –boats and a variety of freighters are found offshore in deeper waters. Be prepared for longer boat rides as the dive boats are located in the bay area and must travel to Oregon Inlet to gain access to the Ocean. The trip is enjoyable as pods of dolphins can occasionally be seen as they feed in the warm shallow waters. Choose the wreck upon personal experience and skill. A good warm up dive is the Advance, (actually the R/V Advance II) sunk as part of the artificial reef program in 1994. Originally christened as the USS PCE-845 and later re-christenedUSS Worland and used in WWII as a patrol craft. The Advance sits upright in 80 feet of water on a sand bottom; the top of the wheelhouse is at approx 65 feet. The vessel is 185 feet long and 33 feet wide. Schools of fish swim around and through the wreck, macro photographers will find ample subjects. Wide angle opportunities abound with doorframes and window openings creating colorful backdrops.
The opportunity to dive on a U-boat comes up twice. The U-85 and the U-701 were both sunk by naval actions. The U-85 has the unfortunate distinction of being the first Submarine to be sunk off the East Coast. Operation Drumbeat was a plan set up by the German Navy to wage war on the merchant shipping of the United States. The original plan was to send 12 Type VII U-boats, this class of vessel could accomplish the long ocean trip and still have enough fuel for operations. The group was reduced to 5 owing to the prioritizing of targets and necessary repairs on one boat. The USS Roper is credited with the sinking of the U-85. Depth of the dive is a maximum of 110 feet. Currents are generally mild in this area. The 11 final depth charges caused considerable damage to the sub and just viewing the beating the U-85 suffered is a sobering view of the engagement.
Diving the U-701 can be a challenge due to a different set of conditions. The wreck is on Diamond Shoals which is well known for currents, up to 2 knots. The U-701 was attacked for days by planes and ships. Eventually the persistence of the defenders sunk the 701 with all hands. On both sites it is best to look but not touch. The website that chronicles the U-boats can be found at www.uboat.net
Those interested in Naval History have the chance to dive two Coast Guard Cutters that have the unique distinction of sinking during the same storm. A hurricane in September 1944 sunk both the USCGC Bedloe and USCGC Jackson since radio silence was maintained neither vessels exact location was discovered until recently. The Jackson rests at a depth of 80 feet and is badly broken up. The Bedloe is intact and lying on its port side at a depth of 140 feet. The story of both vessels is finely detailed in Bryan Galecki’s book, Rum Runners, U-boats & Hurricanes. Information on many of the wrecks can be also found in Gary Gentile’s Popular Dive Guide Series, Shipwrecks of North Carolina (from the Diamond Shoals, North)
Weather conditions in Nag’s Head have been known to be spotty. Good weather can last for weeks or the wind can kick up and make diving a challenge. Depending on a weather forecast that is days away can lead to both types of disappointment. If the wind changes a few points on the compass it is possible to be blown out or have the seas flatten. Fortunately there are many diversions in the local towns. Visiting Jockeys Ridge State Park visitors can see the largest sand dunes on the East Coast. Kitty Hawk the birthplace of aviation is the site where the Wright Brothers made Aviation history or a short drive to the North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island.