Army, Air Force, & Navy Times....
THE NORTH CAROLINA COAST:
UNDERWATER MILITARY HISTORY
Many members of the Armed Forces are intrigued by military history. But not all history can be found on battlefields and in museums. Lots of history can be found off the coast of North Carolina. . . and it's underwater.
When most people think of scuba diving, they think anything north of Florida will likely involve cold water, low visibility, and little to see. That's because many divers haven't been to North Carolina. It's a wreck diver's (and military history lover's) dream. For non-divers, the North Carolina coast offers the perfect place to learn and experience world-famous diving and lots of unique history.
The Gulf Stream provides Caribbean-like diving, with tropical conditions and marine life, but the numerous military wrecks are what make North Carolina so interesting. Abnormally shallow shoals along the coast have contributed to more than 2,000 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 The variety of wrecks is what keeps bringing back military divers. "North Carolina's wreck diving is truly unique," says Gunnery Sergeant (E-7) LeRoy Craytor Jr., a Marine stationed at Cherry Point in North Carolina. "For those in the military, it provides an opportunity to experience the history of modern warfare. It's a unique underwater military museum."
Wrecks date from the Spanish fleets of the 1500s through current times. Civil War ships, wrecks from both world wars, commercial shipping casualties, and much more await adventurous divers. The area truly deserves the nickname, "Graveyard of the Atlantic."
SOME SPECIAL DIVES
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 and military history.
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. 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.
For those not yet certified to dive, but still wanting to explore the "Graveyard of the Atlantic," there are many snorkeling opportunities. However, the best way to experience the wrecks is with scuba gear. Learning to dive is easy and well worth the time and effort. The dive shops along the coast, as well as many dive shops near military bases, offer dive certification classes.
The basics of scuba diving are surprisingly simple. Divers use specialized modern equipment that adapts to the aquatic environment. Scuba equipment provides a portable air supply that allows divers to spend an extended time underwater (from a few minutes to several hours, depending on factors like depth and breathing efficiency).
The Morehead City area serves as the heart and logistical soul of North Carolina diving. The region provides ideal access to many of the best dive sites. "This area is the perfect base for military members to explore 'The Graveyard of the Atlantic,'" says Debby Boyce owner of Discovery Diving in Beaufort, a quaint town on the coast.
With so much to see above and below sea level, the North Carolina coast should be part of every history buff's dreams. "The Graveyard of the Atlantic" is certainly a heavenly haven for military members.
THE GRAVEYARD OF THE ATLANTIC
--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. Contact the Olympus Dive Center at 713 Shepard St., Morehead City, NC 28557, 252/726-9432 or 919/726-2594. 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 P.O. Box 1406, Morehead City, NC 28557, 800/786-6962).
--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 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.
The surrounding area is also home to several military bases.
Check with the tourism office for possibilities nearby.
--There's great seafood in the area, with local restaurant recommendations including: the legendary Sanitary Fish Market & Restaurant (252/247-3111); Turtle Reef Restaurant & Marina; and Clawson's 1905 Restaurant (252/728-2133). Military bases nearby also provide provisions options.
--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.
--To learn more about the military history of North Carolina's wrecks, read Rod Farb's informative 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).