by Thomas Powell:
Around the world, divers and dive professionals will tell you that different areas have some of the best diving available. The desire to find new and exciting places to dive often leads to the development of “best dive location” lists that get printed in various publications. Many of these lists often include dive sites off the coast of North Carolina.
The North Carolina coast is one laden with a rich maritime history beneath the waves. If you have ever had the pleasure of diving the North Carolina coast and its famous “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” you know that there are hundreds of wrecks that range from wooden-hulled sailing vessels to modern artificial wreck structures. The wrecks sit at depths from 60 foot recreational limits to depths beyond the reach of standard technical diving methods. Each one of these fascinating structures lay in blue waters with a feel and visual display much different from traditional tropical settings.
When divers ask North Carolina natives what the best dive sites are off their coast, very rarely is the same answer provided. For that reason, I have chosen to list five favorites that are only a small portion of what North Carolina waters have available.
1. The U-Boats (U-352, U-701, U-85)
North Carolina is lucky to have three scuba-accessible World War II era U-boats beneath her waters. Those vessels represent a unique era in American history. The U-352 is one of the most famous wrecks off the North Carolina coast and she sits in 110 feet of water. Various charter groups offer trips to dive her on a regular basis and crowds from all over the planet come to partake in this experience. In truth, the U-352 is the wreck that first draws many divers to the North Carolina coast. Conversely, the U-701 and the U-85 are more difficult to visit. Temperature changes, currents, and visibility also make these dives a bit more difficult. Despite an increased level of difficulty to visit, these wrecks have the benefit of experiencing fewer divers, making the sites less disturbed by human intervention, each year. Many divers seek to dive all three of these U-boats and over time many have achieved this accomplishment. Diving the North Carolina U-boats is a historical experience as well as an exciting experience.
The Aeolus is a wreck that was sunk off the North Carolina coast for the sake of developing an artificial reef system. She is 400 feet long, sits in 110 feet of water, and is broken into three major pieces from the hurricanes that often hit the North Carolina coast. Once a cable repair ship, the Aeolus is now a wreck famous for it’s abundance of sand tiger sharks. Divers often experience them in large groups, and they are mostly found in and around the wreck. Any diver who ventures out to the Aeolus will always remember an incredible dive that can rival almost any “shark dive” out there today.
3. USS Indra
The USS Indra was once a landing craft repair ship that was sunk as an artificial reef. She is 338 feet long and is a common dive location visited by the various North Carolina charters. The site has little current, remains largely intact, and offers dive depths from 30 to 60 feet making the wreck a fantastic place for new divers or a place to complete training programs. Similarly, she is close to shore and easily accessible throughout the dive season. The USS Indra is one of the wrecks more commonly visited by divers off the North Carolina coast and is perfect for any type of diver to get a “first taste” of what North Carolina coastal diving is all about.
The Proteus was once a luxury passenger liner that sank in a collision in 1918. This makes the vessel a true wreck sitting in roughly 120 feet of water. Though she is old and maintains a large debris field, she still has the appearance of a ship, and items that would be found aboard a luxury liner are still being recovered from this site. The water surrounding this site is often warm and clear due to Gulf Stream currents and the structure still provides enough coverage to allow reprieve in the event that a current is present. The Proteus is also a hot spot to encounter sand tiger sharks and various other types of marine life such as large sting rays. On some occasions, divers have even reported sand tiger shark numbers in the hundreds on this site. Diving the Proteus is an incredible experience that will leave any diver wanting to experience more of the blue Carolina waters.
The Normannia is a pleasant wreck to dive and often described as “pretty.” She is 312 feet long and was once a passenger ship and freighter. She is easy to navigate with the bow, stern, and boilers somewhat intact; but time has caused the wreck to fall into itself to a large degree. The wreck sits in roughly 100 feet of water and the Gulf Stream currents often provide a warm and clear environment. Many of the normal North Carolina fish are found on the wreck of the Normannia, but again, Gulf Stream waters have had an effect and caused many fish species often found in southern tropical waters to take up residence on the wreck. The Normannia is a perfect blend of east coast experiences combing wildlife from southern waters with that of the central east coast.
Each of these wreck sites offers a wonderful and exciting experience to a diver visiting the North Carolina coast, but a diver who is interested in the “Graveyard of the Atlantic” dive sites should contact the coastal charters and go diving. Diving the various available wrecks is the only way to decide for yourself what site is really “the best.” Having been diving around the world, I believe the North Carolina coast and her “Graveyard of the Atlantic” is truly a wonderful diving experience that is different from most places people venture. The only way to understand why it is different is to test the waters and give it a try.
– Dr. Thomas Powell
Owner/Instructor Trainer – Air Hogs Scuba, Garner, NC