Why You Should Dive the SS Andrea Doria
By: Joe Stellini
If you are a diver, especially one who considers it a regular hobby or even a passion, then you may have heard of the shipwreck of the SS Andrea Doria. It’s an impressive wreck and one that rates fairly high on the difficulty chart. You may have even heard of it referred to as the Mt. Everest of diving, mostly because of the location and the many challenges this wreck confronts you with. Whether you agree with that analogy or not, it is no doubt quite an accomplishment for any diver to achieve considering the amount of experience and prep needed to complete this dive successfully.
However, the question here is not why diving the Andrea Doria is such a feat, but why you would even want to expose yourself to that sort of risk considering the number of casualties this wreck has taken over the years. Some of the reasons may not be as obvious as you think.
For me, it was for several reasons.
First, I was working on becoming a rebreather instructor and thought, “Sure I’ve done some pretty advanced dives.” Many of which were fairly deep and long. But nothing sets you aside like saying, “Experience in this rig includes diving one of the most renown and serious wrecks out there.” It would also mark 20 years as a diver, and 15 years technical diving and as a professional in the scuba industry. I was also getting married that summer. So we scheduled the trip one week before the wedding. If it were meant to be, then I would survive the dives. Really it was to avoid getting roped into a crazy bachelor party and instead celebrated in a unique way with some of my closest dive buddies. I had reached a point in life where I was just not interested in that type of party any longer, not to mention getting to an age where the Doria might be out of reach in the near future.
A goal high on the priority list
Those were my personal reasons, and it’s probably true that most have their own reasons that differ from many of the others who have made the 9-hour boat ride out to tie into a wreck that sits smack dab in the middle of a shipping channel, possibly under choppy conditions. The Doria has been a goal high on the priority list for a very small group of elite divers in the world who just want to be able to pound their chest to show how badass they really are. It’s about bragging rights. And there is nothing wrong with that. It would be a blatant lie to say that you don’t feel like an elite diver once you complete an adventure like the Doria. And to some, checking it off their list is certainly one reason to go.
Then there’s the treasure.
Much of what’s been found is in the private coffers of divers around the world, but some of the artifacts are displayed in the various shipwreck, diving, and maritime museums. And if you frequent certain dive shops, especially if you are in the Northeast, you will see interesting finds displayed behind the glass cabinets. There are some really beautiful artifact collections out there and some of the best include treasures from the Doria. Yes, much of it has been found and the amount is impressive including china pieces and other kitchenware, an assortment of bottles, bells, passenger’s personal items, fixtures, and many other types of artifacts that are considered to be priceless to the divers who found them. Don’t worry though, it’s a big wreck and artifacts are still being found with every trip out. Keep in mind that as the sea shifts this massive wreck, new openings and parts of the wreck are being exposed. We still have some time before she stops pouring new treasures out on to the sea floor. On our trip in 2015, one diver even found a jar of perfectly preserved olives on the bottom just outside of the wreck. They looked as if you could open it up and start eating them right out of the jar. You would think that with all the dives done over the last four decades that the pickins’ are slim. You definitely have to look a little closer and keep an open eye, but it makes it that much more meaningful when you do find something.
Much of the time when we dive for the love of shipwrecks we aren’t expecting to see the pretty fish or exotic marine life. This is definitely the case when considering the wrecks of the Northeast or any other dark water dive sites. And it is, without a doubt, still the case with the Andrea Doria. She sits at 240 feet in the cold waters of the North Atlantic Ocean. You don’t have to make this trip, take the risks, or endure the long decompressions to see the usual suspects of the Northeast. Actually, you’d be able to just jump on a charter out to one of the local wrecks closer to shore and see the exact same characters. Underwater anyway! What you’d be missing though, is all of the marine life you see on the ride out, while you’re tied in, or on the ride back in toward shore. If you’re lucky enough to get good or moderate conditions you can plan on seeing some pretty amazing sights. Pods of wales have been spotted off the bow of the boat or breaching the surface while tied in for a few days. Our conditions were calm during the trip out and most of the stay, so we witnessed 100’s of dolphins jumping all around the boat and off in the distance against the sunset and moonlight, and literally all day long. At one point a basking shark surfaced just 100 yards from the boat just floating… well… basking in the sun for hours. That was worth the trip even had we not been able to conduct the dives. Who just sees a random basking shark?
Unplugged, unreachable, and unsure of what is to come over the next couple days.
They are all reasons in and of themselves to actually be out in the middle of nowhere. It’s that surreal feeling you get when you are doing something extraordinary for the first time and had no idea it would be so unimaginable. There’s no shore in sight for hours. Marine life is jumping around you all day long. Freighters are off in the far distance on either side of your vessel making the trips between the U.S. and Europe. Somehow the sun and the moon seem twice the size they normally do from shore. And you’re with some of your greatest friends whose common goal is to prove to yourselves that you all belong on that short list of Andrea Doria divers.
With all that being said, a great reason to dive the SS Andrea Doria is that she is still there for us to dive on. Considering that the Doria sank in 1956 after the infamous collision with the MS Stockholm, it would be, to say the least that it’s been there a while. The corrosion and collapsing of the hull happens more every day and the longer she’s there the faster the deterioration happens. Yes, that causes new openings in the wreck to penetrate and explore, but how long will it be a shipwreck and not just a pile of melted and corroded pieces of metal, which will eventually just become part of the sea. In the short term, time is limited as to how long we can actually dive on what still resembles a pretty massive shipwreck.
What about the actual dive?
Imagine this… you hit the water and start your descent. It’s long. Almost three minutes long. The anticipation of hitting the Andrea Doria is overwhelming if this is your first descent to it. Visibility is anywhere from 5 to 20 feet and when you get there it’s bigger than any wreck you’ve seen so far. You can’t see much of her in one frame, but you can feel the enormity because the beams and slabs of the bulkhead and hull that you do see are gigantic. You tie in your line and the first thing you do is to start the trek across the bent and collapsed
You can make out certain things like windows, doors, and probably a pool based on the tiles lying around (which by the way, make great souvenir’s for gifting to people). Finally, you drop over the side of the hull only to get into another descent of 40-50 feet or more. Yes! Another 50 feet to go to get to the bottom where your chances of finding some dive treasure are the greatest at this point. There are lots of holes to go in, but being the first trip, you decide not to do it until you feel more comfortable with the layout. Getting comfortable never really actually happens, but you move forward constantly watching your clock. You explore, you collect artifacts, and most of all you try to contain your excitement and anxiety of being on the Andrea Doria.
You’re out of bottom time and it’s the longest ascent ever.
Not really, but it feels like it. Ninety minutes of decompression and as you hit the thermocline you realize just how cold that dive was. You didn’t feel it though because the adrenalin rush you get just from being there keeps your blood boiling. And once you finish your final stop and reach the surface, all you can do is smile as big as you ever have. The first thought that goes through your mind is simply, “Holy… I just dove the Andrea Doria”. ***