A Web exclusive from The Saturday Evening Post‘s article “Deep Secrets,” Mar/Apr 2011. Click here to subscribe.
North Americans have a rich bounty of shipwrecks along the reefs and shoals of the continent. Here is a sampler of easily accessible dives.
Florida Keys Shipwreck Heritage Trail
Florida Keys Shipwreck Heritage Trail. Divers and snorkelers can explore nine wrecks from Key Largo to Key West, lying in 20 to 140 feet of water. Many dote on the oldest wreck, the San Pedro, a member of the 1733 Spanish treasure fleet. It’s off Islamorada’s Indian Key in just 18 feet of water. Dives are usually less than $100 including gear. 800-352-5397; fla-keys.com.
James Bond, Thuderball, Plane Wreck
The famous James Bond wreck is in Nassau, Bahamas. Divers can see two wrecks used in Thunderball and Never Say Never Again, an old World War II landing craft, decorated with fire coral, sponges, and sea fans, and the steel skeleton of a Vulcan bomber aircraft. Dives are usually less than $150 including gear. 242-302-2000; bahamas.com.
The Royal Mail Steamer Rhone Shipwreck
The Royal Mail Steamer Rhone is the grand dive of the British Virgin Islands, off Salt Island. The ship, which went down in an 1867 hurricane, lies on a reef in 20 to 80 feet of water. It’s now encrusted with corals and sponges, and world-famous from its starring role in the film The Deep, with Jacqueline Bisset. Dives are generally less than $150 including gear. 800-835-8530; b-v-i.com.
Barbados’ Carlisle Bay Shipwrecks
Barbados’ Carlisle Bay is clogged with at least four wrecks, all close to shore. The Berwind is an easy dive, a French tug sunk in 1919, now in about 25 feet of water. Blowfish, trumpet fish, and lizard fish make the wreck home. 800-221-9831; barbados.org.
Besides the Herman H. Hettler, Smith Moore, and The Manhattan, many other wrecks lie off Au Sable Reef in Pictured Rock National Lakeshore, Lake Superior. Shipwreck Tours of Munising leads dive charters out to two wrecks, at $75 per person for a two-tank dive. Landlubbers can glide above three turn-of-the-century wooden ships, the Bermuda, the Hettler, and a mystery wreck as yet unidentified, in the company’s glass-bottom boat for $30, $12 for children 12 and younger. 906-387-5456; shipwrecktours.com.
Stay Dry in the Museums
For those who don’t like to get their feet wet, here are some great rescued wrecks and artifacts around the world.
Florida Keys History of Diving Museum in Islamorada covers every inch of dive history, from the heavy lead boots to the shiny metal helmets of early diving. Take a snapshot of the earliest underwater cameras. The museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Ticket price is $12 per adult, $11 per seniors, $6 per child 5-12 and free for children younger than 5. 305-664-9737; divingmuseum.org.
Mel Fisher Maritime Museum, Key West, holds one of the world’s great Spanish sunken treasures raised to the surface. For more than 15 years, Fisher, his family and his team searched for the Spanish galleons Atocha and Santa Margarita, royal treasure ships that went down in a hurricane in 1622 en route from Cuba to Spain. They found millions in emeralds, coins and gold bars, on display in Key West. The museum is open daily 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends and holidays. Ticket price is $12 per adult; $10.50 per student, and $6 per child. 305-294-2633; melfisher.org.
Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute covers the waterfront from the island’s pink sand to the bottom of the ocean floor. This is the place to try on scuba gear and take a simulated dive in a Nautilus X2 submersible—and survive an attack by a giant squid. Science is fun in this museum, which also has a Shipwreck Gallery, with centuries of recovered artifacts, and a Treasure Room with Spanish gold and pirate booty. The museum is open daily except Christmas, 9 a.m.- 5 p.m. Mon.-Fri., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. weekends. Ticket price is $12.50 per adult, $10 per senior, $6 per child 6-17, and free for children younger than 5. 441-292-7219; buei.org.
Mary Rose, King Henry VIII’s favorite warship, is awaiting her new $59 million museum in 2012 in Portsmouth, England. In the meantime, scores of artifacts brought up from the wreck are on display at the Portsmouth Historic Dockyard. See what Tudor tankards looked like, and the tools that the ship’s barber/physician used on the crew. The Mary Rose, built between 1509 and 1511, served proudly in King Henry’s wars, and was on her way out of Portsmouth harbor in 1545 to fight the French once again when she sank. Not until 1966 did scuba diver Alexander McKee locate the wreck in near-zero visibility. The hull was raised in 1982, and has been undergoing hydration preservation ever since. Portsmouth Historic Dockyard is open 10 a.m. daily except Dec. 24, 25 and 26; from April-October, last tickets to the attractions are sold at 4.30 p.m. and the Dockyard gates are closed at 6 p.m. From November-March, last tickets to the attractions are sold at 4 p.m. and the Dockyard gates are closed at 5.30 p.m. Ticket price for all six Dockyard attractions is $31 per adult, $26 per senior, and $22 per student and child 5-15. 44-023- 9272-8060; maryrose.org
The Vasa Museum in Stockholm is Scandinavia’s most-visited, a vast space that spotlights the world’s only surviving 17th-century ship. King Gustav II Adolf commissioned the mighty warship, which was launched in 1627. On her maiden voyage in Stockholm harbor, the Vasa heeled over and sank. In 1956, divers raised the foremast; they brought the bulk of the ship to the surface in 1961. “Face to Face” is one of the museum’s most moving exhibits, with personae created from the wreck’s 15 unidentified skeletons telling their stories from Aug. 10, 1628, the day the Vasa sank. The museum is open daily 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., until 8 p.m. on select Wednesdays. Ticket price is $16 per adult, free for children 18 and younger. 46-8-519 548 00; vasamuseet.se/en.
Diver Betsa Marsh has explored shipwrecks from the Great Lakes and Caribbean to Polynesia and Micronesia.