Diving the Wrecks

Auspicious day they say, 9/9/09. We won’t see another date like this one for at least another century. We’ve been in Bermuda since September 1st. The days move slowly, languorously between sun and ocean. This morning we completed two more dives totaling four. We dove L’Hermine and the “Fossil” wrecks today and the Marie Celeste and Minnie Breslauer yesterday morning. The dive down to the Minnie was fraught with some seriously strong drift current that disoriented us quite a bit. That was a tough dive down to 65′ and we had to fight some serious and unusual South Shore current. Some of the divers on the boat didn’t even get to the wreck site and had to be towed by another boat. At the end of the dive there were some older divers that didn’t risk the surface swim and held on to a buoy until the boat turned around and came back for them. They were so wiped from fighting the current they stayed on the boat for the second dive. It was rather strong.

The Minnie was a 300 foot English steamship that sank on her maiden voyage on New Year’s Day 1872. It is known as Bermuda’s most unlucky wreck. She departed Portugal bound for New York loaded with a shipment of cork, wine, dried fruit and lead ingots. Her crew of 24 was in good spirits and there is speculation of whether they had been drinking when they hit the south breaker. Intending to use Bermuda as a landmark the captain urged his ship close to shore. He didn’t have the proper navigation charts or a map of the waters. Cruising at full speed (15 knots) the ship crashed into a submerged reef one mile offshore. Not realizing the extent of the damage, the captain tried to back the ship off the breaker which immediately caused the ship to begin to sink. A good portion of the hull had collapsed. As help arrived they tried to tow her but made the situation worse. Today she lies on her starboard at a depth of 40′ – 70′. I wish we had less current at this site. We didn’t get to see the stern but we did see quite a bit before heading up. We had 40 minutes to explore the site and look around.

Half hour later found us at the Marie Celeste, not to be confused with the well known ghost ship (Mary Celest). It was our second time diving this site so we knew it pretty well. We were a bit beat up and sea sick from the long surface swim back to the boat after the Minnie but we managed to recover to tackle the next dive. We switched tanks in record time and I felt really confident with our training. This would make our 17th dive. The Celeste was a swift steam paddle-wheeler. She was used as a blockade runner during the Civil War to trade guns, ammunition and needed supplies to the troops in the South. On September 13, 1864, under the command of Captain Sinclair she was being steered by the very competent John Virgin, a local who was renown for knowing the reef remarkably well.  She made an unusually fast run through the East End Channel along the South Shore. John Virgin was told to slow down and he confidently said he knew every “rock” in the sea. Moments later the ship hit a reef and sank unusually fast. The only casualty was the cook who ran back to the kitchen. Both her paddle wheels are easy to spot as well as her boilers. We spent a good chunk of time looking around before we headed back to the boat.

If you are interested in the Ghost Ship story of the “Mary” Celeste, take a look at this video. While researching the blockade runner I came across this other similarly named ship which I found fascinating.

This morning we were grumpy to have to get up early for another day of diving but the day was gorgeous. We hoped on our mopeds and headed out to Sommerset Bridge which also happens to be the smallest drawbridge in the world as it fits only a mast. *grin* Blue Water Divers is a pretty decent dive operation but today I must say the rental gear was iffy. I had a leak in the hose to my BCD and my depth gauge read 0 just about everywhere. I stayed with Rob during safety stops and such. Both dives were pretty shallow and the boat was not nearly packed like the day before. We had plenty of room.The first dive was to the “Fossil” at a nice 30′. We were able to hang out and explore the reef for quite a bit while enjoying what was left of this 17th Century wooden wreck. The site is known as the Fossil because the ship was, strangely enough, carrying fossilized remains back to Europe possibly for study. We had almost an hour to explore, that is the benefit of shallow dives.

Fifteen minutes later found us at the site of L’Hermine. This ship was a 300 foot French warship complete with 60 cannons. The dive master said that if we were able to find the 59 still in the water we’d owe him a beer. We counted maybe 21. It is a shallow wreck in about 35′ of water with tons of cargo and cannons littering the sandy bottom. She carried 495 soldiers on board. By today’s standards she was the equivalent of an aircraft carrier. They were sent to enforce French claims to Mexico. L’Hermine arrived in Habana in August 3, 1837 and within 3 months 133 of the crew had been afflicted with yellow fever.  Seeing as how they were unfit to fight, they were recalled to France. On December 3, 1838 the captain edge close to Bermuda hoping to shelter the ship from bad weather when he struck the reef. We saw the famous “cross” formed by two cannons as well as the remains of her brick ovens. We also saw a huge puffer fish who was rather shy.

As sad as it may sound, an hour after getting off the dive boat we could be found in the Dockyard chowing down on some Bermudian fish and chips. HUMANS!!! LOL

I will write more later, I have lots to tell.