“It’s a submarine,” I was thinking. Unmistakably a submarine, sitting on the bottom of the ocean 100 feet below me.-Pam Landrum, owner Roanoke Island Outfitters and Dive Center
I was descending from the dive boat to U-85, a German submarine sunk just 12 miles off our coast. The Wild Boar, as the U-85 was known, was the first German U-boat to be sunk off our coast during WWII. I could see the conning tower on top of the cigar shaped U-boat as I looked down through the blue-green water. The deck gun was still raised as it was on the sub’s last day afloat. It was 1994, my first dive to the U-boat and I was hooked on wreck diving. I have been back to the U-85 many times since that first dive and visited many other the other wrecks off our shore.
They call the waters off the Outer Banks the Graveyard of the Atlantic for good reason. Hundreds of ships have sunk due to our treacherous currents, unpredictable weather and wars. The adventure of scuba diving the Ghostfleet of the Atlantic attracts divers from all over the world. As a NAUI (National Association of Underwater Instructors) Scuba Instructor Trainer, I have been diving these shipwrecks for over 20 years. My instructor, Jim Bunch, a scuba diving legend, instilled in me a love for North Carolina wreck diving. I dive the same wrecks over and over, and I never get tired of them.
Wreck diving does take more training and experience to dive safely than reef diving. Currents, waves, low visibility and tides need to be taken into consideration. The U-85 is considered an advanced dive. With depths of 100 feet combined with the always present currents and less than ideal visibility, only divers who are with a dive leader or have the experience should attempt this dive. There are many other shipwrecks to dive for adventure and fun, with depths appropriate for all levels of experience.
More shipwrecks are discovered every year. Crockett Farrow, a local diver and waterman with over 30 years of experience, marked a wreck that he wanted to come back and explore.
It took 20 years, but in 2002, Crockett and two local professional divers were able to dive on it and discovered that it was the wreck of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Bedloe.
The Bedloe was sunk in 1944 during a hurricane. “When we dove her, she was intact, with all portholes, deck lights and guns still in place”, Crockett stated. He notes that in 2003, when word went out what he had found, other divers started exploring her and it has since been plundered of many of these artifacts.
Not all shipwrecks met their end due to extreme conditions or war. Some were scuttled on purpose to provide artificial reefs to attract marine life. The ADVANCE II, a 185-foot vessel was sunk in 1994. She lies about 8 miles from the Oregon Inlet sea buoy in approximately 65 feet of water. She is a favorite site for recreational divers from beginner to advanced level of experience.
While most of the wreck dive sites are accessed by a boat, there are numerous wrecks located just a short swim off of our beaches. One of my favorites is the Triangle wrecks, located 100 yards off the beach at the 2nd Street beach access in Kill Devil Hills.
Two ships had the unfortunate fate of running aground here, next to each other, just two years apart. The Kyzickes, a 292-foot tanker carrying crude oil went first in 1927. She was followed by the Carl Gerhard in 1929. The Carl Gerhard was a 244-foot freighter carrying over 1500 tons of crushed gypsum rock. She was floundering in the surf when she struck the Kyzickes and sunk. The two sunken ships form a triangle shape, hence the name. To access these wrecks, you need to be able to swim or use some sort of floatation device such as a kayak or paddleboard the 100 yards on the surface. Depth for this wreck site is 20 feet, ideal for newly certified divers or those wishing to experience a shipwreck without obtaining an advanced certification.
Whatever your level of scuba training, you will find Outer Banks wreck diving has a dive to fit your experience and interests.
- Mask and snorkel
- Heel strap fins with neoprene boots for thermal and environmental protection
- BCD, regulator, dive computer or SPG/depth gauge console
- Tank and weight
- Wetsuit—thickness depends on where and when you are diving. During the summer, if you are shallow, a 3mm should be adequate. If you are diving deeper such as the U-85, the bottom temps can be in the 50s even in July, so plan on a 7mm including hood and gloves.
- Gloves—You will need to wear some sort of gloves for protection against the sharp metal of the wrecks.
- Knife—Shipwrecks collect abandoned monofilament line. This is a necessary safety tool.
- Buoy or float
- Dive flag—All divers in North Carolina waters open to boaters must display a diver flag. All boats must maintain a 50-foot distance from a dive flag.
- Wreck reel
- Speargun and fish stringer (optional)
- Camera (optional)
Roanoke Island Outfitters and Dive Shop, located in Manteo, is the Outer Banks’ oldest dive shop and training facility. We specialize in wreck diving, and we offer dive charters on our dive boat “Down Time” and guided shore dives to these and many other shipwrecks. We teach all levels of dive classes. Call 252-473-1357 for information or visit www.obxdiveshop.com.