Bermuda’s shipwrecks are a must-dive for wreck diving enthusiasts, and a wreck specialty course is a great way to learn about their exploration. Here’s the lowdown from PADI about diving the shipwreck capital of the world
By Dive Bermuda, photos thanks to
Most people will be familiar with the spooky stories of unexplained shipwrecks, lost aircraft and sea monster sightings for which Bermuda and its associated Triangle are famous.
Magnetic anomalies, rogue waves, electronic fog, rifts in the void of time and space, and UFOs have all been blamed for the disappearances – even strange geological perterbations from the ruins of the lost city of Atlantis have been put forward as theories for Bermuda’s spooky maritime history.
Most of the stories are – somewhat disappointingly, perhaps – based in urban mythology and more likely down to human error and the powerful hurricanes that regularly pass through the North Atlantic. Nevertheless, Bermuda, an archipelago comprised of one main island and 180 smaller islands some 643 miles/1035km west of North America, is still very much the Shipwreck Capital of the World.
More than 300 sunken vessels are to be found around Bermuda’s shores, many of which came to grief on the islands’ expansive and incredibly diverse coral reefs. The earliest known wreck dates back to 1609, when the Sea Venture, a supply ship to the Jamestown Colony – the first permanent English settlement in America – was driven onto the reefs of eastern Bermuda during a storm, although little remains of the vessel today.
With so many mysterious stories – real or imagined – abounding about the provenance of Bermuda’s wrecks, it’s no wonder that it comes top of PADI’s list of ‘spooky’ dive destinations. Here’s nine of PADI’s top Bermuda wreck dives to whet your appetite.
Also known as the Mary Celeste – but not to be confused with the more famous but equally ghostly Mary Celeste found abandoned and drifting off the Azores in 1872 – Bermuda’s Mary Celestia was a Civil War-era paddle steamer which hit a coral reef and sank to her watery grave in 1884. The wreck is one of the oldest in the area, and is well-preserved considering its age: divers can view both the intact paddlewheel and engine, plus the ship’s bow, stern, boilers, and anchor.
Resting at 55ft/17m below the surface, a little piece of Mary Celestia made its way above water in 2015, after a few bottles of 150-year-old wine were discovered and delivered to sommeliers for sampling in Charleston, South Carolina.
The largest wreck in Bermuda, Cristóbal Colón was a 499ft/152m long Spanish luxury liner that crashed into a coral reef off Bermuda’s North Shore in November 1936, after the captain mistakenly identified as offshore communications tower as a local lighthouse. The wreck sat at the surface for the better part of a decade where she was stripped and salvaged, until the empty hull was used as a target for bombing practice by the British Royal Air Force during the Second World War.
Today, the wreckage is found between depths of 15-60ft/5-18m, spread across 100,000sq ft/9290sq m, with a huge abundance of marine life that can be visited by snorkellers and divers alike. Much of the ship’s components, including its engines, propellers and turbines remain visible, with a maximum depth of 60ft/18m.
Four and a half months after the Cristóbal Colón ran aground, the captain of the Norwegian-flagged steamer Iristo, surprised at the wreck’s presence, ordered his vessel to steer clear before he too, ran into a submerged reef in March 1937. Taken under tow towards Bermuda, the Iristo sank just one and a half miles from the Cristóbal Colón.
Iristo – also known as the Aristo after being misnamed by the New York Times – was carrying a cargo of gasoline drums, plus a fire engine and steamroller which are still visible among the spectacularly coral-encrusted wreckage, now split in two, along with her huge steam boilers and one of the spare propellers. The wreck lies upright at depth of 55ft/17m, with the bow rising to around 18ft/6m below the surface.
Looking for an extra spooky dive? Check out the North Carolina’s ghostly ‘deadeyes‘ in rows along her deck railings. Part of a sailing ship’s rigging used to guide ropes the triple deadeyes look just like cartoon skulls.
Hailing from Liverpool, England, the North Carolina was a 205ft/62.5m iron-hulled, three-masted barque, which had just left St George’s Harbour in Bermuda under the command of Captain Alexander Buchan, when she ran aground on a submerged reef on New Year’s Day, 1880. An attempt was made to refloat her on 27 January, but the ship’s anchor broke free and smashed through the hull, sending her straight back down to the bottom.
At depths between 25-45ft/8-14m, poor visibility around the wreck can make it an eerie visit, but the surrounding fish life can be spectacular.
Montana was a 236ft/72m paddlewheel steamer used as a blockade runner carrying contraband goods, arms and munitions to and from the Confederacy during the Civil War. After circumnavigating Bermuda looking for a safe harbour during a storm, Montana hit a reef and grounded on 30 December 1863.
The crew and most of the cargo were rescued, but the ship could not be saved, and she went down in around 30ft/10m of sea water. The furnace, boiler and paddlewheel frames are still visible, with the whole structure heavily encased in coral.
Constellation was a 192ft/ 58.5m wooden-hulled, four-masted sailing ship that was converted to a cargo vessel during the Second World War. In July 1943, she was en route to Venezuela from New York carrying a cargo of cement, furniture, medicine, and 700 bottles of Johnny Walker whisky, when she began to take on water. Attempting to find safe harbour in Bermuda, she struck the reef and sank on 31 July, 1943. All members of the crew survived and – importantly – 300 bottles of whisky where salvaged by the US Navy. The cement bags remain scattered across the coral reef for divers to explore.
Constellation sank close very close to Montana in the same depth of water, leading to speculation it may have been an impact with Montana’s bow that sank her. The ship and its cargo were used as inspiration for Jaws author Peter Benchley’s book and subsequent film The Deep.
Hermes is one of Bermuda’s most popular and photogenic wreck dives, as it remains largely intact and easy to explore both inside and out. The 165ft/50m ship was built in 1943 and operated by the US Coastguard as a buoy tender, with a tall mast in front of the wheelhouse from which a boom was operated to raise and lower navigation buoys into the water.
After being decomissioned she was coverted to a freighter, when in 1983 she suffered engine failure on voyage to Cape Verde and took refuge in Bermuda. With repairs likely to cost more than the value of the ship, which was manned by a penniless crew, the ship was abandoned before being acquired by the Bermuda Dive Association for the princely sum of one American Dollar, and sunk as an artificial reef on a flat sandy bottom at a depth of 80ft/24m.
Another lonely and ghostly ship left to sink to the bottom of the sea, King George is a large, 171ft/52m dredger, one of three that that was built for the Bermudian Government to dredge channels for safe passage through the reefs. After arriving in Bermuda in June 1911, she began work dredging the Town Cut channel of Bermuda’s eastern island, St George’s.
Unfortunately, with rapid advances in shipping technology and design in the early 20th century, King George was not able to dredge deep enough to accomodate the draft of more modern ships, effectively rendering her obsolete by 1930, when a new vessel was ordered to replace her. Having no more use to the island, King George was towed out to sea and scuttled, where she sits upright and mostly intact in 60ft/18m of sea water, with ladders, catwalks, engines, winches and forward holds all accessible to scuba divers.
Not just shipwrecks – The Airplane
‘The Airplane’ is the wreckage of a Boeing B-50 bomber that had been modified to function as an aerial tanker, which crashed in October 1963 on its way home to its base in Louisiana after one of its jet engines exploded and set the left wing on fire. Six of the seven crew members bailed before the plane exploded and split into two pieces, although the pilot, Commander John (Curley) Moore, was found by rescue divers still strapped into his seat in the wreckage.
The wreckage remains in just 25ft/8m of water, buried in a rich coral reef, with the remains of its bent propellers, wings and fuselage still visible.
If there was a real-life monster threatening the reefs of Bermuda it is lionfish. Loved by millions of divers in their natural Indo-Pacific waters, lionfish are an invasive species that have rapidly infested coral reefs across the western Atlantic and Caribbean Sea. Reproducing quickly – laying up to 2 million eggs a year – and feeding on small crustaceans and fish, but with no natural predators, they are having a devastating impact on the Bermudian marine ecosystem.
Lionfish culling is a common practice in Bermuda, and so much help is needed to hunt them down that you can take the PADI Bermuda Invasive Lionfish Culler Distinctive Specialty when you visit
More great wreck reads:
Ready for a wreck dive in Bermuda?
If you want to dive into the depths of Bermuda’s waters, there are several different types of PADI Certification that can help. With so many wrecks to dive, formal training to dive them is important for dive safety, as wreck diving – especially wreck penetration – requires special procedures, techniques, and equipment.
The PADI Wreck Diver Specialty Course covers all the fundamentals and includes four scuba dives in the open water. All you need to participate is be 15 years of age and have a PADI Adventure Diver certification or higher. PADI’s wreck dive certification covers the basics, from navigating the inside and outside of a wreck to the appropriate gear you’ll need for wreck diving. You’ll also learn how to plan and map a wreck site along with special techniques to protect the site’s integrity.