Scuba diving is a fascinating pastime, and almost every stretch of coast has dive spots, whether the attraction is a tropical reef, a shark nursery, a geothermal vent, or a wreck.
There are two reasons that wrecks make great dives. The first is that they are colonised by marine plants and animals very quickly. A sunken ship provides a fresh surface for molluscs and sponges to bind to and all kinds of nooks and crannies that make excellent shelter for eels and other fish. Often a ship lying on empty sand looks just like the underwater version of a dessert oasis.
The second factor is the atmosphere. Some wrecks are haunted by tragedy and others simply provide a snapshot of a moment in the past. A sunken warship from the 1940s tells a very different story to remains of an 18th century frigate but plenty have a lot to say. It’s not just about ships either. In some places it’s possible to dive the wrecks of submarines, airplanes, and even helicopters.
Wreck Diving Safety
Wreck divers have several hazards to contend with. The first is depth. Under normal circumstances recreational divers are limited to 30m or about 100ft and most wrecks lie well deeper than that limit. There are also the very serious safety issues that come with diving in a confined space. Getting stuck is a real possibility, and fine muddy sediments often collect inside wrecks. Stir the silt up with your fins and visibility will drop to zero.
PADI (the Professional Association of Dive Instructors) does offer wreck diving courses, and with special training and equipment, recreational divers can push down deeper, but the easiest and safest solution for most divers is to stick to wrecks that lie in shallow water and confine your exploration to the outside. There are plenty of fantastic choices. Here are just a few possibilities to whet your appetite:
The SS Thistlegorm
The Thistlegorm was sunk in 1941 and was first dived by Jacques Cousteau just 15 years later. It’s a massive container ship, more than 400ft from end to end, and most of it is in reasonably shallow water. There is not only the ship itself to explore, but also the cargo- trucks, motorcycles, tanks, and even old rubber boots. To cap it all off, the wreck lies in the Red Sea close to Sharm el Sheik, easily a world class dive destination in its own right. There is plenty of marine life in the area, up to and including manta rays, grouper, tuna, and barracuda.
The USS Spiegel Grove
Unlike the Thistlegorm, the Spiegel Grove was sunk quite deliberately, with the express aim of creating an artificial reef. It’s 510ft long and up to 84ft wide, and although the wreck lies at a maximum depth of more than 130ft, it’s a very big structure and some of it sits about 60ft of water, well within normal dive depth limits.
As you’d expect from a deliberate wreck, it lies in the perfect location just off Key Largo in Florida. More than 120 different species of fish have been counted in the immediate area and although this is a relatively young wreck, it has still been thoroughly colonised by marine plants and animals. Expect groupers, wrasse, surgeonfish, damsels, and a wide variety of small, bright fish.
The SS Markgraf
First, a word of warning- the Markgraf lies in Scottish waters and the temperatures aren’t for the faint of heart. If you’re willing to brave some very chilly waters indeed, the wrecks of Scapa Flow are quite the reward. The Markgraf is just one of three massive Konig-class battleships sunk in these waters. It’s 575ft long and impressively armed with 12 inch guns. It’s easy to see why she sank, as there is a massive tear in the side. Divers can peer into the torpedo room through the rip.
Diving in Scapa Flow might not be pleasantly warm but the waters are remarkably clear. Visibility is often 60ft or more, and the top of the wreck lies around 75ft below the surface. There’s plenty to see- so much so that most divers visit at least twice to take it all in.
Creative Commons photo by Andurinha