With more shipwrecks per square mile than anywhere else in the world, Bermuda is known as the shipwreck capital of the Atlantic. It’s no wonder why Bermuda was once known as the Devil’s Isle as the constellation of reefs that surround and protect our island are treacherous and difficult to navigate; one wrong move could prove fatal for almost any vessel of any size. The good news is that due to advances in technology, visiting and passing ships are able to navigate our reefs successfully and visitors and locals can dive and snorkel our wrecks freely. Here we detail and celebrate some of Bermuda’s most famous and interesting shipwrecks.
Cristóbal Colón (pictured above)
Known as the largest shipwreck in Bermuda, the Cristóbal Colón measures 499-feet in length and was the most technologically advanced vessel in her day. Unfortunately for her, in 1936, she crashed upon a reef on the north-east side of the island, scattering her remains across 100,000-feet. Divers love the Cristóbal Colon for her sheer size and the abundance of marine life found in her proximity.
One year after the Cristóbal Colón became a permanent fixture on Bermuda’s reefs, she caused the wreck of another vessel, the Iristo. 250-feet in length and of Norwegian origin, the Iristo was navigating Bermuda’s reefs when its captain came upon the wreck of the Cristóbal Colón and ordered his crew to change course. Unfortunately, the change in course resulted in the Iristo running aground and sinking. Laden with vibrant corals, the Iristo still clearly boasts her visible engine, boilers, propeller and a fire engine.
The North Carolina sank on New Year’s Day in 1880 after departing Bermuda for England. She measures 250-feet in length and while her bow and stern sit perfectly intact, her mid-section has collapsed. Divers love the North Carolina for her haunting atmosphere and shallow depth. Photo courtesy of Bermuda 100.
Located just one mile offshore Horseshoe Bay, Hermes was built in 1943 and was on her way to the Cape Verde Islands when she experienced engine trouble near Bermuda. After it was determined that she could not be fixed, Hermes was sold to the Dive Association of Bermuda and was sunk intentionally so she may continue to exist as an artificial reef. Hermes is perhaps one of the most photographed wrecks in Bermuda and because she is fully intact and close to shore, she is very popular amongst the diving community. Photo courtesy of Bermuda 100.
Another ship intentionally sank was the King George, a dredger built for the Bermuda Government in 1911 but no longer needed by 1930. Now located five miles inside North Rock, King George is surprisingly intact and positioned upright.
Built in 1881, the Darlington was an iron-hulled steamer and measured 285-feet in length. The Darlington was really the first steam driven ships to service Bermuda and in 1886, she made contact with Bermuda’s western network of reefs and sank in 30-feet of water. Still visible today are her boilers, propeller shaft and deck winches. Due to her shallow location, divers like the Darlington because it allows for more bottom time, but the surge can be quite strong.
In 1879, the Lartington was travelling from Savannah, Georgia to Russia with a cargo of cotton when she entered into Bermuda waters. Her journey had not been an easy one as she was caught in several storms, one of which produced a wave that was so gigantic it cracked her hull, leaving the ship with a massive leak. The Lartington then ran aground five miles northwest of the island and the crew abandoned ship. Photo courtesy of Bermuda 100.
Operating as a highly successful Civil War blockade runner, the Montana was a 236-foot paddlewheel steamer. As a blockade runner, her job was to evade a naval blockade of a port or strait and transport cargo, bringing food or arms to a blockaded city. In 1863, she was caught in a North Atlantic storm and wrecked near Western Blue Cut to the north of the island. Divers love the Montana for its visible coal burning engine furnace and two large paddlewheel frames.
Did you know, Peter Benchley (author of Jaws) based his novel, The Deep around the Constellation shipwreck? In fact, the late shipwreck expert Teddy Tucker himself provided Benchley with much of the information he needed. The Constellation was a wooden hulled vessel with four masts originally built in 1918. In 1943, while en route from New York, her steam pump broke down and she began to take on water. After several days in distress, the Constellation’s captain, Howard Neaves decided to head towards Bermuda for repairs but while she waited for a pilot boat to help her navigate Bermuda’s reef system, she was wrecked. Today, the Constellation is one of the most popular wrecks to dive in Bermuda and visitors to her hulk can spot her numerous cement bags as well as teacups, nail polish bottles and other small items. Photo courtesy of Bermuda 100.
Another famous paddle steamer and Civil War blockade runner was the Mary Celestia which sank after leaving the island in 1864, killing the ship’s cook who was below deck collecting his personal belongings. What makes the Mary Celestia so famous is the discovery of a bottle of perfume and five bottles of wine by a group of international marine archeologists in 2011. The perfume was recreated by Lili Bermuda and is available for purchase for $130. In 2013, Google mapped the Mary Celestia which means that one no longer has to dive the wreck to see her.
The Virginia Merchant is one of Bermuda’s oldest wrecks. She was owned by the Virginia Company and was transporting 179 passengers from Plymouth, England to Jamestown, Virginia when she stopped in Bermuda in 1661. As she was departing the island, she ran aground just off of Fairmont Southampton on the south shore. As it was the 1600s, few of the passengers knew how to swim, thus only 10 of those aboard survived. While not much of the Virginia Merchant is still visible, it is a popular dive site due to its breathtaking coral reefs which include archways and tunnels to explore. Photo courtesy of Bermuda 100.
Originally built in 1890 in Hamburg Germany, the Pollockshields was 323-feet long and 40-feet wide. In 1915, while en route from Cardiff, Wales and carrying 350 tons of ammunition and cargo for World War I, the Pollockshields was swept up in a severe hurricane. When the storm passed, the crew realized that they were no longer out at sea but on the coast of Bermuda and very shortly after that, they wrecked on the coral reefs near Elbow Beach. The only casualty was the captain, Earnest Boothe who went below deck to retrieve one extra life jacket but never made it out. The rest of the crew were rescued one by one by a team of locals on the shore. Divers love the Pollockshields for the two huge boilers which as so large that divers can swim though them. Snorkeling the Pollockshields isn’t advisable due to the surge but diving the site is absolutely safe.