Diving the Outer Banks, North Carolina - Part 2

The most striking feature of the wreck, the conning tower, rises prominently from the sub's hull. From this vantage point, members of the U-352 crew once peered out over the dark Atlantic. Today, the hatch remains permanently open, and divers can peek into the narrow vertical cylinder that provided submariners with their principal passageway to fresh air and open sky. Open hatches along the ship's 218-foot hull allow glimpses of the wreck's interior, and pieces of machinery punctuate the deteriorating deck. But the U-352 is most impressive when viewed from a distance — a German U-boat in its entirety, sitting at the bottom of the ocean.

Another popular dive site is the freighter Caribsea, a defenseless casualty of the U-158 in 1942. Lying in approximately 90 feet of water east of Cape Lookout, the Caribsea is renowned for its beauty. An airy lacework of ribs arching above a sandy bottom is all that remains of the forward section. With the sides of the hull broken open, divers peer through the ship, port to starboard. Large deck beams sit atop the remaining vertical structures, forming a canopy. Corals envelop the Caribsea, while invertebrates, tropicals, barracuda, and the occasional small shark accompany divers. Average visibility is about 65 feet, and because the site is relatively shallow, sunlight often brightens the surrounding water.

Outer Banks Solitude

Hatteras Village, an excellent location for divers who prefer a more isolated destination, is about a five-hour car- and ferry-ride north from Morehead City. The small village is located just north of Ocracoke at the southwestern tip of the Outer Banks' Hatteras Island. In the 1990s, Hatteras Village experienced a burst of growth and added its first cluster of stoplights to direct traffic between the ferry dock, the new marina, fancy shops, and the village's first chain motel. Nonetheless, Hatteras still offers the warmth and charm of an island community.
 
Bad weather and bad luck teamed up to sink the F. W. Abrams in 1942. After losing sight of the Coast Guard vessel that was escorting them to sea, the Abrams crew mistakenly sailed into the American minefields near Hatteras Inlet. The sunken tanker, largely broken up, lies in approximately 90 feet of water. The engine and boilers rise above the rest of the low-profile wreckage.

Compared with the U-352 or the Caribsea, the Abrams lacks big-picture appeal, but a close look reveals small creatures nestled in each of the ship's boiler tubes. A small crab peers out over its dainty claws, a tiny tropical darts in and out to guard its domain, and a very small moray eel calls another tube home. Photographers find these captive subjects an excellent reason to charge their strobes and focus their close-up lenses.
 
Farther offshore lies one of the island's most visually impressive wrecks, the tanker Dixie Arrow, sitting in 90 feet of clear water. On the stern section of this U-boat victim, the huge steam engine rises almost 25 feet from the ocean bottom. The intact bow provides an equally striking visual with the ship's large anchor chain still snug in its locker. Amberjacks, groupers, rays, and occasionally turtles frequent this wreck.
 
More than a dozen wrecks are dived out of Hatteras and other towns such as Nags Head to the north and Wilmington to the south, where divers have access to more chapters of maritime history. Noted dive author Gary Gentile has written an excellent two-volume set, Shipwrecks of North Carolina, providing detailed information on more than 80 North Carolina wrecks.

Year after year, hurricanes, nor'easters, and the constant push and tug of the ocean transform the faces of these wrecks. And year after year, divers return to North Carolina to explore its ever-changing underwater landscape.
 
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