This lesser known destination in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean is steeped in nautical history and tradition. Bermuda, an island that is actually the top of 12,000 ft. tall extinct volcanic mountain, marks the final resting place of over 350 registered wrecks, dating back as far as the 15th & 16th Centuries. Ships of all manner proliferate the 250 miles of treacherous shallow reefs. Wooden vessels from early day explorers, Civil War paddlewheel steamer blockade-runners of the 1880’s, majestic tall ship schooners of the 1930’s, iron-hulled freighters and modern day cruise liners to name but a few examples. Almost all are accessible too, and few are deeper than 100 hundred feet.
The biggest and the mother of all Bermuda’s wrecks is the Cristobal Colon, a Spanish luxury Steam liner built for the Transatlantica Spanish Line in 1923. Three decks high, 499 feet long and displacing 10,000 tons; she was one of the most luxurious cruise ships of her time. On the 25th October 1936 she ran aground 8 miles north of Bermuda at North Rock. The reef gutted her hull and she was permanently marooned, sitting high on the reef looking like nothing had ever happened, still sailing proudly. The crew was easily saved, only to face severe hardship and eventual punishment by death when they returned to Spain. The Cristobal became an easy target for local salvors and looters who took as much as they could get. Some of the booty can be still found today in private residences around Bermuda, handed down through the ages from great grandpa.
During the Second World War, US Navy fighter pilots conducted training missions using the Cristobal for target practice, blowing most of her to pieces and finally breaking her back across the reef to which she had succumbed and splitting her in two.
The Dive Site and Diving
This is a massive wreck site and will take several dives to completely investigate. In the summer water temperature is a tropical 80+ degrees and visibility 80 feet on a bad day. In the winter, a somewhat cooler temperature at 65 degrees but with it comes 200 feet visibility! Broken in two and divided by the reef, her wreckage stretches over a 100,000 square foot area, ranging in depth from 15 feet at the bow to 80 feet at the stern. Like most of Bermuda’s wrecks she is relatively shallow and allows great bottom times. Hundreds of ship parts, propellers, engines, steam turbines, drive shafts, six boilers, a bathtub and even some unexploded artillery shells litter the ocean floor in a tangled mass providing endless hours of adventure and exploration. There is also tons of marine life. Soft and hard corals adorn the sun-drenched metalwork and there is a multitude of reef fish, wrasse, snappers, barracuda and schools of chromis. Turtles effortlessly glide by and 100-pound groupers lurk within dark recesses.As an added bonus the wreck of the Aristo (or Iristo) lies just near by. In 1937, the Captain of a Norwegian cargo ship mistook the Cristobal for being a ship that was underway and altered course to follow her. Imagine the Norwegians’ surprise when his ship too ran aground right behind the Cristobal. After being towed off the reef she promptly sank and now sits bow and stern intact at 50 feet in the sand with an antique fire engine still sitting proudly on her forward deck.
All of Bermuda’s dive operators participate in an exclusive Shipwreck Certificate Program. If you dive with them on any one of Bermudas’ most popular 18 wrecks you receive a unique certificate for that particular wreck.
The Cristobal Colon is really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to wreck diving in Bermuda. You could spend 7 days diving, doing 3 dives a day, each one a wreck dive and never repeat a dive and that’s just on one side of the island! Yet another wreck diving mecca and appropriately called the ‘Shipwreck Capital of the Atlantic’.
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