SS Carolina trip report: Sept. 2-3 2007
The lifeboats were crowded, and a great wailing of women’s voices rose. There was praying and pleading. The negroes thought we were going to use them for target practice. –Dr. Frederick Körner boarding officer on the U-151 on the sinking of the SS Carolina
The SS Carolina was a 380’ passenger-freighter and the last of six ships sunk on “Black Sunday” by the U-151. The 3 steam vessels and 3 schooners sunk on June 2nd, 1918 accounted for 14,518 tons of shipping lost. Today the Carolina is one of the best wreck dives off the New Jersey coast where she rests in 240 fsw. I first dove this wreck last year and have been dying to get back.
The weather pushed our departure time on the Independence II back to 0600 on Sunday morning and we cast off the dock just as the sun was peaking over the horizon. Once over the wreck it was nice to see blue water as Billy G. headed down the shot to tie in. He had us in no time and we quickly geared up to go diving. Capt. Dan had found a stash of china last year and was hoping to get back to his hotspot. I headed in with Dan Martinez and it was like we had just jumped into the Caribbean. Descending further we passed through a cloudy haze at the thermocline around 100’ but the visibility opened up again below about 120’. On the bottom we found we had been tied into the starboard side of the wreck in between the boilers and the stern. Touching down on the bottom (44oF) we did a quick orientation before heading on our mission to try for a porthole we had found last year that we thought was loose. With the vis in the 50 foot range it didn’t take long to find it. I swam over a HUGE monkfish and instinctively went for my knife before deciding that KEEP SWIMMING was the appropriate action. We found the spot we were looking for and quickly went to work clearing debris out from the beautiful artifact and Danny whipped out his hammer but we soon found the backing plate was still in fact solidly attached to a hull plate. Not wanting to waste precious time I headed forward towards the boilers noting some china shards and brass pieces all over the place. I got to the engine and found a huge lobster that was easily 10-12 pounds tangled in fishing line. I grabbed it (I could barely hold it because my hand hardly went around the carapace) without really thinking but I decided to go for karma points and cut it free before turning back towards the anchor line. I managed to inadvertently find Capt Dan’s china hole without realizing it at the time. I still had a few minutes left so I decided to take off my stage bottles and give a shot of squeezing in. No dice. It was a very tight fit and I later found out that the wreck collapsing this year left a hull plate blocking most of the opening that was more open last year. It was still very impressive to see such a large pile of china. The deco was very pleasant above 70’ in the warm clear conditions and the time actually went quickly watching the schools of small skipjack tuna swimming around us.
Afterwards we discussed strategies for getting the china out. Billy, who was diving a sidemounted Prism (very cool rig) said he would give it a shot at getting stuck in there. Not only did he succeed in getting in the hole and bagging up a few intact dishes (he said most of them were broken) he also found a nice deadlight panel that he shot to the surface. He was also gracious enough to share his booty with the rest of us. The china from the hole was first class china with nice gold trim but does not have the New York and Porto Rico Steamship Company crest. John Bridge did find a broken vegetable dish with the crest.
The second dive was Monday morning and most divers were again productive. Danny brought up another plate (mostly intact) and a nice brass doorlock along with some tiles. Mark Dolphin got a piece of a porcelain sink that has a very cool nautical pattern on it. For my dive I went forward again and explored around the boilers which are an impressive sight in themselves (there are four). I cut my dive short so we could get out of dodge and tuck tail to the incoming weather. The line had been let slack so I could pull and it now had good scope that as luck would have it went forward down the centerline of the wreck. So as I ascended I got to see a good portion of the wreck which was very cool and a perfect end to another great trip.