Composite image of the German submarine U-869 (click to view full size)
A long time ago I decided I wanted to to create a composite image of the German submarine U-869. This is probably the most famous wreck off the coast of New Jersey due to the attention received by the best selling book Shadow Divers and the NOVA documentary Hitler’s Lost Sub. The wreck is far offshore (50+ nm), in kind of deep water (220 fsw) and sits in a depression in the sea bed causing the conditions on the wreck to be highly variable in terms of visibility. On top of that it is always cold (low 40s F) on the bottom even in the middle of summer. Bottom line… if I was going to be successful I would need practice.
Submarines lend themselves well to creating composite images because they are, well, just a long tube sitting on the bottom. Their linear nature and (usually) low profile makes it relatively easy to “walk” a tripod down the length of the wreck while maintaining a constant distance in order to not mess up the perspective from shot to shot. For my first attempt I practiced in warm water and good visibility on the USS TARPON off Cape Hatteras. You can read that story here.
From there I progressed to a little deeper, a little colder, and a lot less visibility and managed to photograph the US submarine USS S-5 off Cape May, NJ. Feeling more confident I progressed to a larger more complex target (albeit shallower), in the USS ALGOL. The ALGOL is an ex transport vessel is ~450 feet long and I felt if I could get her in a reasonable bottom time I was ready for showtime on the U-869. That was 5 years ago.
Sometimes plans take a while to come together and last week I was able to complete my long term goal of photographing the entire U-869 as she sits today. The deterioration of the wreck is evident with much of the outer hull completely peeled away. The forward torpedo tubes are completely exposed and beginning to fall away from the wreck. The debris field of the blasted open control room continues to expand. The stern section appears like a peeled open can of sardines. Damage most likely inflicted by the trawl fisherman who continue to dredge a little too close in search of the scallops that litter the seabed around her. She has past the point of aging gracefully and is getting old. The sea giveth and the sea taketh away. i just feel fortunate to be a witness to this transformation