Wendy Tucker 2013-04-16 01:33:06
Bermuda is renowned as one of the top wreck-diving destinations in the world, and for good reason. There are more than 250 ships amongst 200 square miles of coral reefs surrounding the island. The island even owes its settlement to a wreck — the Sea Venture. The Virginia Company ship wrecked in 1609, and its survivors were the first to permanently settle there. Over the centuries, shipwrecks have played a large role in Bermuda’s economy, and the wreck sites are quite accessible to divers. The water temperature ranges from 65 degrees Fahrenheit in the winter to 85 degrees Fahrenheit in the summer, and visibility ranges from 50 feet to about 200 feet. Bermuda covers almost 21 square miles. Four of the largest islands are on the southern side of the seamount on which Bermuda sits surrounded by coral reefs. These reefs can be treacherous. Until a lighthouse was built in 1846, it was very difficult to see at night, even in clear weather under a bright moon. It’s easy to understand why Bermuda has had so many shipwrecks. A shipwreck was a joyous occasion — at least for locals — because their lives were difficult on the island. A shipwreck afforded settlers an opportunity to better their lives with salvaged goods. Most settlers were involved in wrecking, no matter what their station in life, even Bermuda’s third governor, Nathaniel Butler. Pirates Plunder Pirates, privateers and smugglers flourished in Bermuda’s waters, salvaging the wrecks. It is not surprising that there are numerous accounts from the ship owners and captains complaining to customs and other government officials about the treatment they received from local scavengers. Salvagers looted cargo from distressed vessels and often burnt them — sometimes even before the crew had abandoned the ship. If a ship carried large numbers of passengers, it might take several days to ferry them to shore. Over-eager wreckers sometimes impeded the process by stripping ropes, spars and sails before anyone on board had a chance to get off. Worse, the scavengers sometimes turned their attention to the passengers’ possessions. It must have been a traumatic experience to endure a shipwreck and then be robbed by the pirates who had supposedly come to the rescue. Ships continued to wreck on the reefs off Bermuda, and islanders continued to profit. But there was a legitimate side to salvaging, too. In the 20th century, shipwreck hunting in Bermuda greatly aided the war effort. In 1916, a steam lighter rigged for heavy lifting arrived in Bermuda to salvage metal from shipwrecks and offshore dumps. The scrap iron and nonferrous metals collected were used to finance British operations during World War I. The salvage vessel worked for two years and most notably retrieved the cannons from the 32-gun frigate HMS Cerebus, which had gone down at the entrance to Castle Harbour in 1783; metal from the 1880 wreck of the steamer Darlington and the 1905 wreck of Madiana; and the engines of the five-master French schooner Fraternité. Today, a wealth of shipwrecks awaits divers off the shores of Bermuda, beckoning them with the promise of discovery.
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