Aug 17

Cape Hatteras Diving: the Wreck of the F.W. Abrams

Category: animals,scuba,Travel

The Abrams was a sister ship of the Dixie Arrow, the wreck we visited the day before this dive.  Unfortunately the visibility was not nearly as good, something I’ve been told is typical.  The viz was OK until about 45 feet under, when it deteriorated to perhaps 15 feet at best. With the surge, lack of visibility, metal things to smash against and the presence of large animals, this dive wouldn’t be easy for a beginner, but if you do what you’ve been trained to do – stay oriented, be close to a dive buddy, etc.  it’s not a big deal.  It was my 100th dive, and I’ve dealt with much, much worse, but I couldn’t help but think about how it would have appeared to me a couple of years ago.  A wreck reel would be a good idea here because it will give you a trail of bread crumbs to follow when the viz gets so bad that you can barely see your own fins.  Of course, lines can part, so always try to memorize some landmarks too – or, simply don’t go that far from the anchor; there’s plenty to see.

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Above is my favorite shot of the whole trip.  Chuck is hanging on a weighted line dropped from the boat, doing his deco stop at 20 feet, illuminated by scintillating sun rays and accompanied by a sizable barracuda – standard behavior for this fish, which likes to hang out under boats and near divers who are doing their stops.  I used to think that it was the shadow of the boat, or maybe the smaller fish that usually hang out near a floating object, but I’ve been kept company by ‘cudas even when doing stops on drift dives with no boat or lines above, and even in absolute darkness, so I’m not sure what this is about.  I don’t find it threatening; perhaps they figure that I’m there, so I must have my reasons and they should hang out too. If the viz were better, you’d see the debris of the Abrams below Chuck, but the next image will show you what happened as we went through 50 feet of depth:

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And it got much worse than that.  Of course, with the sun gone, it became colder too.

Visiting a shipwreck – a real one, not a reef project – is reminiscent of Orpheus’ journey to Hades.  The allegorical sequence of leaving the warmth of topside, surrounded by the happy excited camaraderie of my dive companions, then physically passing through a medium that gradually chokes off color, visual intensity, and temperature, eventually winding up in an inhospitable graveyard haunted by large menacing animals and the constant invisible dangers of diving, hits me over the head with unintentional references to the underworld.  I think that this is a universal experience for divers, even if they cannot articulate it.

Anybody who does this has spent a lot of time and money to do it and must really want to be there, and I am no different.  I am always thrilled to enter the water and fascinated by what I see there.  Returning to the surface, I am usually reluctant to leave the water; but I always have a sense of relief that I’m going back where there are people, sunshine, and laughter.

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Coming up the line, we are shadowed by big sand tiger and other sharks ( many larger than me) that stay almost out of visibility, like shady characters following me down a dark city street.  To them, the visibility is not a problem at all; they know exactly where I am and what my visual limitations are.  The currents  that would sweep me away from the anchor line if I let go are no problem for the sharks; their thick bodies ripple with muscle as they casually position themselves just where they wish to be, maintaining a distance of 10-15 feet, right at the edge of the sphere of invisibility created by the darkness and the cloud of fine particles that surround us.  Accompanied by an entourage of smaller animals – each shark is its own ecosystem – they fade in and out of sight, but not awareness. What beauty – how lucky am I to witness this?

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There is the intellectual aspect of understanding what has occurred at this spot – the danger, confusion, fear, desperation, bravery, and struggle of the Abram’s crew – as well as the physical evidence of not just an event, but an entire age gone by.  This ship was built not just by people who have passed on, but an entire age that is gone.  The passions, struggles and urgency which with these people lived are now represented only by these things lying on the bottom and our memories of them.  I know that a few survivors of that era are still around, but their numbers grow fewer each day, and they must feel like strangers in a strange land.  As I wandered the remains of the old steam engine, strewn about the bottom, I reflected on how much labor went into the creation of these objects, how the events that led up to their winding up on the bottom were the defining moments of some people’s lives and the end of others (in the case of the Dixie Arrow, people died, but on the Abrams, there were no casualties).  Now, in the summer of 2010, I can casually visit this site for my amusement. I hope that everybody who comes here knows what the place means, or meant, to somebody.  What will I leave for future generations to meditate upon?

Down on the wreck, you are always being watched.

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Beautiful, miniature corals strain the water for their living:

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Every source of food is exploited; my own body’s protein is mine only by right of strength, or at least intimidation.  The reef would be happy to make me part of it, and it wouldn’t take long.

Here is the whole bunch of images, plus a few extra “detail” shots.

3 comments

3 Comments so far

  1. kyle cassidy August 17th, 2010 1:47 PM

    fabulous. i keep saying “this summer i’ll get certified” — whether it’s by PADI or a sanitarium i’m never sure, but it doesn’t happen.

  2. Terry Papavasilis August 18th, 2010 9:43 AM

    Dan,

    You are right on about contemplating the people and events which led to these shipwrecks. I became a historian after scuba diving on my first shipwreck in 1999.

  3. Anna February 14th, 2011 4:59 PM

    Dan,

    We have a mini-mansion we rent all de way down the end of Hatteras, across from the ferry, on the ocean side during the last week before Labor Day if you need a couch to crash on and schedules coincide. You might get a master suite if you time it right. Let me know.

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