A S S O C I A T I O N OF U N D E R W A T E R E X P L O R E R S
Date: Mon, 18 Jun 2001 16:38:57
AUE Weekend Trip Report June 16-17, 2001
AUE documents the final resting spot of the Pan Massachusetts
Realizing the fantastic potential off the Canaveral area, AUE has been hitting these wrecks hard lately. After getting used to the local conditions on the Cities Service Empire during the past two weekends, on Saturday we decided to visit an unknown wreck in deeper water that we were made aware of by some local fishermen. I have been working with some local fishermen to get coordinates for some undocumented wrecks. As an aside, it is always humorous to hear divers claim to have "discovered" a new wreck when, odds are, it has been fished for years; I always tap into this valuable information source. Several large wrecks caught my attention, so we decided to check out one in the vicinity of the Empire tanker on Saturday. We had been told it was a large wreck that sat in ~270-280 feet of water. It has been known as the Copper Wreck for years, though I believe this name has been perpetuated amongst the fishing community from an error published in a local book. Initially, I thought the wreck may be the Elizabeth Massey, a British freighter believed to have been sunk in the same general location and on the same exact date as the Pan Massachusetts. The 456-foot long Pan Massachusetts, built in 1918, was torpedoed by the U-128 on 19 February 1942. The loss of the Pan Massachusetts is notable due to the fact that she was the first war casualty off Florida during World War II. The Elizabeth Massey, much smaller in size than the Pan Massachusetts, was supposedly carrying a cargo of copper, hence the connection. However, further investigation has led me to believe that the Massey did not sink on the reported date and is a record-keeping error; conflicting information indicates that the Elizabeth Massey apparently arrived on scene after the Pan Massachusetts was torpedoed and recovered some of the survivors.
On the way out, luck would have it that our LORAN unit went out. Fortunately, we had some converted latitude/longitude coordinates that we hoped would put us in the ballpark. Arriving on the site, I began a search pattern and soon marked a large wreck in 285 feet of water. I began trying to determine the orientation of the wreck which proved to be a frustrating task with the west wind and strong northward current. Eventually, I felt comfortable with the site and we made preparations to drop the first team in the water. A local charter boat arrived on site and began fishing the wreck as it drifted over the site. I radioed over to the boat to let him know of our intentions and to see if we could share the wreck after one of his passes. He was more than cooperative and remained on station while we moved up current. I overheard several conversations on the VHF regarding our exploration dives, as the local charter fleet had heard of our recent visits to the Empire. Once in position, we dropped the first team in who finned for the bottom. Unfortunately, my first drop was off the mark a bit and the poor visibility experienced on the bottom did not allow for any error. After a brief sand dive, the team surfaced and were recovered, enthusiastic for another drop. Again, we motored upcurrent and deployed the divers. Soon, we saw a decent wake behind the poly balls, indicating that they were either on the wreck or working to reach it. However, a few minutes later the ball floated directly over and off the wreck. After watching the poly ball and determining the divers were not on it, we recovered the shotline and then moved into position downcurrent of the wreck in anticipation of their liftbags. After their planned bottom time, the team drifted off and eventually shot their bags for decompression. Joe and I patiently stayed on station, eager to hear the details of their dive.
Upon their recovery, the team told us that the massive wreck was turtled. The conditions were less than spectacular, with "blurry" 20-30 feet of visibility and chilly 63 degree water. Again, there was a nasty layer from 100'-160' feet that blocked out a lot of the ambient light, making it very dim on the bottom. While inverted, there were massive portions of the wreck that allowed penetration into the interior, though they did not venture too far inside. The first team reported a depth around the base of the wreck to be 296-297'. They did note that the wreck appeared to have been sliced in two, as the stern was missing; the section they visited was estimated to be approximately 300-350 feet in length.
Joe and I geared up and prepared for our drop as Mikey motored into position. I jumped over the side with the bitter end of the shotline in hand. Soon, Joe sped past me with his scooter as I held on and enjoyed the ride straight down. In short order we found ourselves whipped along by the current just off the bottom. Eventually, we saw the dark shadow of the wreck loom up in front of us. We were headed straight towards the edge of the wreck so Joe and I moved to gain a better interception angle. I saw the wreck quickly approaching and soon realized, "this is going to suck." SPLAT. I slammed into the edge of the wreck with a tight grip of the line, trying to hold it against the wreck while Joe disappeared under an overhang to try and tie in. After a few moments that felt like an eternity, I saw his mask poke around the corner as he communicated that he couldn't find a good tie-in spot. I was readily prepared to let this burden go, so I slowly released my grip on the shotline. It did not move. Fortunately, the force of our impact wedged the line into a portion of the wreck and locked it into place.
We collected ourselves and appraised our surroundings. The wreck was indeed broken in two. We had slammed into the fracture point of the bow section at the point of the aftermost tank, just in front of where the boilers and engine would be found. Sections of the wreck were spread out in the sand to the south around this point. One piece appeared to be a portion of bulkhead with portholes. With the wreck laying NE-SW, we began to circumnavigate the wreck. Just forward of the line, a cavernous opening allowed penetration into the interior. Due to the massive size of the hole and presence of debris adjacent to this area, it is feasible to assume that this may be the point where one of the torpedoes slammed into the hull. Joe and I ventured inside, noting the abundant Oculina coral that adorned the interior surfaces. This appeared to be one of the tanks; vertical ladders along the separating bulkheads were the only noticeable structure. I noticed some brass valves and piping in the sand under and around these tanks, more evidence that this wreck was a tanker. A solitary Warsaw grouper, perhaps 60 pounds, closely followed us with curiosity through the interior and back outside to the exterior of the wreck. He playfully followed us as we swam along the hull during the rest of our dive. The wreck has a near vertical bow, the obtuse angle providing more clues that the wreck is the tanker Pan Massachusetts. Turning the corner and finning along the other side, I soon saw the large starboard anchor tight in its hawse pipe. As our allotted time was nearing its end, I hitched a ride with Joe and his scooter as we motored along the hull towards the line. Eventually reaching the fracture point, I saw a line running along the sand bottom. At the time, I didn't realize that it was our upline; the current had pulled the balls under the water and the angle of our line was actually running down into the sand instead of up! We were able to pry the line loose from the wreck as we were flung off the wreck and out over the sand, the poly balls eventually popping to the surface. Upon our exit, I noticed a debris trail heading off to the west which may lead to the missing stern section something to check out on our next visit. We worked our way up the line, happy to reach the warmer and clearer topside waters. Decompression was uneventful, aside from a visit from a pod of dolphins, a solitary shark and a large, frisky remora. Exiting the water, we all enthusiastically discussed the dive and compared notes. While we were not able to find any positive identification to the wreck's identity, due to the architecture and size of the wreck, as well as the absence of any other large wrecks near the reported sinking location, we are pretty confident that the wreck is that of the Pan Massachusetts. However, we plan on returning soon to obtain conclusive proof for any skeptics out there...
Sunday proved to be another excellent day on the water as the team headed out to the wreck of the Cities Service Empire. Reaching the site, a boat was already fishing the wreck. While we made preparations, I ran alongside after one of their drifts to make them aware of our plans. Apparently, they already knew who we were and asked if we would be taking video. After a brief conversation, we motored upcurrent to deploy the first team. The fishing boat paced alongside, curious to watch the show. We dropped the first team in and they soon drifted into the stern of the wreck. After their allotted dive time, they pulled the line and drifted off the Empire. After recovery, Joe and I suited up and prepared for our turn. Mikey motored us to the desired position and we hit the water. Again, Joe led the way with his scooter as we descended Kamikaze-style to the bottom. We eventually leveled off and waited to drift into the wreck. Soon, I observed the remains of a large, square "float-free" raft in the sand just off the stern. A large 50-pound gag curiously eyed us from under the raft as we drifted past. The scene of the stern coming into view is incredible. We had great visibility and we could see the large screw and rudder just above the sand, while looking upwards you could see the barrel of the deck gun pointing off the stern. Joe scootered over and secured the line to a starboard-side bollard while I worked the line off the lower fantail which got wrapped around by the current. Once secure, I motioned to Joe that I would stay near the line and had no intentions of swimming against the current back to the line from the bridge area. I poked around the stern, noticing brass objects everywhere. Underneath the gun, the brass hubs of the auxiliary steering station still remain. I swam forward a bit and then dropped down an aft-facing "ramp" that had been formed from the collapse of the deck. As I swam about the interior of the lower deck, I noticed several portholes laying about after collapsing inward from the deteriorating bulkhead. I happened to notice a glint of white and swam over to find a nice china dish laying amongst the debris and shell hash. I swam about, eventually swimming forward into the engine room. From inside the wreck, seeing the huge engine is definitely impressive. The skylights have collapsed so the engine is exposed from above, providing substantial ambient light. From the angle I was at, it was a very cool scene. As I turned around, I spotted yet another telegraph stand pinned under some wreckage. There is cool stuff all over this wreck! I swam aft a ways into some other compartments. With the collapsed bulkheads and weird light filtering through, it was definitely an eerie feeling cruising about the interior. I eventually headed back up the ramp, happening upon the remains of what appeared to be a large compass. It, too, was smashed with only bits of glass remaining. It was a very large compass, approximately the size of a dinner plate, with only the brass frame and gimbal mount remaining. I puttered around a bit longer around the top deck until the 59-61 degree water chilled me to the point that I opted to end the dive a few minutes early. I motioned to Joe who unanimously agreed, also noting that he was cold, and we moved over to free the line. We drifted off the stern and along the portside of the hull. The visibility allowed us to observe the massive hull and various deck levels, including the row of portholes from the lower deck. We followed along the hull to the damaged area, whereupon we started up the line for our decompression.
It was an incredible weekend and I am sure we all can't wait to return to these awesome wrecks.