Unless you’re from Alaska or Canada, chances are you’ve never heard of the SS Princess Sophia, named the “Titanic of the West Coast.” One of the worst tragedies to occur inside Alaska and Canada, the 2,320-ton, 245-foot steel hull passenger ship sank in late October, 1918. Yet, the sinking and loss of 353 lives received little publicity.
Lake George, a 32-mile-long by two-miles-wide body of water an hour’s drive north of Albany, New York, is an unlikely spot to find the oldest intact warship in North America. But history buffs know all about the roll this radeau, (a French word for raft) played in the French and Indian War, 1755-1763.
When President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a blockade of Confederate ports during the Civil War, April 19, 1861, he launched the “cat and mouse” war games in which ships were hellbent on outsmarting each other. Painted the color of a Hatteras fog to remain inconspicuous, while burning smokeless anthracite coal, a long, low “greyhound of the sea” could lose herself against a wooded shoreline. Then, like a rabbit from the bush, she would make her final dash for a protected harbor.
They’re everywhere, a ubiquitous conglomeration of lost ships the likes of which will never be matched by any other nautical graveyard. The ships, their masters and crews plunged to the bottom of North Carolina’s Graveyard of the Atlantic where a seafarer once declared: “It’s a place to sail, troll and dive, a place where only fish survive, a place that fosters all our fears, a place that harbors a widow’s tears.”
Those who will not venture out into the open sea pay the penalty of never having looked into the bright eyes of danger and at best they know but half of life. The mariners who went down with their ships encountered life headlong and lived it to its fullest blazing a path of glory before them. From the days of earliest New World expeditions, many knew about the Graveyard of the Atlantic and approached it with mixed feelings. Some flaunted it while others feared it, yet they persisted in risking their vessels and lives in its treacherous waters. Some tried to avoid it when venturing into the open sea.
In Australia, many names of people, places and things are taken from the Aborigines, native inhabitants that settled the country more than 50,000 years ago. Hence, the SS Warrimoo—meaning Eagle’s Nest or Landing—was chosen for the 345-foot passenger ship launched in England in 1892.
Figuratively, I jumped aboard the U-1226 in June, 1993, when it was reported as being discovered in shallow water off Cape Cod, Massachusetts. But I wasn’t the only journalist to get a scoop on this astounding discovery. David Arnold of the Boston Globe, Barry Danforth of the Wall Street Journal, and Joe McVey of the Baltimore Sun joined me “aboard” the shipwreck and we all met our deadlines.
The SS Byron D. Benson is more than just another tanker sunk off North Carolina in the early stages of WW II. The 7,953-ton, 465-foot Tidewater Oil Company ship did her best to avoid sinking in Torpedo Junction where so many other American and Allied vessels were victimized by German U-boats.
Most people enjoy a banquet where they savor each delight from start to finish. For me, diving with the U.S. Navy Atlantic Fleet Audio-Visual Command was an undersea smorgasbord that served the best courses from beginning to end.
Actually, we know what happened to the 356-foot-long, 2,500-ton Japanese submarine. It sank during a surprise attack by an Avenger bomber launched from the aircraft carrier USS Bogue, June 23, 1944. Faced with naval and air blockades that threatened to stifle Germany in WW II, Japan launched its secret C-3 type cargo submarine for transporting wartime raw materials to a naval base in Nazi occupied Lorient, France. Oh, and the gold? We’ll get to that in a moment.