Almost every body of water in the world is home to a shipwreck of one sort or another. From the smallest lake to the greatest ocean, man has found a way to sink vessels in any number of ways—torpedoed in battle, rammed in the fog, run upon a shoal or sometimes intentionally sunk to create an artificial reef. Some ships have gone down with mundane cargo, like iron ore or lumber, while others hold the proverbial pirate's booty, which every diver hopes to find. But all of them offer recreational divers the chance to explore new worlds. That's the thing about shipwrecks—they lie silently and leave no trace after they've sunk, making diving them feel like a new discovery every time. We've assembled five that represent a cross-section of geographies, accessibilities and the circumstances surrounding their demise.
The Thistlegorm is consistently on or near the top of every wreck diver's list of favorites, and for good reason. It has the holy trinity of wreck dive attributes: accessibility, visibility, and fascinating things to see. It sits in 100 feet of gin-clear warm water off the coast of Ras Mohammed, Egypt in the Red Sea. Bombed by the German Luftwaffe in 1941, she sank with a hold full of varied cargo-trucks, motorcycles, rubber boots, even two steam locomotives. The wreck sat undisturbed until the early 1950s, when Jacques Cousteau discovered it with the help of some local fishermen. Relatively long bottom time combined with safe penetration combine to make this an easy wreck to explore for divers of all experience levels. And if you're tired of manmade scenery, the wreck also teems with groupers, barracudas and batfish. But get there soon. The briny Red Sea is having its way with the Thistlegorm and every year it deteriorates a little more.
Started by two British brothers, Bremont's tagline is "Tested Beyond Endurance" and the brand backs up this claim. They encase a chronometer-grade Swiss movement inside a highly shock-resistant steel case that is also anti-magnetic and water-resistant to approx. 1650 feet. So it should have no problem with the mere 100-foot depth of the Thistlegorm. And Bremont is a British brand, making it perfect for diving a British shipwreck.
Most ships that now lie on the seafloor led unglamorous careers, made famous almost solely by their sinking. This may be why sunken cruise ships are such a draw for divers. Not only are the ships' former beauty and leisurely purpose a draw, but also the prospect of finding unique treasure, such as monogrammed china plates and portholes. The most infamous lost luxury liners, such as the Andrea Doria or the Empress of Ireland, lie in deep, cold water, inaccessible to all but the heartiest of divers. But the Bianca C lies in the balmy Caribbean, just off the coast of Grenada, making it far more accessible, and pleasant, to dive. The Bianca C, which belonged to the Italian Costa Line, caught fire while at anchor in October 1961. Local Grenadians watched from shore as she burned while being towed out to deeper water. Now at rest in 100 feet of water, the wreck, known as the "Titanic of the Caribbean," provides 600 feet of luxury liner for divers to explore. The top deck swimming pool is a favorite spot to linger, where one can imagine the formerly floating hotel's once-proud days cruising the sunny waters.
Most shipwrecks started life as beasts of burden — hauling freight or going to war. Same too with dive watches, brutish tools built for a singular purpose. But that doesn't mean they can't evolve. The new SuperOcean Chronograph II is part of Breitling's refresh of its legendary SuperOcean diver lineup. It now features a bold, contemporary dial and a grippy rubber-coated bezel to go with its chronometer-certified movement. Unlike many chronographs, this one can go approx. 1,650 feet deep, which is far deeper than the Bianca C, and indeed far deeper than you'll ever dive.
No wreck could be more different from the Thistlegorm than the Gunilda. While she is decades older, having sunk in 1911, she is also far better preserved, thanks to her final resting place in the deep, fresh waters of Lake Superior. But for the privilege of wondering at the intact gold-leaf scrollwork on her hull and the hanging chandelier inside, you have to be willing to brave bone-chilling water and the narcosis-inducing 265-foot depth. This is not a dive for the timid. The Gunilda sank due to the arrogance of her rich owner, Standard Oil investor William Harkness, who waved off the advice to employ a local pilot as he navigated the rocky shoals off Rossport, Ontario. Sure enough, Harkness managed to run his lovely 200-foot yacht aground. An attempt to free the injured boat only flooded her torn hull with freezing Lake Superior water and she plummeted to her grave, where she awaits brave, drysuit-clad divers today.
If you're diving the Gunilda, you're going to wear a drysuit and that requires a long, secure watchstrap. So opt for Panerai's long-length hook-and-loop strap that utilizes the brand's quick-release system. Set the chunky timing bezel before you descend to track your (short) bottom time. It gets dark 250 feet below the surface, so you'll be thankful for the luminous dial markers and hands for which the brand is famous.
Truk Lagoon, an atoll in Micronesia, was ground zero in the battle of the Pacific during World War II and site of Operation Hailstone, an American naval and aerial bombardment that claimed over 40 Japanese warships and hundreds of fighter planes. Choosing the best wreck in Truk Lagoon is a popular argument among divers but most agree that the Fujikawa Maru comes out on top. This armored supply ship sits upright in 110 feet of water and, like the Thistlegorm, is still chock-full of wartime cargo. Especially fascinating are the three Zero fighter planes that rest in the forward cargo hold, an ornate Japanese bathtub, and her six-inch bow gun, still seemingly poised for defense.
Since 1954, the Rolex Submariner has been synonymous with diving, worn by countless adventurers. Last year, the brand took the bold step of reinventing the classic no-date Submariner, adding a ceramic bezel insert and a new solid-link steel bracelet with an innovative adjustable clasp. It's the perfect choice for diving the classic wrecks of Truk Lagoon, where the ceramic bezel will be impervious to scrapes and the blue Chromalight luminescent-coated hands will be visible when you're checking out those Zeros in the dark cargo hold.
Many wreck divers turn up their noses at intentionally sunken ships, considering them unworthy of the title "shipwreck." But the 520-foot-long Hoyt S. Vandenberg is worth making an exception for, no matter how hardened and jaded a wreck diver you are. The "Vandy" led a colorful life prior to her sinking, first as a U.S. Navy transport and missile-tracking ship and then as a movie prop, where she was made to look like a Russian research ship, complete with Cyrillic lettering on the hull. She was sunk in 2009 ten miles off the coast of Key West, Florida, creating an artificial reef and a destination for divers. The Vandenberg makes for a spectacular dive, due in no small part to its accessible depth, warm water, and interesting structure. The wreck sits upright in 140 feet of water, with most of its interesting features starting at only 40 feet. These include massive parabolic antennae, the bridge and the crow's nest. Holes cut into the sides of the hull allow for penetration to the interior by more experienced divers while her massive rudder rewards those who bottom out at 140 feet.
The internal rotating bezel on the BR02 Marine Phantom is ideal for exploring a shipwreck since it cannot be inadvertently knocked off its setting. Set your descent marker before you jump off the dive boat and keep track of your dive time while you"re navigating the wreck. And with its black PVD case and stealthy blacked-out hands and dial, the Marine Phantom is the perfect watch to wear to the Miami nightclubs three hours to the north, where you can brag about your "Vandy" exploits.