Paul Gacek's World

North Carolina Wreck Diving

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The meeting of the Monitor and the Merrimack (Virginia) at Hampton Roads on March 9, 1862, marked the first naval battle between two ironclad warships and changed the course of naval warfare forever. The age of wooden sail powered ships was ushered out by a new era of steam powered iron warships. The two ironclads only met once for a four hour exchange that could a best be termed a draw since neither was able to inflict significant damage on the other. Neither ship survived the fateful year 1862; the Merrimack was burned and scuttled in the Elizabeth River on May 11, 1862 and the Monitor foundered in a gale off Cape Hatteras while being towed to Beaufort, North Carolina. The final resting place of the Monitor remained unknown for over a hundred years until an oceanographic expedition from Duke University tentatively located the site in 1973 some 17 miles southeast of Cape Hatteras. Verification of the Monitor's identity was made in 1974 and the Monitor was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. On January 30, 1975, the Monitor was designated as the first National Marine Sanctuary.
Descending the mooring line, the armor belt and turret come into view at about 100 feet and leave no doubt as to the identity of the wreck. The wreck lies on the bottom in 225 feet of salt water with the port armor belt resting on top of the turret.
The rotating turret is 21 feet in diameter, 9 feet tall, 8 inches thick and weighs 120 tons. It was designed to rotate on an iron axle 9 inches in diameter and was supported by a series of steel rollers under its circumference.
The port armor belt is 5 feet high and is constructed of four layers of 1 inch iron plate and backed by 26 inches of white oak. It was designed to extend below the waterline and protect the hull from ramming and low trajectory shots.
The rotating turret two guns that slid on carriages supported by heavy iron cross beams. Here we see one of the two gunports in the turret still stoppered from the fatal voyage in 1862.
The stern shows the ravages of man upon the wreck. A substantial portion of the armor belt is missing and in 1991 a fishing boat anchored into the wreck and broke off the skeg and peeled off iron plating where the skeg was attached to the keel.
The starboard side of the hull looking towards the stern. The armor belt on the starboard side is buried in the sand and the relatively thin hull (half inch iron plate has deteriorated leaving only the reinforcing members.
Looking forward toward the bow we see the starboard armor belt rising out of the sand. The Captain's stateroom and officers' quarters were located in this area and the hull has substantially collapsed. Schools of jacks patrol the wreck.
The port armor belt is relatively intact however the relatively thin hull has disappeared and even the reinforcing members have collapsed either due to the elements or man's intervention.
Swimming toward the stern on the port side of the wreck we see the armor belt on the left and the mechanical spaces on the right. Undoubtedly the boiler and engine are supporting the bottom hull plates but the side hull plates have completely collapsed.

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Last modified on Saturday, September 6, 1997 23:35:58