Drive & Dive
Scuba Diving Magazine
New Jersey is known worldwide as the Garden State for the
fresh cranberries, tomatoes, peaches and other fruits and
vegetables it brings to the table, but often is dismissed
domestically as the parking lot for New York. Local scuba buffs,
though, call it the Diving State for the array of sites delivered
along the 131-mile-long Jersey Shore by war, commerce and
The Garden State Parkway runs along the coast, delivering divers
in their four-wheel gear bags to shore points. Just get a roll of
tokens, roll down the toll road and take the exit to the site that
best suits your diving skills. There’s everything from easy low-
surf shore dives to challenging offshore wrecks, all teaming with
life and decorated in dizzying colors over time by Poseidon’s
Shore diving can be iffy in a state with one of the nation’s most
aggressive beach replenishment programs. The best guides – Dan
and Denise Berg’s “New Jersey Beach Diver” and Tom Gormley’
s and Ben Gualano’s “Shore Diving In New Jersey” – are
stocked in most dive shops. If a site in their books is buried
under tons of sand, just come back in a few months and currents
may have washed away the overburden to re-exposed the site.
Allenhurst Jetty is a shore site that generally escapes the state’s
program to shovel sand against the tide. This rocky jetty juts
eastward from Allenhurst, just north of Asbury Park of rocker
Bruce Springsteen fame. Its L shape shields the entry from the
Atlantic’s waves, making it an easy first ocean dive for beginners
and a place where experienced divers check out gear, go
sightseeing or shop for dinner.
Mussels and seastars cling to the craggy rocks and tucked away
in holes are blue claw crabs and lobsters. Blackfish and stripped
bass forage around the jetty and doormat flounder camouflage
into the sandy bottom, which ranges from 5 to 20 feet. In late
summer through early winter, colorful tropical fish wash up here
as they do along the Jersey Shore. Occasionally waves bare
brass items that hint of some forgotten maritime disaster. Plan
your dive for the hour around high tide to minimize the hike to
the water and the bottom surge around the jetty. Visibility can
range upward to 20 feet, but can be much less depending on
wind and waves. If a strong wind is out of the south, as we say
in the land of TV’s fictional “Sopranos” crime family,
WAL-505 Relief Ship
Commerce piled up wrecks off Jersey, either through U-boat
sinkings or collisions, so Relief Ship WAL-505, which helped
usher commercial traffic into New York harbor, is a good
pilgrimage for wreck divers. Before Ambrose Light Tower was
erected off Sandy Hook, ships with powerful lights and fog
horns rotated into position at the mouth of the harbor 24 hours a
day. The 1904-built WAL-505 was providing relief for a newer
lightship on June 24, 1960, when the freighter Green Bay
emerged from pea soup fog and slammed into it amidships.
Although it quickly sank, all crewmen were rescued by the
relatively unscathed freighter.
Today, WAL-505 is excellent for building wreck-diving skills.
Although it’s 110 feet to the sand, the structure rises to within 75
feet of the surface. It’s upright, fairly intact and has nominal
currents, but its location in the Hudson River’s silt plume means
visibility can be less than 5 feet. You don’t need to see very far
to be dazzled by colorful anemones and plants contrasting the
few visible patches of its bright red hull. The wreck’s color is
literally alive. A great primer for this underwater classroom is a
carbon copy of the 129-foot-long WAL-505 that is docked at
Manhattan’s South Street Seaport.
Fog shrouding New York’s busy harbor created a popular site
for divers in the Thanksgiving Day collision of the Israeli
passenger liner Shalom and the Norwegian tanker Stolt Degali,
or “Pride of Degali,” a city in Norway. The 629-foot Shalom was
picking up speed as it left the harbor on Nov. 26, 1964, bound
for the Caribbean when it sliced into the 582-foot Stolt, as it
headed toward Newark, N.J., from Philadelphia to unload its
cargo of vegetable and coconut oil. The crash left a 40-foot gash
in the Shalom, but sliced off the 142-foot stern of the Stolt. It
quickly sank to 130 feet 40 miles east of Manasquan, N.J. About
half the crew was asleep when they were flung into the 50F
water, killing 19. The Shalom’s 1,066 passengers and crew
The Stolt’s port side now rises to within 65 feet of the surface
and is heavily coated with anemonies and hydroids. The 70-foot
wide hull now forms the closest thing to a wall dive in the region,
and the gaping hole offers easy penetration to the crew quarters.
It’s a popular site for fishing charters and spearfishing divers
alike, and its china plates and cups can be seen in local dive
shops and divers’ homes. It’s good to watch the depth gauge
while diving the wreck for today portions of the interior have
settled to 140 feet.
Only the stern can be seen by divers today. The bow of the Stolt
was towed back to Norway in 1965 and joined with the stern of
the tanker C.T. Gogstad and renamed the Stolt Lady. That tanker
was later sold and renamed the Lido under which it sails in the
Great Lakes. The Shalom was repaired and renamed the Sun. It
sank while under tow to a salvage yard in July 2001 off Cape St.
Francis, Africa, where depths reach 15,420 feet.
Everything from New York City subway cars to Army tanks to
boats and ships of all description have been sunk through New
Jersey’s busy reef-building program. The king of all artificial
reefs, though, is the USS Algol, a 459-foot-long Navy attack
freighter that saw extensive service in World War II and off
Cuba. Since Nov. 22, 1991, it’s been serving as a popular dive
site about 15 miles east of Manasquan River Inlet. Sitting upright
as if sailing across the sandy bottom at 145 feet, the ship rises to
within 70 feet of the surface. All surfaces are coated with
mussels and colorful marine organisms that are swarmed with
schools of fish seeking shelter from the currents, making it a
favored stop for dinner divers. Its massive size and ease of
penetration means there is always more to see no matter how
many times you dive this ship.
The Algol is but one of more than 3,000 artificial reefs that have
been added to the hundreds of shipwrecks off the Jersey shore.
Learn more about the natural and artificial reef sites at
www.njscuba.net and www.njscuba.com.
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Just off the southern tip of New Jersey lies the
Atlantis, one of a dozen experimental concrete-
hulled ships cast by the Navy in World War I. The
Atlantis broke free from its mooring on June 8,
1926, and grounded at 20 feet off Cape May. It’s
a magnet for mussels, but what draws divers to
endure surge around its rebar are golf-ball-sized
Cape May “diamonds” on either side of the wreck.
These translucent quartz gems are polished
smooth by tumbling for thousands of years from
the headwaters of the Delaware River to the
confluence of Delaware Bay and the Atlantic. They
are as prized today as they were by the native
Kechemeches. Although the exposed wreck is
tantalizingly close to shore, it should be visited
only on calm days at slack tide.
Full ¼-inch wet suits can be worn from mid-July
through October, when water temperatures range
from mid-60s to mid-70s F. Dry suits will feel
better during other months as the temperatures dip
to the low-30s in March. Visibility can rival
Caribbean sites in the winter, but can be limited in
mid-summer especially after storms.
Allenhurst Jetty: Take Garden State Parkway Exit
102, and go east on Asbury Avenue. Turn left onto
Main Street and then right onto Cedar Avenue. At
its end, turn left onto Ocean Place and start
looking for parking. The jetty is on the other side
of the gate leading to the beach. This is likely to be
crowded on summer weekends.
Stolt Degali, USS Algol: Brielle is on Manasquan
Inlet, home to several dive charters. Take Garden
State Parkway Exit 98 and head south on Route 34
into Brielle or Point Pleasant. These sites also are
visited by operators on Shark River Inlet. Take
Parkway Exit 100B and head east on Route 33.
WAL-505 Relief Lightship: Although it’s just off
New Jersey, the wreck if visited more frequently
by charter boats from Rockaway, Sheepshead Bay
and Staten Island, N.Y.
Charter boat operators who visit these sites are
members of the Eastern Dive Boat Association.
Learn more about their sites and directions to their
docks by visiting www.edba.com.
Atlantis: Take the Parkway south to its end at
Cape May. Turn right (west) at Collier’s Liquor.
Go straight as the street becomes Route 606, West
Perry and Sunset Boulevard until its dead end at
Sunset Beach, which is just beyond the last turnoff
for Cape May Lighthouse. Consult NOAA tables to
dive during slack tide.