Trip Report Sharks and Shipwrecks in the Graveyard of the Atlantic

Please register or login

Welcome to ScubaBoard, the world's largest scuba diving community. Registration is not required to read the forums, but we encourage you to join. Joining has its benefits and enables you to participate in the discussions.

Benefits of registering include

  • Ability to post and comment on topics and discussions.
  • A Free photo gallery to share your dive photos with the world.
  • You can make this box go away

Joining is quick and easy. Log in or Register now!

FettSolo

Contributor
Messages
282
Reaction score
161
Location
Lebanon, NH, USA
# of dives
200 - 499
Why NC?

North Carolina has been on my list for a while. The combination of numerous wrecks and sand tiger sharks is irresistible, and I always like exploring more diving in the U.S. Coming from NH, warm-water diving is also a nice change!

Getting There

This was difficult. We were originally supposed to fly Southwest from Manchester, NH to Baltimore, then Baltimore to Raleigh. Less than a couple hours before our first flight, our second flight was cancelled. No notification from SW; I only found out because I happened to check the SW app and noticed our second flight had completely disappeared. I spent 90min on the phone with SW to figure out an alternate route, ultimately flying into Myrtle Beach instead of Raleigh. Both flights were delayed, so we ultimately arrived after 1am and had to book a cruddy Motel 6 last-minute for $180. After a couple hours sleep, we drove from Myrtle Beach to Atlantic Beach (where we were staying).

On the way back, we drove from Atlantic Beach to Raleigh and flew from there. Much smoother!

Dive Operator and Boat

I chose Olympus Dive Center due to positive reviews on SB and the desire to avoid a six-pack. While the latter obviously means less divers, it also means a rougher ride, and I did not think I would fare well.

Olympus expects you to do everything. While you can rent tanks from them, you have to analyze them yourself (they provide the equipment to do so) and take them on and off the boat. Frankly, at the overall cost of $209 for 2 dives ($155 for the dives + $34 to rent two AL 80 Nitrox tanks + $20 daily fuel surcharge), I think they could handle the tanks themselves. Every dive shop I have ever gone with has been happy to do so.

They have two boats, the Midnight Express and the Olympus. I spent one day on the former, two on the latter. The Midnight Express is a slightly smaller boat (I think it fits 16, while Olympus fits roughly 25). While the crew on both boats were always professional, I found the Olympus crew to be friendlier. The Midnight Express guys were nice when you spoke to them, but they did not initiate conversation and seemed to mostly stick to themselves. That may be irrelevant to some of you, and it did not affect my diving, but I am a firm believer that the dive operator needs to make their boat a welcoming environment so that new/inexperienced divers feel comfortable to speak up if an issue arises. The crew on the Olympus seemed more invested in creating and maintaining such an environment.

The boat rides were long: 90-120 minutes one-way. I needed to be at the dive center at 6am, and we usually returned around 2pm. The exception was the third day, when there was an issue with one of the boat engines and we had to slowly limp home, not arriving until about 4pm.

I should note that Olympus has a strict cancellation policy. Once it is less than 30 days before the date of your dive, there is no refund unless they cancel the dive. This ultimately meant I had to lose $155 on one day, which was frustrating.

While I had some complaints, they were minor and overall I was satisfied with Olympus Dive Center. If I returned to NC, I would dive with them again.

The Dives

First day was two dives on the Aeolus, a ship that was purposely sunk to be an artificial reef. Visually interesting structure. Loads of fish, but the sand tiger sharks were mostly absent - only saw one or two. This is normally supposed to be a good spot to see the sand tigers.

Second day was two dives on the Caribsea, a freighter torpedoed by a U-boat during WWII. The structure of this wreck is not in great shape, but plenty of fish and a couple sand tiger sharks and stingrays.

Third day was two dives on the Spar, a Coast Guard cutter that was purposely sunk to be an artificial reef. I thought this was the best of the three in terms of the actual wreck, as the Spar is in really good shape. I also saw the most sand tiger sharks here (half a dozen). I did have a nasty reverse squeeze at the end of the second dive; the worst one I have experienced in a decade.

I was originally scheduled for six days of diving. The fourth day I was refunded due to the Olympus not being able to go out (the aforementioned engine issue). The fifth day I was refunded due to weather cancellation (though I have not received the money yet). And the sixth day I had to cancel due to still feeling some latent squeeze issues - I spoke to DAN and they recommended not diving. If I did not have another dive trip in two weeks, I probably would have gone, but I did not want to risk it.

The water was warm; usually in the low 80s above the thermocline, and low 70s below. I wore a 3mm wetsuit with a Lavacore vest and shorts underneath. Most people wore 3mm, though it seemed like they felt cold below the thermocline (I was fine). The visibility was usually in the 30-40 foot range. Currents were present but mostly mild. These were all deep dives (75-100+ ft), so even with Nitrox my dives were usually around 45 minutes total.

Non-Diving Activities

We visited the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knolls, which had a nice range of exhibits and was well-designed. We spent a few hours in the nearby town of Beaufort, which had lots of historic homes and the excellent North Carolina Maritime Museum. The highlight was seeing some of the recovered artifacts from Blackbeard's ship. We also took a quick boat ride to the Rachel Carson Preserve, which was beautiful and home to some wild horses. We were fortunate enough to see them really close-up.

On the drive to Raleigh we also visited New Bern, which is 50min from Morehead City. This is a lovely town with great architecture (and the birthplace of Pepsi-Cola).

Bottom Line

I doubt I will ever return. Each dive day is at least 8 hours, which started to wear on me even after just a couple days. 8 hours and $209 is a lot of time and money for two dives, no matter what you end up seeing underwater. In addition, the fickle weather means it is hard to even guarantee diving. While I was only blown out by weather one day, the shop staff told me the previous two weeks had essentially no dive days. That's a tough value proposition when booking a dive vacation.

That all being said, I am really glad I finally was able to experience North Carolina diving. The wrecks were awesome dive sites with plenty of photographic opportunities, and I loved seeing sand tiger sharks swim right by me.
 

Johnoly

Contributor
Messages
3,303
Reaction score
3,981
# of dives
2500 - 4999
... and I loved seeing sand tiger sharks swim right by me.
Very nice write up. Alot of 'destination' trips I take are just to see 1-Thing and none of them were easy to get to. I've dove with Olympus on 2 trips and it was just to see the Sand Tigers (& dive w/friends too). If you move slow, you can really get within inches of the Sand Tigers for some great photos. Thanks for taking the time to detail your trip !!

IMG_2119.JPG
 

drrich2

ScubaBoard Supporter
ScubaBoard Supporter
Messages
10,575
Reaction score
9,210
Location
Southwestern Kentucky
# of dives
500 - 999
Enjoyed your trip report. I was there back in 2015 - Morehead City, NC August 2015 - http://www.scubaboard.com/forums/no...us-dive-center-aug-9-13-2015-trip-report.html and have a few follow up comments. I, too, dove with Olympus Dive Center. If things are now in 2022 and they were 7 years ago, some of this may hold true.

1.) Cost - I didn't stay at the Dive Lodge, but it was available as a low cost option.

2.) Looked to me like the drive from Raleigh to Morehead City would've been quite long (how long did it take you?); we flew to New Bern. I'm a Coke Zero lover; if I'd known about the Pepsi connection...

3.) Olympus Dive Center (ODC) had 120-cf steel tanks for rent, very handy with roughly square profile deep dives.

4.) When weather allowed, we dove the deep offshore wrecks, with better viz. and warmer water, and often sand tiger sharks, but shorter dive times due to NDL limits (even with nitrox; the popular house mix seemed to be EAN 30% I think). IIRC, my typical dive time might be around 35-minutes, with a wreck sitting on around 110-feet or so sandy bottom? Inshore wrecks were shorter to get to, cooler water, lower viz., no sharks but longer dive times.

Does that sound like what you saw?

5.) Those trips out are indeed long, and it's the Atlantic, not the Caribbean. If motion sickness prone, take precautions in advance.

6.) The 'do it yourself' (e.g.: analyze and haul tanks) culture isn't unique to that area; it's also present to at least some extent in Jupiter, Florida, and California boat diving from what limited exposure I had. All 3 destinations have a lot of local divers who probably like to keep costs down, and all 3 lend themselves to more seasoned, 'serious' divers who know how (and may prefer) to set up their own gear.

People visiting one of these destinations for the 1st time after touristy destinations that cater to occasional vacation divers and provide a more 'valet' diving experience may be displeased. I'm not 'voting' for one approach over another, I just like people to know what they're getting into.

7.) There are sandy beaches for non-divers - the region is called the Crystal Coast. If you're willing to drive, a number of non-diving things to do.

8.) If you want big shark shots like the one Johnoly posted without using bait, NC may be your destination.

Richard.
 

deeper thoughts

Contributor
Messages
6,788
Reaction score
2,666
# of dives
500 - 999
What were the waves to and from ?
thnx for posting
 
OP
F

FettSolo

Contributor
Messages
282
Reaction score
161
Location
Lebanon, NH, USA
# of dives
200 - 499
Enjoyed your trip report. I was there back in 2015 - Morehead City, NC August 2015 - http://www.scubaboard.com/forums/no...us-dive-center-aug-9-13-2015-trip-report.html and have a few follow up comments. I, too, dove with Olympus Dive Center. If things are now in 2022 and they were 7 years ago, some of this may hold true.

1.) Cost - I didn't stay at the Dive Lodge, but it was available as a low cost option.

2.) Looked to me like the drive from Raleigh to Morehead City would've been quite long (how long did it take you?); we flew to New Bern. I'm a Coke Zero lover; if I'd known about the Pepsi connection...

3.) Olympus Dive Center (ODC) had 120-cf steel tanks for rent, very handy with roughly square profile deep dives.

4.) When weather allowed, we dove the deep offshore wrecks, with better viz. and warmer water, and often sand tiger sharks, but shorter dive times due to NDL limits (even with nitrox; the popular house mix seemed to be EAN 30% I think). IIRC, my typical dive time might be around 35-minutes, with a wreck sitting on around 110-feet or so sandy bottom? Inshore wrecks were shorter to get to, cooler water, lower viz., no sharks but longer dive times.

Does that sound like what you saw?

5.) Those trips out are indeed long, and it's the Atlantic, not the Caribbean. If motion sickness prone, take precautions in advance.

6.) The 'do it yourself' (e.g.: analyze and haul tanks) culture isn't unique to that area; it's also present to at least some extent in Jupiter, Florida, and California boat diving from what limited exposure I had. All 3 destinations have a lot of local divers who probably like to keep costs down, and all 3 lend themselves to more seasoned, 'serious' divers who know how (and may prefer) to set up their own gear.

People visiting one of these destinations for the 1st time after touristy destinations that cater to occasional vacation divers and provide a more 'valet' diving experience may be displeased. I'm not 'voting' for one approach over another, I just like people to know what they're getting into.

7.) There are sandy beaches for non-divers - the region is called the Crystal Coast. If you're willing to drive, a number of non-diving things to do.

8.) If you want big shark shots like the one Johnoly posted without using bait, NC may be your destination.

Richard.
@drrich2 your report was the one I read a few times when I was preparing for my trip! To comment on some of your points:

1) The Dive Lodge is still available. Somebody who was staying there mentioned it was $40/nt, which is cheap. Basically just a dorm room.

2) The drive to Raleigh was just under 3 hours. Very pleasant and easy drive.

4) Sounds about right! The three wrecks I dove were all deeper offshore ones. Max depth and dive times:

Aeolus Dive 1: 99ft, 38 min.

Aeolus Dive 2: 100ft, 37 min.

Caribsea Dive 1: 84ft, 39min

Caribsea Dive 2: 85ft, 42 min.

Spar Dive 1: 102ft, 41 min.

Spar Dive 2: 74ft, 42 min.

5) I took the generic version of Dramamine. Most people on board wore scopalamine patches.

6) Interesting. I've only done one day of diving in FL and two in CA, so even more limited experience in those regions, but both ops handled the tanks. I am a Divemaster and so I do prefer to set up my own gear, and I'm happy to analyze the mix of the tanks I am renting, but I could do without hauling the tanks to/from the boat. If I'm paying $200 for two dives, I think an op should be able to put the tanks on the boat for me. Having the staff just stand there and watch me seemed unnecessary.

7) We took a number of morning and evening walks on the beach at Atlantic Beach and it was lovely. My girlfriend basically just hung out there whilst I was out diving (she only has 8 dives, so... definitely not ready for NC diving!).

8) Agreed. These are the largest sharks I have seen on a non-baited scuba dive.

What were the waves to and from ?
thnx for posting
First day was choppy on the way out, calm on the way back. Second day was choppy both ways (nothing crazy though). Third day was extremely calm to/from. Sounds like I had relatively calm seas.
 

100days-a-year

Contributor
Messages
2,583
Reaction score
1,261
Location
NE Florida
# of dives
5000 - ∞
Weather is all relative. Chop to some is seas to others.
I've got probably 5000 dives in the neighborhood and we rarely had to cancel day of. It was obvious on the forcast a week out it wasn't going to be doable.
That being said I've dove up there in big seas and it was nice to have every site and in fact the whole horizon to ourselves.
I will say the Frying Pan shoal does off the benefit of some lee from North and East winds and seas that boats launched north of thexPan don't enjoy.
 

johndiver999

Contributor
Messages
2,694
Reaction score
3,094
Location
Gainesville FL
# of dives
500 - 999
@drrich2 your report was the one I read a few times when I was preparing for my trip! To comment on some of your points:

1) The Dive Lodge is still available. Somebody who was staying there mentioned it was $40/nt, which is cheap. Basically just a dorm room.

2) The drive to Raleigh was just under 3 hours. Very pleasant and easy drive.

4) Sounds about right! The three wrecks I dove were all deeper offshore ones. Max depth and dive times:

Aeolus Dive 1: 99ft, 38 min.

Aeolus Dive 2: 100ft, 37 min.

Caribsea Dive 1: 84ft, 39min

Caribsea Dive 2: 85ft, 42 min.

Spar Dive 1: 102ft, 41 min.

Spar Dive 2: 74ft, 42 min.

5) I took the generic version of Dramamine. Most people on board wore scopalamine patches.

6) Interesting. I've only done one day of diving in FL and two in CA, so even more limited experience in those regions, but both ops handled the tanks. I am a Divemaster and so I do prefer to set up my own gear, and I'm happy to analyze the mix of the tanks I am renting, but I could do without hauling the tanks to/from the boat. If I'm paying $200 for two dives, I think an op should be able to put the tanks on the boat for me. Having the staff just stand there and watch me seemed unnecessary.

7) We took a number of morning and evening walks on the beach at Atlantic Beach and it was lovely. My girlfriend basically just hung out there whilst I was out diving (she only has 8 dives, so... definitely not ready for NC diving!).

8) Agreed. These are the largest sharks I have seen on a non-baited scuba dive.


First day was choppy on the way out, calm on the way back. Second day was choppy both ways (nothing crazy though). Third day was extremely calm to/from. Sounds like I had relatively calm seas.
You obviously don't know how to do it. You just tell the crew as you drag the tanks past them "No problem at all, I'm a DM, I work for tips" and then leave them nothing. LOL
 

also_anon_dc

Contributor
Messages
138
Reaction score
96
Location
Washington DC
I've been to Moorhead City diving with Olympus once and would go back. I agree the days are long and the diving isn't cheap but it's only a 6 hour drive from DC for me. I wouldn't go back either if I had to fly. Eventually I'd love to see the U-352 but I've heard from others getting out there is rare.
 

drrich2

ScubaBoard Supporter
ScubaBoard Supporter
Messages
10,575
Reaction score
9,210
Location
Southwestern Kentucky
# of dives
500 - 999
Eventually I'd love to see the U-352 but I've heard from others getting out there is rare.
That surprises me; back when I was researching for my Aug. 2015 trip, it seemed there were complaints about Olympus Dive Center hitting it so often! I wonder if it's deteriorated much since then?

I wouldn't go back either if I had to fly.
I did fly. Given the lack of coral reef where we dove (note: I'm told Wilmington-based diving offers ledges, so that might differ), and the obvious emphasis on wrecks and sand tiger sharks, it struck me as a destination to hit once, then maybe or maybe not someday years later. That's from the perspective of someone who'd fly to get there, vs. other places. GoogleMaps thinks my home to Olympus Dive Center is around a 12-hour one way drive (plus pit stops, I imagine).

That said, I'd like to go back. It was good diving, unique, and we enjoyed the topside scene. My one quibble is bottom time...2 dives/day, takes much of the day, and yet the offshore deep wreck dive times are limited by NDL, so dives tend to be short.
 

Top Bottom