barrier islands

Scuba divers' paradise

By Shaila Dewan

Pirate lore has it that in the late 17th century, horses bearing lanterns were led along the barrier islands near Beaufort, luring ships to be pillaged and sunk. But that was only one of many perils by which the North Carolina coast earned the nickname Graveyard of the Atlantic.

From the Queen Anne's Revenge, Blackbeard's hijacked French slaver, to the Monitor, the ironclad Civil War vessel, many a ship has been doomed by converging currents, rocky shoals, treacherous storms and, in World War II, lurking U-boats.

In 1921, the schooner Carroll A. Deering was stranded in a storm on Diamond Shoals; rescuers found it abandoned, making the fate of the crew one of the enduring mysteries of maritime history.

But the seascape that for centuries menaced sailors is, it turns out, a Xanadu for scuba divers. The water is clear, warmed by the Gulf Stream and populated by tropical marine life against the operatic backdrop of the mammoth, ghostly shipwrecks.

Unlike reef diving, wreck diving offers both natural splendor and human narrative -- lionfish and octopus, rust and cannon.