NJ shipwrecks offer wealth of history

Diving an underwater wreck
By Sandra K. Lee - Warren Patch - Photo Gary Szabo

The camera panned along the side of a boat until the words Alex Mac appear in bold, black letters. The vessel is lying on its side, 70 feet below the ocean surface.

Filming occurred only a few weeks following the scallop boat's sinking in 2006, after being struck by a steel barge.

Besides some algae growing and the marine life, the wooden boat appeared much as it might have while on the surface.

The same could not be said for the next ship, the Stolt Dagali, lying in 130 feet of water after sinking in 1964 about 18 miles from the Manasquan Inlet.

Barnacles covered the framework of the tanker and fish swam lazily amidst the structure, which was sometimes difficult to discern from the ocean life surrounding it. One of the distinguishable features was the encrusted rungs of a ladder descending into darkness.

The twisted wreckage of the R.P. Resor, a ship torpedoed by a German U-Boat in 1942, also appeared in the murky waters.

Like the Stolt Dagali, its shape was sometimes difficult to distinguish from the marine life that has made the former tanker home.

All three vessels are among the hundreds, possibly thousands, of ships meeting tragic ends and now resting on the ocean floor—sanctuary for marine life and an attraction for divers. They also were part of veteran diver Gary Szabo's talk to a packed room at the Warren Township Library Tuesday night.

Szabo shared video footage of his dives to the three wreck sites and anecdotes about his 30-year diving career which has included five trips to the Andrea Doria, nicknamed the "Mt. Everest of Shipwreck Diving," and numerous wrecks in North Carolina, the South Pacific and New Jersey.

"My favorite place to dive is right here in our own backyard in New Jersey," said Szabo, a Trenton firefighter who works in the city's dive unit. "New Jersey has a very rich and active underwater world."

Szabo noted that with the currents, potential visibility issues and colder temperatures, the area might not appeal to many divers.

"There's a saying that if you could dive in New Jersey, you could dive anywhere in the world," said Szabo, adding that this season so far has offered ideal conditions.

When asked by an audience member when he's found the best visibility diving off New Jersey's coast, he quipped, "The best visibility is the day I leave my camera at home."

Because of the state's proximity to New York and major shipping lanes, the coastline has an abundance of wrecks due to weather, collisions and even acts of war.

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