NJ Wrecking it – Again!

Dave West, Robin Valicenti and I responded to the 4:30 a.m. alarm and traveled down to Belmar, NJ for another great day of diving aboard the Venture III.  We could not have asked for a more perfect day to sail out to sea – the sun was bright, the sea was calm, and the company was great!

Our first site was the Algor shipwreck.  This was an Andromeda class attack transport built by the U.S. Navy.  This class was also known as a “Victory Ship”, although often incorrectly referred to as a Liberty Ship.  It was one of a series of Navy transports named for stars; Algol is a star in the constellation Perseus, also known as the Demon star.   Originally constructed in 1943 in Oakland, Calif as James Barnes , it saw service in a number of conflicts, the most recently being the Vietnam War.  It is a large wreck measuring 459 ft x 63 ft, with 13,910 displacement tons, and a registered crew of 429 crew, including embarked Marines.  It was sunk as part of the NJ Artificial Reef Program on November 22, 1991, and sponsored by the Federal Aid in Sportfish Restoration group. This intact wreck sits in 145 ft of water, with the upper decks accessible as shallow as 70 ft.   This was a great intro-to-reel work dive for Robin, who quickly learned how difficult it is to multi-task with reel, depth, wreck and dive to deal with.   Good start, a nice dive with viz in the 40 plus foot range.  We ended up with a 130 ft dive for a 50 minute run time.

The Algol was a Navy transport ship that had a long and successful service career from World War II to the Cuban Missile Crisis. After lying in the mothball fleet at Norfolk for some twenty years, she was transferred to the New Jersey Artificial Reef Program and sunk with little fanfare, unlike the much-hyped ( and not much bigger ) Spiegel Grove in Florida.

This is the largest vessel yet used in the New Jersey Artificial Reef Program, and ranks as one of the largest vessels ever used as an artificial reef anywhere. She is also the largest vessel of any kind sunk in this region, excluding the Andrea Doria, and narrowly edging out the San Diego in tonnage.

The Algol is completely intact, upright, and huge. It would take several trips to fully explore it, without doing any penetrations. A good dive can be had on this wreck at almost any depth you want, from the top of the superstructure at 70 ft to the main deck at 110 ft to the sand at 140 ft. Since its sinking, currents have scoured out a hole around the hull that is significantly deeper than the 125 ft of the surrounding area.  The cargo holds are also quite deep, but are filling up with silt.

Since it was sunk as an artificial reef, considerable effort was put into cleaning and opening up the Algol before it was sunk. All windows and doors are removed, as well as the cargo hold hatches. As a consequence, there are many areas that can be penetrated easily, including much of the superstructure and the cargo holds. Because of its multi-level nature, the Algol is often used for advanced training dives.

No part of either the hull or the superstructure has even begun to collapse yet – even catwalks and railings are solidly in place. The superstructure is like a large three story building. The smokestack has been removed, leaving an ugly teardrop shaped scar which can be used to orient yourself. The fat end of the teardrop points toward the bow, and the narrow end points toward the stern. At the bow and stern, paired tubs for anti-aircraft guns are still evident. There is a large hole into the hold in the port-side hull near the sand below the superstructure, where a hull plate has fallen away.

Our second location was the Klondike Rocks site.  All along the coast there are natural rock formations in the otherwise sandy or muddy bottom of our underwater environment. The Shrewsbury Rocks are the largest and most well-known of these; the Klondike Rocks further south are similar but lower. Many others are not clearly defined, but are listed as “lumps” or ‘ridges” on fishing charts.

The Artificial Reef Program has greatly augmented the natural hard bottom of the region with millions of tons of dumped rock from construction and dredging projects.  These low outcroppings appear in small to large patches over a two mile area called the Klondike, and elsewhere, at depths ranging from 60 to 90 feet. The overhangs, crags, and holes afforded by the piles of rocks and boulders provide excellent homes for fish and lobsters. Visibility can be great here at times, but today it was in the range of 10-20 ft, mostly due to the silty bottom in most places. It’s easy to get lost here, so it was another dive for the reels to be employed to make sure we had our “breadcrumb trail” to get home. 

This site proved productive as we ended up with four nice bugs in the bag, and I missed a monster that had to be at least 10 pounds!   Our profile for this dive was 81 ft for a total run time of 60 minutes.  Bottom temp was in the 54 degree range, but we were toasty and warm in our Whites and DUI drysuits!