Follow us on 
Aqua Explorers, Inc.

 
 
 
The Suffolk Shipwreck  New York and New England's (Wreck Valley)
Historical and current New York and New England Shipwreck Information and images for scuba divers and fisherman.
 

SUFFOLK

The Suffolk was a coal coiler, built in 1911 by New York Ship Building, Camden, New Jersey. She was owned by Sprag Steamship Co. located in Boston. She was 366 feet long, had a 50 foot beam and displaced 4,607 gross tons.

On December 11, 1943,while en route from Norfolk to Boston with a cargo of coal, she was caught in a northeast gale. The steel hulled coiler couldn't take the pounding and went down, taking all 36 crew and six Navy armed guards with her.

According to Captain Steve Bielenda, the Suffolk is now sitting in 180 to 190 feet of water approximately 25 miles south of Montauk Point. She is broken in two with her stern resting at a right angle to her main wreckage. The stern is resting on her side while the rest of the vessel is upside down. This wreck is heavily fished for cod and pollock and is literally covered with high test monofilament. Hank Garvin, who is one of only a hand full of divers to visit this wreck, confirms reports of heavy monofilament on the wreck and went on to tell me of a diver who was so entangled in the fishing line that if it weren't for his buddy, he would not have been able to cut his way out. To say the least, this wreck is only for the experienced deep diver and is definitely a two knife dive.

The following is an article by Capt Eric Takakjian and Dave Morton

Twenty two miles southeast of Block Island lies one of New England's better kept deep wreck diving secrets-the grave of the Suffolk, a steam collier which went down in a storm in 1943, with all hands. Built in 1911 at the New York shipbuilding Corp, in Camden, NJ, with a length of 365', a 50' beam and a displacement of 4,607gross tons, the Suffolk served her owners, the C.H. Spraque Steamship Co. of Boston, well over the years. She was a veteran of many trips carrying coal from Newport News and Baltimore to various northeast ports. Although over 30 years old, the boat was still well liked by her crew, and her captain, Charles Tistle, and the chief engineer, Irving Bennett. Both often referred to her affectionately as a "good old job." Her hull had begun to show signs of her age, however, and temporary steel plate patches had to be welded to her hull over recently discovered holes, just weeks before her final voyage.

On December 9th,1943, the Suffolk departed Newport News, VA, fully loaded but not past her marks with 6,798 tons of coal, bound for Boston, on what appeared to be another routine early winter voyage. All that changed on the morning of the 11th, when the eastern seaboard was struck without warning with a severe winter storm. Winds reached 60 knots, causing ships in the relative safety of Boston and New York Harbors to drag their anchors. The Suffolk was far from the safety of any harbor, and bore the brunt of the sudden storm, no doubt battling violent sea sand severe icing. At 11:43 A.M. the Suffolk could take no more, and broad cast her first distress call, "We are listing heavily, need help," which was repeated just 3 minutes later, and received at the Amagansett Coast Guard Station. Only twenty minutes later at 12:03, the Suffolk sent what was to be her last message, "We are foundering- we need help immediately." Six Navy destroyers and three naval tugs were dispatched to the last reported position to search for the Suffolk, and any signs of her crew, which consisted of 37 merchant seamen, and 6 naval gunners.

The naval vessels searched throughout the night without success. Early the next morning, five of the destroyers were recalled to New York. The search was continued with there maining destroyer, three tugs, planes and a blimp until the afternoon of the13th, but no trace of the Suffolk was found.

Eighteen days later, a life raft containing the bodies of two of the crew members was located by the USS Reeves, over 300 miles south from where the Suffolk went down. The ships doctor determined that the two had died of exposure at least two days prior to being found.

On December 22nd, a naval tug made sonar contact with an object 35 miles east of the Suffolk's last reported position, and then depth-charged the contact believing it was aU-Boat. Upon close examination of the debris that floated to the surface, it was determined that this was in fact the final resting place of the Suffolk.

The Suffolk definitely lies on the outer edge of New England diving. Its location in 190feet of water almost 35 miles off the mainland invokes respect from even the most seasoned deep wreck diver. Very little is known about diving the Suffolk, mainly because there have been relatively few dives made on the wreck in the 50years that she has been down. Only a handful of charters have actually made the trek out, and have been met with a variety of conditions, typical for such an offshore site. Some information written about diving the Suffolk has described her as a deep, dark, unforgiving wreck with lots of monofilament, which certainly can be true. the wreck does have its share of mono, fishnet, and dragger shrapnel, and divers must use extreme care when navigating about the wreck. When in 190 feet of water, add in bad visibility and dubious surface conditions, the recipe is about complete for a dangerous dive. But when the sea cooperates the Suffolk can be an awesome dive

Such conditions were present in early July 1993 when the Grey Eagle left Rhode Island on the first charter to the Suffolk in seven years. With oily flat seas and a promising forecast, the boat steamed towards the rising sun. As we approached the wreck site, we thought we had been beaten out to the wreck by a boat full of cod jiggers, but we were relieved to find that the other boat was drift fishing for blues. As the marker line went over the side we were thrilled to observe 30feet of vertical visibility.

the tie in team went over the side. in minutes the cups were floating on the surface. Lines were secured, oxygen was deployed, and all the divers were in. Artifacts recovered that day would include the 24 inch brass engine order alarm bell, and brass engine gauge.

the mooring line was shackled into a deck plate about 40 feet forward of the stern, in 42 degrees water with visibility that was at least 30 feet, but could have been pushing50. Dive lights were only needed to illuminate the inner reached of the engine room, as most of the interior was exposed through the broken hull.

The Suffolk lies turned turtle on the bottom, but the stern area has plenty of openings, most likely caused by the depth charge attack during the war. One hole in the engine room is so large, an ill fated 20 foot long scallop dragger rig rests inside. Rumors of lots of monofilament were definitely true, but the wreck has no more than any other well fished wreck in New England, and perhaps less than some of the heavily fished wrecks south of New York, such as the Arundo. The propeller is still in place, providing a great photo opportunity, although the rudder is missing, which may have been a major cause of the sinking.

Brass shone like gold from the dive lights everywhere you looked, and artifact hunting divers were limited by having to make decisions as to what to take, and what to leave behind. Others were just content to use their limited bottom time on the one scheduled dive to see as much of the wreck as possible. One dive team observed what looked like the engine order telegraph hanging upside down from a deck plate only 20 feet from the anchor line, but had neither the tools nor the time to further investigate their discovery. It's good to see that the years have been kind to her underwater, and the Suffolk can still be referred to as "a good old job".

Remember penetration into any shipwreck should only be done by those with proper training, experience and wreck diving equipment. Scuba equipment like powerful dive lights, navigation reels, dive knives as well as redundant air supply like a pony bottle or doubles are standard gear for wreck divers.
 

The Suffolk Shipwreck.

The Suffolk Shipwreck.

Artifacts from The Suffolk Shipwreck.

 
   

 

 

 

 
 

Shipwreck Expo Free Newsletter
Sign up for our free e-mail shipwreck, diving and Treasure Hunting newsletter. Capt. Dan Berg has designed this e-mail service for all wreck divers, maritime historians and treasure hunters.
 

Subscribe Now


 

Follow us on 
 Wreck Valley Charters