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
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
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
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".
penetration into any shipwreck should only
be done by those with proper training, experience and
wreck diving equipment. Scuba equipment
like powerful dive lights,
as well as redundant air supply like a
pony bottle or
are standard gear for wreck divers.
The Suffolk Shipwreck.
The Suffolk Shipwreck.
Artifacts from The Suffolk Shipwreck.