Lights Out! | Sport Diver

Lights Out!

Frying Pan Tower

courtesy Frying Pan Tower

It’s not your typical bed-and-breakfast. About 30 miles off the North Carolina coast, jutting some 80 feet above the ocean, is a one-of-a-kind getaway. The hulking, two-story structure was originally a U.S. Coast Guard light tower. But a Charlotte, North Carolina, software sales engineer has turned it into a vacation destination, perfect for divers.

The Coast Guard built the -125-foot Frying Pan Shoals Light Tower in 1966. Located near Bald Head Island, the tower warned ships of the many shifting sandbars at the confluence of Cape Fear River and the Atlantic Ocean. Cape Fear has a shallow hard bottom that extends like fingers into the ocean; the tower sits on one of them in 45 feet of water.

“You’re out in the middle of nowhere, but you can see the bottom of the ocean,” says Ryan McInnis of Wilmington, a PADI Master Scuba Diver Trainer who’s been diving at the tower many times.

McInnis says the relatively shallow waters around the tower are teeming with a wide variety of fish, including hogfish, angelfish, grouper and snapper, as well as mammoth spiny lobsters. There are also about 10 shipwrecks in the area. In 2010, Richard Neal purchased the -deactivated -tower for $85,000, and has spent the past three years making repairs and renovations. With about 5,000 square feet of living space, -including eight bedrooms, a kitchen and a recreation area, the tower might lack creature comforts but makes up for it with its -unbeatable location.

“The tower always has been like the Holy Grail for divers around here,” says -McInnis. “It’s amazing that you can go dive there and then spend the night.”

Rates start at $498 per person for two nights, including accommodations, meals and the hour-and-a-half boat ride to the tower from Wilmington or Southport.

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