Bermuda is a small mid-ocean island surrounded by shipwrecks dating back several centuries. More than 35 of these sunken ships are accessible to divers. Most are close to shore, within easy reach by dive boat.
Each of these sunken ships would be rated as a terrific dive. But one stands above all the others. It is the biggest and best wreck dive in Bermuda waters, but also the most difficult to reach. That is part of its tantalizing character.
Divers will travel to the ends of the earth for a good wreck dive, and so it is with the Cristobal Colon. She lies 18 miles north of the island, situated on the outer edge of Bermuda's barrier reef where the water is clearest and visibility can range between 100 and 150 feet.
Just about all of Bermuda's dive operators run trips to this wreck, weather permitting. The boat trip can range from an hour to 90 minutes, depending on the point of departure.
Why would divers want to go so far when there are a dozen wrecks within a stone's throw of the island shoreline Because the Cristobal Colon is regarded as Bermuda's Mt. Everest of wreck dives.
A Meadow of Nautical Fragments
What makes this wreck so special is its vast scope and the incredible size of its parts. Acres of sea floor are covered with steam boilers measuring 20 feet in diameter, steel plates, iron beams, coils of pipe, deck machinery and a hundred other fragments from a once great ship. Growing among and around the wreckage in 25 to 55 feet of water is a field of sea fans.
Divers can't help but ponder: What happened here??
Oceanliner of Misfortune
The tale of the Cristobal Colon is a sad one. She was launched in 1921 as one of the world's fastest and most advanced ocean liners. The ship measured 500 feet long, and was powered by eight steam boilers and twin steam turbine engines that could push her along at 16 knots.
The fast-moving Cristobal Colon met its demise on a summer night in 1936. The island's North Rock light was out of order and channel navigation lights misled its captain. The ship collided with the coral reef and ran aground. No amount of effort by tugboats could pull the ship from its perch. The passage of time and subsequent storms took their toll and the ship began to deteriorate.
During World War II, the U.S. Air Force used the wreck for bombing practice. The explosions helped to scatter the ship across the reef and surrounding sea floor.
Getting to dive on the Cristobal Colon is a like spinning the wheel of fortune: You never know when weather conditions will be just right for a trip north. It could be on the first visit to the island or your third.
That's why divers keep coming back to Bermuda year after year. This is indeed a wreck worth waiting for.
If the weather doesn't cooperate, the consolation prize is a chance to dive on a couple dozen other fascinating shipwrecks that are closer to shore.
The best time to dive in Bermuda is the spring and fall months, which is the shoulder season for the island's tourism. July and August are the peak period for non-diving tourists and warm water temperature cause algae blooms that decrease visibility. April, May and June offer the clearest visibility, but the water is chilly and a wetsuit is required. September and October are the most comfortable and visibility is quite clear.