How two ships in the age of radar and on a clear day could collide on the open sea is a mystery. Nonetheless, we now have the Pinta as one of the best dive sites in New Jersey. This relatively small vessel lies on its port side on a clean sandy bottom. It is still quite recognizable as a ship, and is the perfect size for sightseeing - you can swim from end to end several times on a single tank of air. It also makes a good multi-level training dive.
The first time I saw the Pinta in 1995, the hull was still pretty much intact ( as illustrated below ), but it is now really beginning to decay. The bow is still in good shape, but the rest of the wreck is wrecked. Little of the top hull-side remains aft of the break amidships. The stern is exploded, and I believe the engine room is now open.
The now-exposed engine
On the back side of the wreck, the bottom of the ship is covered with nice mussels, while the top of the wreck is covered with beautiful anemones and hydroids. Fish abound, some large ones, and lobsters can be found in the spaces between the wood planks, although this small wreck can and does get fished-out pretty quickly.
There don't seem to be any really good clear pictures of the Pinta.
Timbers spilled out of the cargo hold into the sand
The Dutch freighter Pinta was built in 1959 by N.V. Bodewes shipbuilders, along with her two sister ships, the Nina and the Santa Maria. She measured 194' feet long, with a 31' beam and a draft of nearly 13', and weighed just over 1000 tons deadweight. The ship was powered by an oil engine and a single screw.
Operated by Dammers & van der Heide's Shipping and Trading Company, the Pinta would travel between New York City and Central America, stopping at other east coast US ports to discharge cargo. On May 7, 1963, the ship was en route to New York, nearly empty after discharging most of her cargo of Central American lumber in Norfolk, Virginia. At dusk that evening, the Pinta was cruising off the coast of New Jersey, along with the 10,700-deadweight-ton British freighter City of Perth.
Just before 8:00 PM, the larger ship rammed the Pinta hard just forward of the bridge. The Pinta immediately began taking on water, and she disappeared beneath the waves less than an hour later. Captain Alie Korpelshoek gave the order to abandon ship after the collision, and all twelve crew members escaped in the ship's lifeboat and were picked up by the City of Perth.
The cause of this accident remained a mystery to the American press. The weather was clear, with visibility reported as 15 miles, winds of 17 knots, and three to four foot seas. As the collision occurred in international waters between two foreign flag vessels, the U.S. Coast Guard did not investigate. The shipping company's lawyer enjoined the Pinta's crew to silence after their rescue as well.
While the sinking of the Pinta was not a major maritime disaster, with no loss of life and only minor injuries to the crew, there was great personal hardship involved. The one woman on the ship's crew, Rita Wollenswinkel-Huveneers, recalls an unpleasant life aboard ship and after the accident.
At the age of 28, she was a newlywed when she and her husband, the ship's Navigating Officer, joined the Pinta's crew. They had difficulty with the rest of the crew, ten jealous men, for the eleven months they were at sea. The young couple had all of their possessions with them, and everything went down with the ship. Although the shipping company was insured, and received compensation when the collision was determined to be caused by a malfunction of the steering gear on the City of Perth, the crew received nothing. To add insult to injury, the crew was not allowed to speak to the press at all, not even to correct errors in the news reports about them.
Marine growth and a school of baby Sea Bass crowd the top of the wreck.
Since the wreck collapsed, it no longer looks like this.
I caught this little lobster in the sand around the back side of the wreck, and carried him up to the top where the light is better. Lobsters don't have much stamina, and after a few minutes of tickling, it thrashed itself into exhaustion and became an obliging photo subject. I set him down in a nice patch of anemones, took a few shots, and then let him disappear into a crack in the hull.
Cunners and white coral on one of the masts.
Although it's not far offshore, the Pinta is a relatively long drive from any port. If it turns out to be occupied, there are few alternates to choose from in the area, so you may get a "New Deal".