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New Jersey Scuba Diving


New Jersey Scuba Diving

Sandy Hook, Raritan Bay & Environs

NJ Coast Chart

Sandy Hook, Raritan Bay & Environs
Looking northeast: Port Monmouth, Belford, the Navy pier, Sandy Hook,
and Long Island visible faintly in the distance.

This bay is muddy and turbid, although some folks dive the several small wrecks around the inside of Sandy Hook. Bottle hunting around the old piers and pilings in Keyport harbor is also a possibility, but most of the structures along the bay shore are too small and shallow to be of interest. I have scouted the shoreline from Atlantic Highlands to Laurence Harbor, and nothing looks too promising. See also entries on Navesink River and Horseshoe Cove.

Sandy Hook, Raritan Bay & Environs

I have dived Sandy Hook bay on several occasions. The best viz I have seen was almost two feet. None of the dives were "for fun" - all were in shallow water just off the beach ( one under ice ) doing repair work for the marine labs. This would otherwise not be my top choice in dive spots.

Sandy Hook, Raritan Bay & Environs
Belford, wintertime, with ice on the bay and most of the fleet out. Unfortunately, the waters around the jetty are much too shallow for diving.

Sandy Hook, Raritan Bay & Environs

Of some interest is the huge Navy munitions pier associated with Naval Weapons Station Earle, and the large Navy fleet re-supply ships that home-port there.

Sandy Hook, Raritan Bay & Environs
The Navy pier is almost 3 miles long. Too bad you can't dive here ! You can see where the pier was rebuilt and extended.

Sandy Hook, Raritan Bay & Environs
Seen from space. The first time you go near here, you get a warning. The second time, they take your boat away. That's all.

USS Solar

USS Solar

On April 30 1946 the destroyer escort USS Solar ( DE-221 ) exploded at the ammunition pier while unloading munitions. Seven sailors were killed, and 30 dock workers were injured. It is often erroneously reported that there were over 100 casualties.

USS Solar

The forward half of the little ship was peeled open like a sardine can by the blast. Her hulk was towed 100 miles out to sea and scuttled in 700 fathoms of water on June 9 1946. The accident is attributed to detonation of dropped Mousetrap ASW weapon during unloading, which is also thought to be the cause of the loss of the USS Turner.

On morning of 4/30/46 I departed the USS Solar DE-221 approx. 1 hr prior to explosion/s. I had visited with my X-team of ammo handlers (approx. 12)detailed to unload the ships ammo. I returned to my ship (YF 854)approx. 100 yds. away moored bow to stern with an LST in between. I never saw any of my x-teammates again. One of the 3 explosions was a boxcar they were loading with "hedge hogs" whose overhead landed about a half a mile or so on the adjacent parallel pier. The pier along side the ship where the unloading took place had a half moon crater thru about 5' of concrete. I seriously question that the fatalities were only 7 men of the ships crew. Thank you ... your web site does bring back memories.

Signed R.J. Whitsitt, then S/2C 784-09-83.

Alexander Hamilton

Alexander Hamilton
The chart mark in the bay denotes the final resting place of the Alexander Hamilton, alongside the Navy pier in Leonardo. ( Seen here aground on a sandbar in Highlands, circa 1975. )

The Alexander Hamilton was the last of the steam powered side-wheel river boats of the Hudson River Day Line. Built in 1924, she ceased operations in 1971. A well-meaning group pulled the Hamilton from the mud in 1977 and moved her to a temporary berth along the east side of the Navy pier, planning to restore her as a museum. Unfortunately, at the new more-exposed location, the old vessel was sunk and reduced to scrap by a sudden storm in November of that year. The last records indicate that the wreck is still there.

from AWOIS: 3337



Alexander Hamilton
What a pity. Nothing is discernable above water in satellite imagery, although there is a ship-shaped shadow in the water.

Alexander Hamilton
Side-wheels, bow to the north

Alexander Hamilton
2007 NOAA charts still carry a submerged dangerous wreck symbol for the Hamilton, alongside the mid-point of the pier

Alexander Hamilton
In better days

Sidewheels on the Hudson (1971)

We suppose that, to most people, the mention of a steamboat conjures up visions of a stately and speedy excursion vessel, possibly a sidewheeler, with broad decks and lots of cabin space surrounded by glass, which existed only on hot Sunday afternoons and which carried throngs of city folk to the local amusement park. This idea must, we are sure, be held by, thousands of city residents to whom the local excursion steamer was the only ship they ever rode on, or possibly ever saw.

Each major city situated on lake or river had its local version. To Torontonians, it was the mighty beam-engined CHIPPEWA or latterly the CAYUGA; to Buffalo, it was CANADIANA or AMERICANA; to Chicagoans, it was CHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS, and to the holiday crowds in Detroit, it was the "Glass Hack, " TASHMOO, But the times have changed and sweltering city denizens now look elsewhere for amusement! Parks are now places to get to in the family auto and the thought of going by boat does not enter the mind. And well it might not, since the change in travel attitudes has spelled the end for the large excursion steamer. Here and there we find a little diesel tourist boat, or a ferry being used in the excursion trade, but CHIPPEWA and her kind have passed from us.

Well, almost, that is. In one of the most unlikely places, there still operates an example of what older folk remember with nostalgia and what their children do not really comprehend. Yes, ALEXANDER HAMILTON is alive and well and living in New York City, This beautiful, big paddler still runs daily cruises up the Hudson River during the summer months and, we might add from experience, does not suffer from a lack of patronage.

The HAMILTON is now owned by Circle Line Sightseeing Yachts Inc., a most unattractively named company that runs tours of New York harbor and which, several years ago, purchased the last remains of what was generally known as the Hudson River Day Line. Still operating under the Day Line name, ALEXANDER HAMILTON is the last remnant of a fleet that included such notable sidewheelers as MARY POWELL, ALBANY, NEW YORK, ROBERT FULTON, HENDRICK HUDSON, the ill-fated WASHINGTON IRVING and a number of propellers, the last of which was PETER STUYVESANT. The HAMILTON herself was built in 1924 by the Bethlehem Shipbuilding Corp. at Sparrows Point, Maryland. She measures 338.6 feet in length, 77 feet of beam over the guards, and 13.6 feet in depth. Her sidewheels are driven by triple expansion engines having cylinders of 36 1/2, 56 and 85 inches and a stroke of 72 inches, and fed by two single-ended and two double-ended oil-fired Scotch boilers. Her wooden superstructure accommodates four passenger decks.

Each day, shortly after 10:00 a.m., ALEXANDER HAMILTON pulls away from Pier 81, North River, located at the foot of West 42nd Street, and heads upstream. The first stop about two and a half hours distant, is Bear Mountain, the site of a popular state park. The ship fan who, until this landing has had to bear hordes of screaming children, the roar of transistor radios, and the general crush of bodies, will find things much easier past Bear Mountain as the best part of the mob will have rushed ashore, eager to commence the job of filling the park with tons of litter. The steamer continues upstream for another half hour and then calls at West Point, the location of the famous military academy. After a short pause, she departs for a leisurely cruise to Poughkeepsie and back, the stop at this port having been discontinued after the unfortunate disintegration of the wharf some years ago. The ship, after picking up the hordes again at West Point and Bear Mountain, makes her way downstream, arriving back at New York shortly after 7:00 p.m. Considering the distance traveled and the length of time spent aboard, we would class the $5.50 round trip fare to Poughkeepsie as a great bargain and one not to be missed by visitors to New York City.

The ship herself is, of course, the highlight of the trip, although the scenery along the river is very beautiful. Our readers would probably spend most of the trip standing around the engine pit watching the machinery in action. Like most sidewheelers, her engine room is completely open to view. The cabins are, for the most part, devoid of anything interesting, being completely empty save for folding chairs and tables. Twelve parlours are available for those who wish private accommodation. The cabins do contain some old paintings but the years have not treated them kindly, nor have thousands of grubby hands. Generally speaking, the ship's woodwork is in excellent condition. The most interesting part of the upper works is the pilothouse with its huge nameboard and the massive pilot wheels, kept as standby in case of failure of the steam steering gear.

Passengers desiring good food aboard ALEXANDER HAMILTON will have to bring it with them, as dining facilities leave much to be desired. The beautiful dining room, located aft on the main deck, with its huge observation windows and gold trim, has deteriorated to a grease joint, the like of whose food and service your editor has never seen and never wishes to see. This can, however, be excused up to a certain point because of the masses of people carried, making gracious dining an impossibility.

All in all, the HAMILTON is well worth a trip to New York, but you had better make it soon! The Day Line has ordered and will soon take delivery of a diesel powered abortion to be christened DAYLINER. She is allegedly intended to replace the venerable steamer and the HAMILTON is said to be headed for retirement after her last sailing of the season on Labor Day, The company has refused to commit itself on this point in view of the good business enjoyed by the operation, and it is still possible that the ship will be retained. Nevertheless, being of wood above the main deck, she cannot last forever and maintenance will some day reach the point where cost will dictate a retirement, even if the ship survives the upcoming crisis.

If retired, ALEXANDER HAMILTON seems headed for the South Street Seaport museum development, but think how much better it would be to see her in operation now. Where else in 1971 can you get a nine hour ride on a steam powered sidewheeler?

Reproduced for the Web with the permission of the Toronto Marine Historical Society

Alexander Hamilton Wreckage
What's left of the Alexander Hamilton - what a shame.

This pair of engines and other wreckage is visible at very-low tide just east of Belford, within the security zone of the Navy Pier. What could this be? ( This is the exposed-wreck symbol at the bottom of the chart image above. )

from AWOIS: 6834


Horseshoe Cove - Sandy Hook, NJ

NJ Coast Chart

Horseshoe Cove - Sandy Hook
Looking north, with New York City faintly visible in the distance.
Horseshoe Cove is the second from the top, on the bay side.

bayside saltwater cove
20 ft max

Horseshoe Cove - Sandy Hook

By Darren O'Shea

Horseshoe Cove is a shallow-bottomed mile-wide body of water about mid-way on the bay side of Sandy Hook, opposite Atlantic Highlands. This area has a long and interesting history, and in conversation with National Parks Service historian Tom Hoffman, I learned much of it.

Horseshoe Cove - Sandy HookIn the 1860's speculators realized the resort potential of Sandy Hook, and began petitioning the government for its development. As a result, in 1864, the northern terminus of the Sandy Hook Seaside Railroad was constructed at Horseshoe Cove, along with a complex of piers and docks. From this point, steamships ran to and from New York. Mr. Hoffman claims that not one photograph exists of this bustling facility. All that remains are the decomposing wooden bulkheads and pilings out in the water.

In earlier times, many old vessels were simply abandoned in the bay. The list includes just about every type of watercraft design: barges, lighters, tugs, and schooners. In the years 1870-1930 small bands of squatters and their families actually took up residence on many of these hulks. In addition to this, the two-day blizzard of March 1888 saw more than a half-dozen Sandy Hook pilot boats sunk here. Seeking shelter from the storm, they were crushed by the thickening pack ice on the bay.

Horseshoe Cove - Sandy Hook
Nineteenth-century pilot boat

Horseshoe Cove - Sandy Hook
The author surveys ice on the bay, 1999.

Fort Hancock, part of the harbor defenses for New York, grew steadily after the turn of the century, and by the end of World War Two 18,000 men and women were on duty within the garrison. During the Cold War, Sandy Hook became a Nike missile base, until it was finally deactivated in1974.

So what does all this have to do with diving? Over the years, soldiers, sailors, fishermen, railroad workers, residents, tourists, and many others have made their way through the area, and left behind their refuse. And as we all know, one man's garbage can be another man's treasure.

Horseshoe Cove - Sandy Hook
Artifacts discovered by the author, including brass padlock at left
and inkwell, center.

For artifact hunters, Horseshoe Cove has always been a productive dive-site. To date, I have found medicine bottles, glass trays, ceramic light-receptacles, a brass padlock, and period fishing lures and lead sinkers, along with soda bottles from local companies that have since gone out of business. Large chunks of bunker coal can be seen littering the bottom as well.

Among my favorite finds are a clear inkwell that was molded for the American Standard Ink Co. of Frederick, Maryland, and a bell-shaped blue-glass bottle from the S&M Bixby Co., displaying a patent date of March 6 1883. There are also a great many whiskey flasks, probably discarded by workers trying to keep warm on cold winter days. Experienced artifact hunters know to scan a scene for green, the telltale color of corroded brass, copper, and bronze in the water. But have you ever attempted scouting for anything green in a garden of Sea Lettuce?

Horseshoe Cove - Sandy HookHorseshoe Cove is an easy dive. I prefer diving the cove during any syzygial (new moon or full moon) spring tide, when the increased tidal range translates into added water depth. Springtime, naturally, offers outstanding visibility. The few times that we hit the water in early April we were almost guaranteed a visit by a curious and very playful Harbor Seal that I call 'Nosey'.

I make it a point to enter the water at "The Spit." Located on the leeward side of this hooked piece of beachfront is a deeper basin of water (approx. 9-15ft.) that acts as a catch-all for artifacts. As I have witnessed several times in the past, when the winds blow down from any northerly direction, the heavily agitated bay is driven up and over this outstretched arm of low-lying sand. Coupled with the effect of a flood tide, any object that is caught in this flow is pulled from the bay and settles into the basin. By keeping an eye on the weather, and planning your dive on the next favorable spring or high tide and soon after any sustained blow from those quarters, artifact hunting should be at its best.

The following rules apply to diving on the bay side of Sandy Hook:

The rangers will direct you where to park your vehicle. From there it's a short walk to the water, being mindful of the poison ivy lining the path.

Periodically, the National Geologic Survey asks volunteer divers to aid them in their underwater research at Sandy Hook, particularly at Horseshoe Cove. If interested, phone Mr. Hoffman at the Park's Visitor's center.

Park Ranger's Office: 732-872-5900
Visitor's center: 732-872-5970

Information and pictures courtesy of diver Darren O'Shea

Horseshoe Cove - Sandy Hook

Navesink River - Highlands, NJ

NJ Coast Chart

Navesink River - Highlands
Looking west, Twin Lights at top center.

tidal river / inlet
30 ft max

Navesink River - Highlands

Above: picture taken from high up in the north tower at Twin Lights. The dive area is at the base of the bridge, beyond the red roof. The turn-off from Rt. 36 is visible at the lower left; Sandy Hook in the background. On a good day, the view from up here is really terrific, and the lighthouse itself houses an interesting little museum of shipwrecks, lighthouses, and nautical things. Note the strong currents swirling around the piers of the old bridge and in the boat channel. This is not a place for beginners !

Enter the water from the little beach right across from the Careless Navigator restaurant. The water is normally murky but you can almost always rely on 4 ft of viz on the bottom. The currents are very strong under the bridge and we bring a line in with us that we normally tie off somewhere so we can pull ourselves safely back out if necessary ( which we have needed to do on many occasions. )

Navesink River - Highlands
Not sure what to make of this sign. I think it means no diving in the swimming area. A nearby sign says no scuba diving in the swimming area.

There are a lot of bottles all over the area, and some pretty old ones. I recovered a round bottom from the 1800's in perfect condition and a Gulden's Mustard jar from the early 1900's on my last dive. Anything from beer bottles to soda bottles to milk bottles, perfume bottles etc Apart from bottles there is a lot of odd junk that was probably dumped or thrown off the bridge over the years, and abundant plant life, but little in the way of fish or lobsters is evident.

Depths are about 30 ft by the first bridge support piling, pretty shallow behind the houses that are on the water ( 10-12 ft. ) Boat traffic can be heavy during the summer months, but all but the smallest boats keep to the channel. Since smaller boats will stray into the shallows, a flag is essential for safety as well as lawful requirements. Slack tide can run very short sometimes which can cut a dive short. All in all though, its a pretty good dive and one of my favorites.

Since this is a tidal river, you must dive at slack water. If you've never dived a local river or inlet before, you may want to look at the page on Local Diving Conditions.

This information courtesy of Ted Wittke - Point Pleasant First Aid & Emergency Squad Dive Team

Navesink River - Highlands

Raritan River

NJ Coast Chart

Dive here? You must be kidding !



I make no claim as to the accuracy, validity, or appropriateness of any information found in this website. I will not be responsible for the consequences of any action that is based upon information found here. Scuba diving is an adventure sport, and as always, you alone are responsible for your own safety and well being.

Copyright © 1996-2016 Rich Galiano
unless otherwise noted



since 2016-09-11