by Jeff Goodreau
With a strong south wind blowing yesterday, and a building forecast, we decided to stay inshore and chip away at a mystery wreck we've come back to several times over the years. In 1945 the Navy dropped a diver on an unknown target off Hampton New Hampshire. The navy diver returned to the surface and said the target was a submarine. The navy left behind a bouy to mark the site. In 1947 the Navy returned to the area but was unable to locate the submarine. That is where the story goes cold...
Fast forward 70 odd years…….
While talking to several different commercial fishermen over the past years, they all seem to come back to a Submarine wreck that is said to be "out there". When pressed a little further, you hear about the airplane it had on it's deck, and that it was a French sub, but when asked for a location, they all draw a blank. Their fathers told them about it, or they heard it from an old fisherman, but where could the rumor have started?
In the first half of the 1900's, Portsmouth NH was the hub of the US naval submarine force. Loads of subs came and went during 2 world wars, not all of them American. In fact during WW2 roughly half a dozen British subs were refit at the Portsmouth naval shipyard. Even a French submarine Surcouf, complete with it's deck mounted Besson MB 411 float plane, received a several month refit in Portsmouth. The French crew spent several months roaming around Portsmouth, chatting with locals, even playing in a local soccer match! Several months after the Surcouf left Portsmouth, she was lost in the Atlantic while sailing off the US east coast from Newfoundland to Panama.
So, is the Surcouf sunk off Hampton beach?!?! Unfortunately, No, but it's certainly possible that's where the rumor of the French Sub that's "out there" came from. After all, I suspect "out there" to a local diver and a commercial fishermen, who's spent their life fishing up and down the coast, hundreds of miles offshore, and sometimes thousands of miles from home, are two different things. A matter of perspective I guess, but we still have the problem of what sub did the navy diver see off Hampton.
As wreck divers, when we here submarine, our brains immediately start to run with the thoughts of little germans U- boats dancing in our heads. Could it be a Sub that was trying to land spies like the U-1230 did up in Maine? Did she lurk in close along the gravel bottom, only to run head long into a rock and sink? If it were an Allied sub, we would certainly have some record of it right?
AWOIS 2172 is only 15 miles from a major US submarine base, so it's reasonable to think that subs transited the area. Could it have been a WW1 era scuttle? Could it have been a mishap with an old S boat, and she was left to rot, only to have been accidentally relocated by the navy and that's why the record runs cold after 1947? Maybe the Mark 5 clad Navy diver breathing compressed air at 130+ feet was just narked out of his gourd, and seeing things?
Well after a fun few years of hunting, we finally had a breakthrough on the mystery Great Boars Head submarine...
Yesterday we located, scanned, and dove a target we believe to be the submarine spotted by the Navy in 1945!
Bob Foster and I anxiously geared up aboard the Nomad and rolled over the side. Visibility was a dark 20' as we neared the bottom 130' below the Nomad. I was warmed by the thought I was probably swimming in outfall water from the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant a few miles away. Bob and I tied off our lines and headed off in opposite directions to cover the most ground. A few minutes later I came across a sharp rock ledge, that I recognized from the side scan. Getting my bearings, I followed the ledge around to the south east side and slowly headed off into the murk.
Swimming about 50' I saw a large object looming in front of me. It was rounded and cigar shaped, about 10' high and 15' wide with a bulbous bow. I thought "holy cow am I looking at a submarine"?!
Well, I wasn't, but it was the most submarine looking rock I have ever seen! About 160' long, smooth and rounded, it even had a 15' chunk protruding from it that could certainly be confused as a conning tower, by a narked out navy diver in bad vis, with a dim old halogen light. It certainly had me excited for a few seconds! Swimming back to the line I was scouting out the scallop situation for the upcoming season, when I saw Bob's light come out of the gloom. I took him over and showed him the new found submarine, and he had a good chuckle, agreeing that it really looks like a submarine!
So, we didn't find a submarine, but we had a lot of fun, and that's what counts. You don't have to hit it big every time you hit the water, but you do have to have a good time. That's what really counts in this game, having fun with your friends, and making memories.