Exploring Bermuda’s Most Famous Shipwreck

March 30, 2013

constellationShe remains the most famous of the hundreds of ships to have come to grief on Bermuda’s reefs — the four-masted, 192-foot long wooden hulled schooner “Constellation” immortalised in Peter Benchley’s bestselling novel “The Deep” and the subsequent 1977 film adaptation.

Built and launched in 1918, in July, 1943 the “Constellation” — renamed the “Goliath” in Mr. Benchley’s book — was bound for Venezuela when she headed for Bermuda for repairs after floundering for several days.

On July 31, while waiting for a local pilot to bring her into port, the “Constellation” [pictured above] was driven by a strong current onto the reef to the north east of the island where she sank in 30 feet of water. The ship was a total loss though some salvage was carried out at the time of her sinking by local sailor and shipwright Albert [Bert] Darrell.

“The ‘Constellation’, a four-masted schooner on her way from New York to Venezuela when she sank in 1943, loaded down with an inventory so diverse that it must have resembled a floating K-Mart,” said Mr. Becnhley. “She carried a cargo of Scotch whiskey [which vanished within about five minutes of its discovery], tennis rackets, cement, radios, cosmetics, yo-yos, cheap glassware, barrels of crockery, crucifixes and medicinal drugs: hundreds of thousands of ampoules of adrenaline, iodine, penicillin, opium in alcohol, morphine and heroin.

“For decades after the sinking, a probing hand could free a cache of ampoules from the sand, and they would float and dance like tiny Tinkerbells in the shallow, sun-dappled water.”

Opening sequence of “The Deep” [1977]

The bestselling author of “Jaws” and other maritime novels continued: “In the mid-1970′s, I used the ‘Constellation’ as a model for an adventure story called ‘The Deep’, and after the film was shot in Bermuda, the ship became a major tourist attraction.

“Divers would find ampoules on the wreck and take them home as souvenirs, a practice that gave customs officials migraines and caused innumerable planes to be delayed, for although the Food and Drug Administration declared that the drugs had long since become inert, United States Customs officials tested the narcotics and found them to be active indeed.”

The “Constellation” sits in 35 feet of water some four miles north northwest from Daniels Head and centres around a massive pile of cement bags with remnants of her general cargo broken and strewn on the bottom.

“Goods from the ship were salvaged at the time of her sinking as were many parts of the ship,” says a report on the wreck posted by Bermuda’s Department of Conservation Services. “A portion of her rigging could be seen until [recently] as part of the flagpole at the Royal Bermuda Yacht Club and some of her sails were discovered in near perfect condition under Bert Darrell’s Boat Shed on Harbour Road in the 1990s prior to its destruction.

Divers explore the wreck of the “Constellation”

“Anyone riding the Paget ferry can see the 40-foot remains of the lower parts of one of her massive masts resting on the rocks below Harbour Road just prior to the Belmont ferry dock.”

The “Constellation” is extensively dived by the local dive operators and toured by the glass bottom boats. The wreck was surveyed by the Bermuda Maritime Museum in 1996.

This wreck is part of the Bermuda Shipwreck Certificate Program instituted by the Department of Tourism.

It is also buoyed under the Bermuda Dive Sites program established by the Marine Environmental Committee of the Bermuda National Trust in association with the Ministry of the Environment and is a protected site with a 300 metre no fishing limitation.

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Category: All, Entertainment, Environment, Films/Movies, History

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  1. Doug says:

    neat article. Thanks!