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The Bronx Queen Shipwreck  New York and New Jersey's (Wreck Valley)

Historical and current New York and New Jersey Shipwreck Information and images for scuba divers and fisherman.
 

The Bronx Queen is a fairly new addition to Wreck Valley, a popular area of shipwrecks off the Long Island and New Jersey shores. This wood hulled fishing boat was cruising off Breezy Point on December 2nd, 1989, when suddenly the Captain heard a loud thump. Within 15 minutes the boat had sunk, leaving 19 people floundering in bitter cold water. The Coast Guard responded quickly to the distress call and was able to retrieve all passengers and crew from the water within two hours. Unfortunately, two of the victims died later in the hospital, one from exposure and the other from a heart attack.  

During the winter months diving off Long Island, New York, slows down drastically. We get to enjoy an occasional beach dive, but due to sea conditions and the bitter cold temperatures, getting offshore can be quite difficult. I had just returned from a rather dull beach dive, when my wife Denise, showed me a newspaper clipping about the Bronx Queen sinking. All that was said in the small article was that a fishing boat had sunk in bad weather off New Jersey. I made a few phone calls and soon found out that this was not a common small fishing boat as the paper had led me to believe.

 The Bronx Queen turned out to be the converted Submarine Chaser SC-635. She was 110 feet long, had a 15 foot beam and was built by Mantis Yacht Building Co, Camden, NJ. The SC-635 was launched on October 12, 1942, and commissioned on October 23. She displaced 116 tons and had a top speed of 18 knots. Subchasers were not in service when America entered World War II, and U-Boats were making numerous sinking's of American vessels along the east coast. Once operational, sub chasers  contributed as a deterrent. These sleek fast vessels would patrol the coast forcing U-Boats to spend much more of their time beneath the surface, thus exhausting their batteries and reducing their effectiveness. Although as a group the United States fleet of over 400 subchasers was credited with only one verified U-Boat sinking, it is accepted that they were effective in helping to curb the U-Boats' menacing effect on our vessels. On October 19, 1945, the SC-635 was transferred to the Coast Guard. She was later sold, converted into a fishing charter vessel and renamed the "Bronx Queen".

 Now my curiosity was really aroused. Within a few weeks of her sinking I had obtained the wreck's location. These Loran numbers would be all we needed to locate the wreck. The following day Rick Schwarz, Steve Jonassen, Billy Campbell, Hank Garvin, Art Kirchner, Jozef Koppelman, Charlie Guttilla, a hand full of other wreck divers and I boarded a dive boat and headed out to the wreck site. It was a beautiful winter day. Sea conditions were only one to two feet and the sun was shinning. We had no idea of what type of conditions to expect or what we would find. The Bronx Queen had gone down in only 35 feet of water, very close to New York's main shipping channel. One of our main concerns was getting to the wreck before she was wire dragged by the Army Corps of Engineers since a wreck like this one would surely be declared a hazard to navigation, due to her high relief and proximity to the shipping channel. The next major consideration was the two to four knot current that is usually present in the area  as well as the notorious poor visibility. Our only solution was to plan the dive at slack tide and keep our fingers crossed.

 On January 6, 1990, less than a month after her sinking, I became the first sport diver to descend through the icy waters and reach the Bronx Queen. What I found was what every wreck diver dreams of, a "virgin shipwreck". Portholes, fishing poles, and brass cage lamps were everywhere. The Bronx Queen was resting on a sand bottom sitting upright and leaning about 40 degrees to her port side. Her pilot house had been torn away, apparently during the sinking, and was scattered in the sand next to the wreck. In her stern the name Bronx Queen could still be read. This was a dive I will always remember, being the first to explore a virgin shipwreck is a thrilling experience, but hopefully not a once in a life time thrill.

 Since that first dive the Bronx Queen has changed drastically. In fact, when I returned in April, with Captain Steve Bielenda of the R.V. Wahoo, I thought I had anchored on the wrong wreck. The wreckage looked as if it had been down for over 30 years. Marine growth covered everything and black fish, starfish, lobsters and sea bass now inhabited the site. The wreck had also broken down dramatically. We speculated that she must have been wire dragged because  most of the wreckage is now pulled off and scattered in a debris field off her port side.

 

Divers will now find the scattered, low lying, remains of the Bronx Queen sitting in 37 feet of water only a half mile from the Ambrose Channel 2A buoy. Her bow section is separated from the rest of the wreck and sits on its port side. Her huge diesel engines remain upright and provide the highest relief on the wreck. The engines are also wear divers will find the greatest concentration of fish. All that remains of her stern are some ribs and planking. Divers have recovered all types of interesting and unique artifacts from this wreck including rectangular brass portholes, cage lamps, anchors, brass valves, the brass letters off her stern, and her starboard running lantern. Artifacts can still be found on the Bronx Queen by carefully searching through her stern section or by digging in the debris field off her port side. Remember, this is not the wreck to go wondering off on. Each diver should know exactly where the dive boat's anchor is located and should be able to return and ascend up that anchor at the end of the dive. If you were to come up away from the dive boat, it would be impossible to swim against the current back to the dive boat.

 The Bronx Queen is one of my favorite shallow water wreck dives within "Wreck Valley". This site is not situated in the best location for recreational sport divers and because of the currents and limited visibility normally present in the area, advanced training and experience is highly recommended. I would also recommend planning to dive the wreck at high slack, which will give divers the best chance at good visibility and calm water.

 For those who would like to experience the thrill of diving the Bronx Queen without dealing with the currents and limited visibility Aqua Explorer Productions has filmed a half hour documentary on the wreck. The show titled "DIVE WRECK VALLEY, BRONX QUEEN"

 

 

 

Bronx Queen Propeller Salvage

As I impatiently sat on the ocean bottom, with video camera in hand and watched Hank Garvin and Jerry Moran slowly start to fill the 6,000 pound lift bag, I knew this salvage operation was finally going to be successful. We had started over three months and thirty dives ago. In the interim I had learned quite a bit about heavy salvage. The artifact we were attempting to raise was a four foot in diameter bronze propeller. The dive team members were all recreational wreck divers with plenty of light artifact salvage, but no commercial cutting experience, most of our problems and failures started when we attempted to cut through the four inch bronze propeller shaft, that held the prop in place.

 It all started nearly two years ago when Joe Koppelman and I spotted the glimmer of brass under a wood wreck off New Jersey. The artifact turned out to be the brass propeller. Since the prop was still firmly attached, all we did at the time was photograph it then carry on with our exploration. Earlier this year I started to think about the possibilities of recovering the propeller. If I had realized then how much effort it would take I may have never started the project.

 Having a machinist background it was fairly easy to calculate the weight of the propeller. My estimate was that the prop weighed 800 pounds and the prop shaft weighed 44 pounds per foot. This particular propeller was variable pitch and had a huge V-strut mounted aft of the prop. This bronze V-strut was calculated to weigh approximately 300 pounds.

 

 The first task was simply to re-visit the wreck take a good long look at the artifact and devise a plan of removal. When we descended everything seemed to be fairly simple and straight forward. My dive partner, Doctor Steve Lombardo and I, decided to unbolt the V-strut first, remove it separately, and then cut through the four inch prop shaft. This was easier said than done, and we realized our fool proof plan may have some flaws. The V-strut was secured with ten one inch diameter bolts. Each had two nuts which over the course of time had been locked on and were now permanently fixed by marine growth. After four dives, the purchase of a 1 11/16 deep socket and a lot of aching muscles, Joel Silverstein and myself were finally able to removed the nuts. The next step was to drive out each bolt. I had brought a 3/4 inch stainless shaft to drive out the two foot long bolts, but even this seemingly easy task gave us trouble. The wood around each bolt was water logged and had expanded causing an extremely tight hold on the bolts. Using a ten pound sledge hammer it took another two dives to remove all of the bolts. Keep in mind that this wreck sits in only 40 feet of water and each diver was wearing double 80 cubic foot tanks. Each dive lasted upwards of two hours, so six dives multiplied by two divers and the dive time calculates to close to 24 hours of bottom time just to unbolt the strut.

On the next trip to the wreck site we planned to remove and lift the strut, but after two dives with crow bars and lift bags we failed. In a last ditch effort we attached a line from the strut up to the dive boat and pulled with the Liomar's engines, but to our surprise all that happened was that our line snapped. The strut was wedged into position with the wrecks hull planks on top and the propeller on the bottom. Jerry Moran, who owns and operates the Liomar returned a week latter and was successful. He used a hydraulic jack to pump up the wreck and then sent the strut to the surface with a five hundred pound lift bag.

 After Jerry's success the dive team was hyped and ready to work. Although the wreck was in shallow water it also happened to be near the shipping lanes and had a ripping current. In fact at times the current was so strong that I could not even pull myself down the anchor line to get to the wreck. Keeping these conditions in mind I borrowed a small pneumatic disc grinder, and rigged it to a scuba tank. We rigged a weight to the tank and sent it down the anchor independent of a diver, Rick Schwarz and I then we descended, moved it into position and started to cut. Everything seemed to go to smoothly and before long I was grinding a neat thin slice into the top of the bronze shaft. The only problem was that after five minutes the grinder had consumed all the air in the tank and had only just scratched the massive shaft's surface. At this rate the job would literally take forever.

 I phoned my friend Captain Steve Bielenda from the Research Vessel Wahoo, who in turn called Captain Don Schnell. Don lent us a set of underwater torches that would quickly cut through the shaft, but first I had to learn how to use them. In Steve Bielenda's driveway I learned. The torches are similar to arc welding. There is a striker plate that's attached by cable to the negative terminal of a 12 volt battery and a torch head that has an oxygen line attached by hose to an oxygen supply and a cable attached to the batteries positive side. The rods are about 18 inches long, are hollow and have magnesium shafts inside the external tube. The torch head has a trigger that allows the diver to turn on the flow of oxygen that is pumped through the hollow rod. In order to cut the rod must be inserted into the torch head. The rod is then struck against the striker plate, which causes an arc. Once the magnesium is ignited the torch continues to burn until the oxygen, which is controlled with a trigger, is cut off. The torch burns at around 10,000 degrees. By practicing on land I was able to cut through a variety of steel and stainless steel objects. The next step was to practice in the water before returning to the wreck sight.

 I picked up a piece of two inch stainless steel shafting to practice on. Stainless cuts very similar to bronze. In other words it does not cut as easily as steel does it merely melts. The diver must then pull or push the molten metal out of the cutting groove, with the rod. A concern when cutting underwater is that if the oxygen were allowed to accumulate in an air pocket near the torches arc, a small explosion could take place. Fortunately their is no way for that to happen when cutting a shaft. I suited up and jumped into to a murky creek to practice. Within no time at all I was hacking away at the stainless shaft. This was great, I figured it would take me only 25 minutes and about 12 rods to burn through the larger bronze shaft. Over the next few weeks weather made a turn for the worse. We were hit by two major storms that delayed our salvage operation.

 Finally back on the wreck sight we carefully moored ourselves into position. A sand anchor held our bow up current while a stern mooring allowed us a near vertical descent through the swift current. Joe Boccino and I jumped in to do the cut. Steve Lombardo had already secured the torches to the wreck and had dug out the shaft, which had been buried in sand. We got to the bottom and arranged the torch head and striker plate. Joe inserted a rod into the torch and tried to ignite it. At that point we knew that something was wrong. The torch was sparking but the magnesium was not igniting. Finally after a good ten minutes we managed to get one rod to ignite. Joe pushed it into the shaft and melted a descent groove before the rod had consumed itself. Over the next two hours we only ignited two additional rods. It seems that the power supply had failed and we were just not getting enough juice through the cable.

 On our next trip we took another approach to the project. Steve Lombardo unbolted the propeller shaft coupling just aft of the engine. The shaft was now only attached to the wreck at her stuffing box where the shaft comes through the hull. Steve had a friend with a tug boat and our plan was to attach a steel cable to the propeller and rip the prop free from the wreck. After a little discussion, Steve and I both decided to abort this plan. We felt that the tug would destroy the wreck and we wanted to almost surgically remove the propeller, without harming the wreck above and next to it.

 The next weekend we were back on the wreck sight. This time I had called upon the assistance of another friend, Bart Cariello, who owns Barton Commercial Diving Supply. He lent me a gas powered 11 horse power hydraulic grinder, with 75 feet of hose. I descended once again, this time determined to get through the stubborn shaft. We worked in teams of two, first Joe and myself, then Jerry and Steve. Finally I went back in and finished the cut after nearly three hours of grinding. We decided not to lift the propeller immediately since it was getting to be mid-afternoon and the sun would be going down soon. We had also missed slack and during our last dive visibility had reduced to less then one foot. It was just not the time to drag a 6,000 pound lift bag into the water.

 With the diving season in New York rapidly coming to an end we made one last trip to the wreck. It was a beautiful, sunny November morning. Again we set up a stern mooring and descended to accomplish our plan. This time everything went like clockwork. I had set the anchor and rigged the propeller with a cable sling. Hank and Jerry dragged down the huge lift bay and secured it to the cable sling with a shackle. As air was added the big bag un furled to stand a full ten feet tall. It only took another few minutes for the prop to pull out of the sand and the bag to hit the surface. In fact the bag surfaced at 10:30 AM. By noon we were on our way back to Staten Island. The only thing I had not calculated correctly was the drag caused by towing the massive lift bag and prop. We tugged along at only two knots instead of the planned six knots, and therefore missed passing the inlet at high slack. We had one more nervous moment when we realized the propeller was suspended at least ten feet below the surface. We all had our eyes glued to the depth recorder as we went from 30 feet to 11 feet before getting past the bar and returning to deeper water.

 The propeller was lifted out of the water with a fork lift and fortunately it fit snugly right into the back of my van. The entire project was a learning experience for all and another although somewhat extreme example of my old motto, persistence pays off. Steve Lombardo put it in good words when on the cruise in he said that "we where lucky all the divers who said it couldn't be done didn't get in the way of the divers who did it". The entire salvage operation was filmed by veteran cinematographer Steve Bielenda and myself and has been produced into an episode of the Dive Wreck Valley cable TV show which will be aired in May of 1992 on the MSG Network. For further information or a VHS copy of the show contact Aqua Explorers Inc at (516) 868-2658. For further information on diving the Bronx Queen contact the Eastern Dive Boat Association, This wreck is small but is visited on occasion, or by special charter, by Long Island based charter boats like the R.V. Wahoo, and Jeanne II.  

Dan Berg and Hank Garvin rig four portholes to a lift bag. Photo by Joe Koppelman.

 

Dan Berg with four portholes he recovered in one dive.

 

 

Propeller recovered by Dan Berg, Steve Lombard and Capt. Steve Bielenda.

Capt. Dan Berg with brass letters recovered from the Bronx Queen wreck.

Steve Lombardo with a lantern from the Bronx Queen. Photo by Dan Berg

Bronze rudder recovered from the Bronx Queen.

Bronx Queen. Capt. Dan Berg/Wreck Valley Collection

Bronx Queen. Capt. Dan Berg/Wreck Valley Collection

Propeller being hauled out after a long tow home. Photo by Dan Berg

Joe koppelman and Dan Berg with portholes from the Bronx Queen.

Side scan sonar image of the Bronx Queen shipwreck area. Copyright Dan Berg Wreck Valley Collection

Photos: Bronx Queen. Capt. Dan Berg/Wreck Valley Collection

In Dec of 2007 I received the following e-mail. Thought it was very interesting.

Dear Cap'n Dan:  It was a terrific article I read on your web site about the Bronx Queen.  I was turned on to it by my daughter Kimberly who is a scientist for NOAA.  She is the sonar tech of the S 222 Thomas Jefferson who just completed re charting New York harbor the and approaches to upgrade the maritime charts of the area.
      As a young kid, I spent my summers working on the "Queen" netting fish, running beers, sodas, sandwiches etc. to the patrons and at the end of the day, cleaning their catch.  It was a hard job for a kid, working 7 days a week from 5 AM to 6 PM.  I prayed for a day off at times but the money was great and there were weeks I made more money than my dad.  Captain Henry (Heinrich) Williams was a near and dear next door neighbor and I would ride with him and his wife Betty down to the ship every morning.  He would go up on the bridge and open it up and check out the ship's systems, fire the diesels and generator while Betty started breakfast in the galley.  In the meantime, I would cut bait, check the rental rods and reels, lay them out, stock the coolers, clean the heads and bring aboard the day's supplies of beer, soda, snacks and food for Betty.  Wow!  Could she make a killer bacon, egg and cheese breakfast sandwich on a fresh Kaiser roll!  It was all a young man could ask for!  Me and the chief mate would tend the lines as we cast off and later returned.  It was quite a learning experience.
     Once in a while, he would let me take the helm for a spell, carefully watching & instructing.  I remember one morning for the rest of my life.  It had to be in the early '60s.  I had the con and it was foggy as hell.  We were going down the East River and had just passed under the Hell Gate and Brooklyn Bridges and were rounding Governour's Island.  The Verranzano bridge was still under construction and all that was in place were the two towers and the workers were working 7/12s stringing the cables.  It was the Monday morning after a Fourth of July Weekend when part of the fleet was in visiting.  Suddenly out of the mist to starboard the  gray bow of a carrier appeared coming right at us!  Captain Henry asked me "Who has right of way?"  I said "he does, he's bigger".  "You're right, he iss bigger, but he das sees our green starboard lantern (that you recovered) which gives him der right of passage."  "Well, how about he was approaching from port?"  "Zen son, he has to yield dur right of way und take action to steer clear astern of us."  "A US Navy carrier?"  "Yahwol, doz are der rules of zur see." 
     Behind the carrier (I think it was Oriskany) was an escort of a cruiser and about a 1/2 dozen destroyers.  What a sight as they passed us and picked up speed as they passed the straits and headed out to sea in the morning mist! 
     Well, alas, those days were numbered.  Captain Heinrich's beloved Betty passed away that winter and it was never the same.  I worked one more summer on board, but the fun was over, I discovered girls and went off to high school.
     To this day, I still have in my wallet a life time pass for free trip passage on the Bronx Queen.  I just took one of them.  Thanks!  Merry Christmas, George.

 

 
 
 

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