Hunting for an elusive Confederate blockade runner wreck

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  • <B>A diver</B> visits the <I>Mary Celestia</I>, perhaps the most visible Civil War blockade runner anywhere.

    A diver visits the Mary Celestia, perhaps the most visible Civil War blockade runner anywhere.

Piracy, spies, gun running — and shipwrecks. There’s more to Bermuda than its famous pink beaches!

This October experienced divers from here and overseas will have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to solve a 148-year-old mystery by participating in the hunt for a missing North American Confederate gunrunner, the Roanoke. Dive shops in Bermuda are teaming up for the exciting expedition to hopefully find the as yet undiscovered wreck.

The Roanoke was a US ship commandeered by the Confederate Navy and scuttled offshore of St George’s in 1864.

Participants will spend two days searching for the sunken ship as well as dive the Confederate gun runners the Montana/Nola and Mary Celestia, on which a cache of wine and perfume was recently found.

Kevin Luton, of Dive Bermuda, at the Fairmont Southampton, says it’s an incredible opportunity to be a part of history.

“The Bermuda dive shops have long been trying to increase their standing in the world as a wreck and diving destination and we have the ability to do this in the shoulder months of the tourism season,” Mr Luton said.

“We have been working hard with the Bermuda Department of Tourism and Conservation Services to make this come together.

“It is a chance that very very few divers ever have, namely to be the first to actually find a wreck — wreck diving in itself is exciting, but to find one that had been there for over a century and a half undisturbed — this is a once in a lifetime event.”

The Bermuda Dive Association says the Roanoke sank somewhere off Five Fathom Hole to the east of Fort St Catherine.

The captain and crew were initially tried in the Bermuda courts for piracy, but were released by a sympathetic magistrate much to the anger of the Governor.

“At the height of the American civil war, the South, heavily besieged by the North, was desperate for war supplies and ships to smuggle them in, BDA explained.

“Some of the few sailors the South had remaining were sent out on a desperate mission to Cuba, namely to pose as passengers on board a ship, then take her over and sail her back to the South loaded with much needed guns and other war material.

“The plan worked in that they took over a side paddle steamer from Cuba and took the other passengers and crew prisoner and sailed their prize to Bermuda hoping to resupply her for the trip to the South.”

That is where the plan started to fail. Even though Bermuda was a neutral territory and sympathetic to the cause of the South, it drew the line at resupplying pirated vessels.

“The captain of the Roanoke, his ship running out of coal and with nowhere to go and fearing it would be captured by a Northern gunboat, put his crew and prisoners into lifeboats early on the morning of the October 9th 1864 and set fire to her.”

She sank and since then has lain undiscovered until (hopefully) this year.

As part of the four-day excursion from October 24 to 28, with stays at the Fairmont Southampton resort, participants will also take part in dinners and lectures by noted historians and divers with aspects of the Civil War and Bermuda’s role, including world-renowned wreck hunter Teddy Tucker and Dr Philippe Max Rouja, Bermuda’s Marine Heritage and Ocean Human Health Custodian Of Historic Wrecks.

Tours of the Bermuda National Museum, the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute and the Rogues and Runners Museum in St George’s will also be offered.

For more information on the dive packages contact or call (441) 292-9741 or (441) 238-2332, or see You may also see or e-mail

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Published Jul 22, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated Jul 21, 2013 at 5:59 pm)

Hunting for an elusive Confederate blockade runner wreck

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