"May 5, 1945 : Toward the end of the war, the U-853 had taken up station patrolling the waters of the Atlantic off the east shore of New England. Just off Point Judith, Rhode Island, she spotted the S.S. Blackpoint and torpedoed the freighter, sending her to the bottom. This was a mistake, because the sub was in shallow water, with a depth of 130' and there was nowhere to hide. Ironically, Admiral Dz had ordered his U-Boats to cease their attacks on shipping a day earlier, May 4. U-853 probably did not have this information. A Yugoslav freighter witnessed the explosions of the Blackpoint and radioed the information to the U.S.C.G. The Coast Guard and Navy quickly converged on the area with four warships - the USCG Frigate Moberly, the Destroyer Ericsson, and the Destroyer Escorts Atherton and Amick. Using sonar they quickly located the submerged U-853 some six miles east of Block Island. Depth charging was commenced, and continued into the night. At one point, the white hat of a German U-Boat Captain floated to the surface. At daylight, the navy sent a hard-hat diver down and confirmed the destruction of the U-853. All 55 hands were lost, entombed in the boat. "
September 29, 2007: My best friend from college was getting married, and he asked me to be in the wedding party. Rehearsal dinner was Friday night with the wedding taking place Sunday afternoon. Did I mention that the wedding was in Rhode Island? What to do all day Saturday? Visit my alma mater? Go to Newport? Relax? No. The U-853, a piece of history I’ve been dreaming about diving for years, was just a few miles off Block Island, at a depth of 130’. It was decided that my Saturday would be spent trying for a second time to reach out and touch this sub. Last year we were cancelled as we waited for the boat Captain to arrive at the dock. This year I would try again. With what was supposed to be a joint New Jersey / Rhode Island dive contingent, we chartered the Explorer dive boat out of Snug Harbor in Narragansett, RI. This was an excellent choice. The Explorer is a 42 foot fiberglass Grand Banks expedition trawler built for comfort. Although it can hold up to ten divers, Capt. Sutton chooses to keep the number down to six to keep it manageable.
Like I said, this was supposed to be a joint NJ/RI diving adventure, mainly RI plus me. Two spots still needed to be filled and the Capt. Recommended posting for them on Scubaboard. I had a better idea. I ran the dive past a few of my NJ diving buddies and the spots were taken. As the date got closer and closer, the RI divers numbers dwindled as the NJ divers numbers increased. In the end, it was supposed to be five from NJ and one from RI. That too would change by the time the Explorer left Snug Harbor.
The weather report was calling for clear sunny skies with winds to 15 knots. It was looking like we were going to make it out to the sub. We met at the marina at 4:30 am and began loading the gear onto the Explorer. The sixth diver, Bill D from RI, didn’t make it to the dock. He mentioned to me the night before that he was still on the fence. If he showed, he showed. If not, it would be five instead of six. Capt. Sutton was as hospitable and friendly as they come. He gave us an update on the predicted weather; 15 knot winds with 2-4’ seas, expecting to lie down as the day progressed. He told us that last week there was 25’ viz. on the sub. Things were looking up, and it would appear that the angst I’ve been feeling the past few days when thinking about the dive being scrubbed was all for naught.
The ride out was beautiful. The sun was rising from the east, Block Island was on to our west, and the weather was looking good. We arrived at the site to find one of the three moorings gone. The Capt. maneuvered us over the sub and we hooked into one of the moorings and began setting up. Rob would be the first in, as he would be spending the most time on the sub. He was diving a Meg rebreather and knows this sub well. Scott and I would buddy up, as we were both diving open circuit doubles with 40 cf. bailout bottles. Stephan was diving his KISS rebreather and he would partner up with Yasuko, who was diving single steel 100 with a 40 cf. bailout bottle.
Scott and I splashed in at 8:41 and began our descent. My heart was racing as I was realizing that I was finally going down to the U-853. The conning tower starts at 90’, and I thought we were tied onto it. I was watching my depth gauge anticipating the sub coming into view. 70’… only 20’ to go. 80’…only 10’ to go. 90’… I should see it…I should see….100’. Huh? It wasn’t until my depth gauge read 112’ did I see the sub. We were tied into the bow, which is still intact and is one of the most recognizable parts of the sub since it was made with thick steel to bust through ice. The visibility was a disappointing five feet and there was a moderate current running from the bow to stern. It took just over two minutes for me to make it down to the sub. Before I touched the sub I stopped, took in a breath, and reached out as if I was patting the head of my 4-year old. I laid my hand onto the side of the sub as I felt a wave of satisfaction run through me. Finally. It took me a minute or two to get situated, since I was pretty narced and needed to shake it off. We settled at 122’ on the starboard side of the bow. Scott was motioning something about running a reel, but it didn’t register yet. After a minute or two of settling down I motioned to Scott that I wanted to go to the sand, but then I took a look at my NDL and saw it was already in the single digits. I didn’t even attempt to descend past my max. depth of 123’. I could see the round shape of the torpedo at the bow and saw all the deterioration around the sub. The pressure hull was gone and anemones covered the exposed areas. I took a few pictures using my camera, but there was too many particles floating by to make anything of them. We never ventured too far from the line, maybe 25’, but never made it to the conning tower or first blast hole. I was keeping an eye on my NDL and watched as it ticked town to one minute. Up a few feet to give me a few more minutes of NDL until it ticked down to one minute again, and up a few more feet. After the seventeen-minute mark, Scott and I began our ascent. We made a slow and steady ascent, making several stops along the way. Breaking through the thermocline where the visibility opened up twenty feet or so, we were met with a thick layer of jellyfish. I guess I was too excited to notice them on the way down, but they were everywhere. I’ve seen jellyfish before, but this was like no other I’ve seen. It was a forty foot thick layer of jelly blob.
Breaking the ten-foot mark I had a little incident that Scott helped me with. The ascent line had a small loop hanging off underneath the mooring. This loop was made of black rope, so it blended in with my hoses. It got caught under my chin and behind my tank. I tried ascending but all that happened was my regulator was pulled from my mouth. I was able to bite down and catch the edge of one piece, but my mouth was now filled with salt water and my regulator was dangling on my lip. Before I reached for my backup, Scott pulled the line off and I was back in business. It seemed that the top ten feet were a lot rougher now than they were forty minutes earlier. Sure enough, the 2’-4’ seas didn’t lie down as predicted. We were greeted by at least 8’ seas with wind gusts of 25 knots or more. The mate was waiting on the bow with a hook for me to hold onto as he pulled me to the stern of the Explorer. The waves were making the ladder a little difficult to handle, but with the help of the crew, I was safely on board just as the mooring broke. Scott came on board quickly and the crew went into action. Lucky for us, the Capt. covered this exact scenario during the briefing, and he did exactly what he said he would do. We started the engines and circled the bobbing buoys until all the divers came up and were recovered. Not an easy task with 8’-10’ seas and whipping winds. White capped waves were crashing over the bow as the mates were keeping a sharp eye on the buoy for divers breaking the surface. Credit due to the Capt. and his crew for doing a professional job.
In the end, I had a 41-minute runtime that included just over two minutes to descend, 15 minutes at depth, and the remaining time on the ascent line. I had 54 degrees on the bottom.
Due to the weather, we did not do a second dive on the sub, which was both disappointing and a relief. We hit a crane barge near the inlet just to spend a little more time in the water. Sorry, I didn’t write a report for this.