The Mars Shipwreck  Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, & Maine Shipwrecks
Historical and current New England Shipwreck Information and images for scuba divers, fisherman and marine historians.




   Capt. Dan Berg's Wreck Valley Collection   



The following article is by Capt Eric Takakjian and Dave Morton.

The morning of September 20, 1992, found 12 of us aboard the Grey Eagle, cruising north out of the Cape Cod Canal, on a 20-mile ride through 2-3 foot seas. We were participating in dives commemorating the Mars, on the 50th anniversary of her sinking.

She was built as a wrecking steamer and salvage tug in 1890, at John H Dialogue & Son Shipyard in Camden NJ. Constructed for George She Pardson, Jr of Philadelphia, her iron hull was 117 feet long. She had a 23 foot beam, a 16 foot draft and displaced278 gross tons. In addition to lending aid to disabled ships, the Mars also spent much of her time towing barges up and down the East Coast.

When we arrived at the wreck site, the winds were still blowing steady, making it a bit tricky to grab the mooring buoy. As we prepared for the dive, surface visibility was reported as at least 20-25 feet, but was probably due to the surface current. We expected poor visibility and were ready for the worst, with wreck reels, lift bags, ascent lines, and spare lights.

It was a bit of a pull getting down the first 25 feet or so, but the current quickly subsided, The decent became comfortable and normal below 30 fsw, although with a reduction inthe current came a reduction in the visibility. However, we were elated to see a shipwreck materialize through the green haze at around 85 feet and visibility on the wreck was about 15 feet. The mooring was tied in to part of the superstructure at around 90 fsw. We checked it as we glided past, and then gently settled on the wooden deck at 105 feet.

When conditions permit the Mars is a fun dive, The iron hull is mostly intact, sitting upright on a silty bottom, with a max depth of 128 fsw at high tide. We began out tour by swimming forward around and through what remained of her deckhouse. Much of the superstructure was broken up or had rusted away, leaving behind a skeletal framework now covered with a lush growth of anemones, an ideal backdrop for photography.

As we continued forward on the port side, we dropped over the side of the hull and came across the severed bow section, lying in silt. Large cod and hake were slipping in and out of the bow's wreckage, showing why this wreck is a popular fisherman's sits. We swam forward to the break which had exposed the forward storage room. As our lights cut through the haze, we could see a beautiful field of large anemones covering everything in the room, making it appear pretty confining for a swim through.

Cautious of the abandoned lobster traps and monofilament that seemed to be everywhere, we continued our circumnavigation, and started aft along the starboard side. The currents had dug out a lot of silt along the keel, and large fish patrolled in the shadows. The roof of the wheel house, the stacks, and masts can be found in a debris field to the starboard side creating an abundance of hiding places for lobsters, flounder and large cod. We also swam over an old three-foot fluke anchor hidden in the wreckage, but left it for a future dive team.

Another short swim along the hull had us rounding the curved stern section where the big four-bladed iron propeller and the large rudder came into view, backlit with ambient light. We swam between the rudder and rudder post, an easy feat because it was hard-to-port. As we ascended to the deck, we passed the row of empty portholes in the hull and envied the lucky divers who had been their ahead of us.

Back on the deck, with plenty of air and some time left in our profile, we decided to make alight penetration through the large open deck hatch at the stern. An initial look into the hole led us to believe it was an enclosed cable storage compartment. As we dropped down into the single level of the tug and looked forward around a collapsed bulkhead, ambient light was visible from another exit.

If you decide to penetrate, be aware that there are considerable amounts of silt and debris inside. While it is possible to swim through the entire wreck, from aft to forward, it's not a straight line shot. There's a lot of machinery and debris along the way.

If the currents are running strong, or after a couple of days of steady winds and waves, the silt can get pretty stirred up, reducing visibility to less that three feet, both inside and outside the wreck. On other days, particularly in the spring and late fall, visibility can exceed 50 feet, with the whole wreck visible to the descending diver at 70 fsw.

We did extensive research with every available local newspaper of the day, but did not uncover a single word about the disaster. At the time of her loss, the Mars was chartered to the US Army Transportation Corps, and was operated as the ST-56. Due to war time news blackout concerning losses, very little is known about her sinking. It is believed that the following scenario occurred.

Sometime on the 20thof September 1942, the Mars collided at nearly right angles with the Sun Oil Tanker Bidwell, off of Manomet Point, in the Eastern side of Cape Cod Bay. She no doubt sank quickly, as the forward six feet of her bow was sheared off cleanly down to the keel.

Because of two factors we assume that she was hit on her starboard side. First, the rudder remains in the hard to port position, indicating she was turning, or attempting to turn, to port at the time of collision. Second, the sheared off bow is lying flat on the bottom, adjacent to the port side of the hull. In order for an iron hull of this type to suffer such a clean break along a frame-from rail cap to keel on both sides- it would have to sustain a severe impact from a stronger steel hull of much greater tonnage, over a relatively small area, such as the Mars bow.

The Bidwell arrived in Boston about the 20th of September without any reported damage to her hull. However it is entirely possible that a 6,837 ton steel hulled tanker could collide with and sink a 278 ton iron hulled tugboat, and sail on unscratched. Although we searched, there was never any press in local newspapers regarding the deaths, or rescue of the crew of the Mars.

Some artifacts are still recovered from the Mars, even after 50 years of submersion. Last year a porthole rim was recovered from the debris on the forward deck, and on this anniversary dive, an old medicine bottle was recovered from the silt inside the wreck. All the portholes have been stripped from the iron hull, but to the best of my knowledge, no one has ever publicly claimed to have recovered any of the wheelhouse artifacts. The bell, telegraph, compass, etc. may still be hidden underneath some wreckage and shifting silt, waiting for the lucky diver to look in just the right place.

After diving the Mars, we felt that sense of accomplishment that only comes after successfully completing all the objectives of a wreck dive, and we were sorry that the dive was over. Back on the surface, we all agreed to come back next year, and can't wait to see what the winter storms have uncovered, around the wreck of the Mars.

Dan, I just read your article on the tug Mars by Eric & Dave - -  with more than a casual interest  for I had spent alot of time aboard the boat in the 1930-40 time frame, my father was the captain of the tug then. The article speaks of the aft hatch, which  provided outside deck access to a storage area and as well the first mate's quarters on the port side with an inside passageway to the engine room along the drive shaft tunnel , passing the chief engineer's quarters on the port side before entering the engine room.
The bow section or fo'c'sle was the crew quarters for the cook, mess boy, 3 oilers, 3 deck hands, and 3 firemen and was accessible from the front of the deck house on the main deck. The tug traveled the east coast from Texas To New England, with a full crew of 14 and was last owned  by P. F. Martin Towing Co of Norfolk, Va. Dad was home on vacation when she was lost as reported. 
Thanks to all three of you for the fine report, nice to hear the old girl is still providing pleasure, she was a real joy in her prime when I was allowed to cruise with dad..   Don Law


Bill Carter Collection

Capt. Eric Takakjian with stem whistle from the Mars.

Bill Carter Collection

Bill Carter Collection

Bill Carter Collection



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