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
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
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