At the time of its sinking in 1864, the Mary-Celestia was barely two years old. It operated as a blockade runner for the Confederacy to transport banned goods in and out of Confederate ports while trying to break the Union’s blockade of the South during the Civil War. The vessel was a side-paddlewheel steamer chartered by the Confederate Army but sailed under a variety of noms de guerre (e.g., Marie Celeste, and Bijou) while attempting to circumvent the blockade. The ship was fast -- peaking at 17 knots – and it successfully outran Union ships while smuggling guns, ammunition and supplies. The Mary-Celestia left for Wilmington, South Carolina with a full cargo of food, ammunition and rifles, and was cruising the south shore at 13 knots on a flat calm day piloted by expert Bermudian Pilot John Bristow Virgin when it struck a blind boiler at high speed and sank on Bermuda’s southern reef. Speculation about the sinking and possible sabotage remains unresolved to this day but recent discoveries in 2013 have reignited the search for answers.
The wreck lies on a flat, sandy seabed in 55 feet of water just 600 yards off the south coast. The main features include the bow (excavated in 2011), anchor, paddlewheels and boilers. One of the vessel’s paddlewheel frames remains standing upright like a miniature Ferris wheel. Parts of the wheelhouse are still discernible. Divers have found lumps of coal lying on the seabed. (The coal is of the high-grade ‘smokeless’ variety because the lack of smoke helped the vessel evade detection by Union vessels.)
Location: 32.14'.487N, 64.49'.918W Built: 1861 in Liverpool, England Length: 225 feet (68.5 meters) Displacement: 207 tons Maximum Depth: 18 metersProtected Area Radius - No Fishing: 300m