Civil War Blockade Runner offers Divers and Snorkelers a Firsthand View of Maritime History
Kure Beach, NC – Condor ran aground on her maiden voyage to Wilmington more than 150 years ago. Today, scuba divers and snorkelers can explore one of the best-preserved shipwrecks on the North Carolina coast where she came to rest, just off the beach in Fort Fisher, located at the southern tip of Kure Beach. From a brief history that includes one of the Confederacy’s most notorious spies, to a ship that remains mostly intact today, the Condor has quite a story to tell.
A Look Back
According to the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology, Condor was one of five Falcon Class steamers built in Glasgow, Scotland, for the purpose of blockade running. She launched in June 1864 out of Govan, Scotland. After several other stops, she set sail for Wilmington on Sept. 24. Unfortunately for Condor, her maiden voyage was to be her first and only as she ran aground on the night of Oct. 1 after steaming through the Union naval vessels blockading the port of Wilmington.
A Notorious Passenger
One of the passengers aboard Condor on her ill-fated maiden voyage was Rose O’Neal Greenhow, a famous Confederate spy returning to the states. According to the Underwater Archaeological Bureau Site Assessment, because she was concerned about being captured by the Union, Greenhow demanded to be sent ashore in a small lifeboat after Condor ran aground. She drowned in the surf, allegedly with gold meant for the Confederacy.
The rest of the crew rowed safely to shore the following day.
Today, Condor rests in 25 shallow feet of water, roughly 700 yards off the beach in front of the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. The ship herself is largely intact – in fact, 218 feet of the original 220 remain. Also according to the Office of State Archaeology, “The bow is still attached to the wreck along with her sternpost and rudder. In between are outer hull plating, intact I-beam frames, the water tank, “beehive” boilers, both engines, paddle wheel shafts, paddle wheel hubs, keelson and too many pieces of structure to mention.”
The Condor site will be marked from May 1 to Nov. 1. Dive slates provide a self-guided tour for divers and help them interpret what they are seeing. Divers can take a charter from the Carolina Beach Inlet to Condor, or kayak to the site. There will be mooring lines at the site for boats and kayaks.
Visitors can also learn about Condor’s history on dry land by viewing artifacts housed at Fort Fisher State Historic Site’s Visitors Center, or see a replica of the engine room in one of the tanks at the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher.
Heritage Dive Site
As an official Heritage Dive Site, Condor will be maintained by the Office of State Archaeology, with buoys marking the site and a travel line along the wreck for explorers. By designating it as North Carolina’s First Heritage Dive Site, Condor’s maritime heritage will be preserved and protected for years to come.
According to Greg Stratton, archaeological dive supervisor for the NC Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, there were three reasons for designating Condor as the first North Carolina Heritage Dive Site: “To educate, to further heritage tourism and to teach divers stewardship.” Divers and snorkelers are encouraged to “take only pictures, leave only bubbles” to help preserve this important piece of history.
In addition to Condor, Kure Beach is home to hundreds of fascinating dive sites, including historic shipwrecks and ocean ledges that house prehistoric fossils. Visitors can dive at the same site dozens of times and still walk away from each dive with a unique underwater experience that features aquatic life, historic artifacts and much more.
The Underwater Archaeology Branch of the North Carolina Office of State Archaeology (UAB) is located at Fort Fisher. UAB outdoor exhibits range from the prehistoric to the present. The office maintains extensive records on everything from wooden dugout canoes to iron-hulled blockade runners and classic steamboats. In all, the UAB keeps track of more than 5,000 documented shipwrecks.
About Kure Beach
Kure Beach, North Carolina’s small wonder, offers a naturally beautiful setting in a peaceful, small-town atmosphere. The coastal community, with its relaxed pace, lets visitors reconnect while they enjoy nature unspoiled and nearby signature state attractions, including the Fort Fisher State Historic Site and the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher. Kure Beach visitors can escape the busy pace of life and embrace the curiosity and innocence of childhood in this pure and natural playground. For more information, go to www.VisitKureBeachNC.com or call (800) 631-1460. Find us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/KureBeachNC and Twitter and Instagram, @KureBeachNC.
French West Vaughan