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Exploring the World Beneath the Waves

Exploring the World Beneath the Waves, Sept/Oct Cape Cod Life |

Photograph by Charles Sternaimolo

Seeking clues from the past

Jerry Cronin, 58, of Marstons Mills, has been diving since he was in his 20s, first working on dive charters and at diving shops.

Initially, he enjoyed what he describes as “some of the best lobstering in the world.” But as he got more involved with the sport, his interest shifted to exploration, finding the unknown and rediscovering history. Cronin’s passion is to dive on wrecks—sunken ships—in search of artifacts from the past.

He has completed many dives in tropical locations, which he enjoys for “gin-clear warm water, colorful fish by the millions, and coral of every type.” It is different here on the Cape, where a short summer and colder water—at depths greater than 30 feet, the water temperature stays the same year round, about 42 degrees, he says—mean divers need expensive dry suits and face a shorter season.

“The Cape is pretty much a sandbar,” Cronin says, “which is why most of us explore shipwrecks. Fish hang out near wrecks, which are usually loaded with lobster, plus there’s always the chance of finding cool artifacts.”

He frequently sees massive piles of granite and coal, common cargo around the turn of the last century, when ships carried both passengers and goods. “This was granite mined from New Hampshire and Maine,” Cronin says while pointing out an artifact he found at the ocean floor. “They used it to build Philadelphia, New York, and Washington, D.C.”

Cronin says that he and his friends have discovered at least half a dozen wrecks, and explored many more. Part of the enjoyment is the ever-changing sea. Winter storms play havoc with underwater topography. A wreck buried for years—even centuries—can suddenly reappear, its bones poking through tons of sand shifted about in fierce winter gales.

Cronin is proud of his collection of sea-saved artifacts from his many dives, which he displays in his home. Among his favorites (and he admits the list is “endless”) are the huge brass letters from the wreck of the Port Hunter, which he noticed “after literally thousands of divers swam past them, but because of marine growth, they escaped detection.” He also displays the helm of a four-masted schooner, a treasure that took him two years of work over many dives to recover.

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