Bermuda's Confederate Blockade Runner
by Walt Stearns, Aug. 1997
Several ships from the American Civil War found the reefs surrounding the tiny island outpost of Bermuda as much a thorn in the side of the Confederacy as the Union Blockade; they were wrecked here. Their numbers include the Montana, a 236 foot long, 25 foot beam tramp steamer with a displacement of 750 tons, less cargo. Tramp steamer was a common nickname given vessels of her class owing to the large amount of coal ash that would collect on the sails whenever the furnace was active. The Montana's furnace powered a 260 hp, twin oscillating cylinder steam engine. During her short career as a Confederate blockade runner, the ship's two captains tried to elude Union spies by piloting her under the aliases of Nola, Gloria and Paramount.
Following her departure from the British Isles in December 1863 with a cargo of munitions and medical supplies for the Confederacy in Wilmington, North Carolina, the Montana faced a series of circumstances that eventually brought about her demise.
During the first leg of her mission, under the command of Captains Pittman and Rollins, the Montana (known at the time as the Nola) was hampered by the North Atlantic's brutal winter storms. Arriving off Bermuda's east side under still threatening skies, the captains decided that finding an entrance somewhere on the western side would be their best bet. But, even after circumnavigating most of the island's dangerous north facing reef system, the Montana wrecked near the mouth of Western Blue Cut. Shortly after her grounding on December 30, a steamboat from St. George's was able to go to her assistance, rescuing not only her crew but most of her cargo. Nothing could be done for the Montana, she had a 10 foot long hole in her hull below the waterline.
Today the Montana's scattered remains lie in 30 feet of water in the middle of a large sand valley surrounded by high coral heads, eight miles northwest of the Hamliton dockyard. Her bow is still relatively intact and heavily encrusted with coral. The greatest concentration of wreckage; and the most attractive for photography; lies around her midship region. Here, the Montana's coal burning engine furnace can still be seen standing upright about seven feet below the surface. Behind it are the ship's two large iron paddlewheel frames, which look like small Ferris wheels. Both structures and the bow are heavily overgrown with corals.
Slightly separated from the rest of the wreckage, her stern, also heavily overgrown with coral, still features the elliptical framework of the fantail.
The Montana sits near the wreck of the Constellation, which hit the same section of reef in 1942, approximately 79 years after the Montana.
The prime season for diving both wrecks is August through October, when visibility is usually at its best and the water is still in the 78 to 82°F range.
BERMUDA DIVE OPERATORS
If you are interested in visiting Bermuda and diving its wrecks, contact any of the dive operators listed below:
Blue Water Divers Co., Ltd.
P.O. Box SN 165
Southampton SN BX, Bermuda
(441) 234-1034; (441) 234-3561 (fax)
Darrell's Wharf, 1 Harbour Road
Paget PG 01, Bermuda
(888) DO A DIVE
(441) 236-6339; (441) 236-8926 (fax)
Nautilus Diving, Ltd.
P.O. Box HM237
Hamilton HM AX, Bermuda
(441) 295-9485; (441) 234-5180 (fax)
Grotto Bay Beach Hotel
P.O. Box 658
Warwick WK BX, Bermuda
(441) 293-7319; (441) 295-2421 (fax)
South Side Scuba
Sonesta Beach Resort
(441) 238-1833; (441) 236-0394 (fax)