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Anchor Away!

Text and Photograph by Joseph C. Dovala

Photograph by Joseph C. Dovala
Photograph by Joseph C. Dovala

Today the SS Saganaga rests peacefully on the bottom of Conception Bay, Newfoundland, in the cool, clear North Atlantic. The World War II story of how she came to be such a great wreck, and dive, is anything but peaceful, however, and unravels the mystery of the anchor on her deck.

On September 5, 1942, the 407-foot (122m) ore carrier was anchored at Bell Island, a big rock five and half miles (9km) long by two (3km) wide, and site of one of the largest iron ore mines in North America. She was in service of the Allied war effort, transporting raw material used to make the war machines that would defeat Nazi aggression. And that was reason enough for German U-boat captains to target her. It was the immense force of two exploding torpedoes that blew one of Saganaga’s two bow anchors up and onto her deck. The strike was fatal. Loaded with iron ore, she sank quickly, taking 29 of her crew to their graves. On that occasion U-513 also sank the SS Lord Strathcona.

Now the Saganaga sits on her keel and is one of four Bell Island wrecks lost to U-boat attacks in two separate incidents just two months apart in late 1942. On November 2 the ‘U-518’ entered Conception Bay, sinking the Rose Castle and PLM 27. Saganaga’s anchor is an impressive site in the clear water and is a readily identifiable navigation aid as a diver descends to her deck.

A sunken memorial, the Saganaga brings the war into sharp relief. There are many deck level swim-throughs offering that 3D wreck experience to visiting divers who prefer not to penetrate below decks. Copious quantities of metridium anemones, sponges and fish animate, and sometimes cloak, the vessel in what I imagined as a kind of living ‘commemorative wreath’. The sub-forty degree water temps have done a remarkable job of preserving wood wherever it’s fitted on this shallowest of the Bell Island wrecks. The anchor and deck can be enjoyed in 60 to 85 feet (18-26m). And there’s more to see down to 110 feet (33m) for the adventurous.

Photograph of SS Saganaga taken in Conception Bay, Newfoundland, using a Nikon D700 with a Sigma 15mm fisheye lens in an Aquatica housing fitted with an eight-inch dome port, and twin Sea&Sea YS-D1 strobes with diffusers, set at half power. Exposure ISO 400, f5.6 at 1/125 second shutter speed.

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