Getting Deep: Pursuing Underwater Getaways

In the nearly 75 years since the Frenchmen Émile Gagnan and Jacques-Yves Cousteau developed technology that allowed humans to breathe underwater without being tethered to boats or encased in bulky gear, scuba diving has attracted millions of devotees who roam the world pursuing the treasures of the deep. The Professional Association of Dive Instructors (PADI), one of the leading organizations that trains and certifies scuba divers, boasts some 6,300 dive centers and resorts on six continents, making it immensely convenient for travelers who want to spend a portion of their vacation immersed among colorful coral reefs and intriguing marine creatures. Getting scuba certification is easy enough: A four- or five-day course, typically costing less than $1,000, provides a passport to underwater pleasure in countless destinations.

Little wonder that so many divers—and snorkelers, too—head for Bermuda. With its stunningly clear water kept temperate by the Gulf Stream, this fishhook-shaped archipelago of more than 120 islands about 850 miles due east of North Carolina offers a full menu of underwater attractions. For snorkeling, dozens of gemlike coves and beaches—including Church Bay, Warwick Long Bay, and Snorkel Beach at the Royal Navy Dockyard—provide easy access to protected waters. But Bermuda’s real underwater glories reside a short boat ride offshore. Since the early 16th century, when explorers stumbled across Bermuda quite by accident, the reefs and rocks that encircle these islands have claimed an estimated 300 vessels. Truth is, the authorities are unsure exactly how many ships have met their fates here, which is why the government employs an official Custodian of Wrecks to map old and newly discovered sites and make sure they are protected for the ages. With wrecks like the North Carolina, a classic sailing ship that sank in 1880, and the Cristobal Colon, a 500-foot ocean liner that went down in 1936, Bermuda serves up a bonanza for those who want to dive a bit of history. And back on terra firma, the Bermuda Maritime Museum offers a renowned collection of priceless artifacts that have been hauled up from the deep.

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