F&W’s Ray Isle discovers what happens to a bottle of wine submerged in ocean water for 150 years.
Sixty feet under the ocean, off the coast of Bermuda, the water feels cold. A wet suit keeps your core warm, but your hands, feet and face feel it—at least mine did. Part of that may have been psychological, since in the filtered blue light my fingers looked bloodlessly white, but the chill was definitely there.
My diving partner was Philippe Rouja, PhD, an archaeologist with an unlikely but enviable job as Bermuda’s official Custodian of Historic Wrecks. We were diving down to the Mary-Celestia, a Civil War blockade-runner that sank in 1864. The ship, a narrow, 225-foot-long side-wheel steamer, set off for South Carolina on September 6 with a load of rifles and munitions, to slip past the Union ships that barred the Confederate ports. But its Bermudan pilot inexplicably ran it into a reef so close to shore that if you stand on one of the island’s famous pink-sand beaches you can see the white buoys marking the site. The reason I’d squeezed myself into a wet suit and strapped on 50 pounds of scuba equipment was because, when the Mary-Celestia went down, in addition to its hold full of contraband, it was also carrying wine.