Condor Heritage Dive Site

The Civil War blockade runner Condor is one of 21 shipwrecks within the Cape Fear Civil War Shipwreck District listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The wreck was designated an NC Heritage Dive Site in 2018 and is one of the best-preserved Civil War blockade runners in the US. It is located about 700 yards off the beach in front of the North Carolina Aquarium at Fort Fisher, under 24 feet of water.

History of Condor

Painting of the Condor by Martin Peebles
Painting by Martin Peebles

Condor was one of five Falcon Class steamers built on the Clyde River in Glasgow, Scotland, for the lucrative trade of blockade running. These ships were built for stealth and speed to slip past naval blockades and deliver goods, such as food and weapons, to the sieged towns. Condor took her maiden voyage on the night of October 1, 1864. Steaming past the Union naval vessels blockading the port of Wilmington, N.C., Condor ran aground and was lost.

Rose O'Neal Greenhow
Rose O'Neal Greenhow

Onboard that night was Rose O’Neal Greenhow, the famous Confederate spy, who was returning to the Confederacy after a trip to England to raise funds for the Southern cause. Fearing capture and possible execution by Union leaders, Greenhow insisted on being rowed ashore, despite the vehement protests of the captain and officers of Condor. A volunteer crew finally attempted to get Greenhow ashore, but rough seas and breaking waves capsized the boat and she drowned.

The remainder of Condor’s crew rowed ashore the following day, including a Newfoundland puppy belonging to the pilot, Thomas Brinkman. Greenhow was laid to rest in Oakdale Cemetery in Wilmington. Her gravesite is often adorned with flowers and flags, left as an homage to the “Wild Rose” of the Confederacy. 

Diving on Condor

Condor engine underwater

Condor's full lower hull, engines, paddle wheels and boilers all are still in place. The vessel is laid across the seafloor like a drawing of the high-tech, stealthy steamer she was when she sailed for Wilmington more than 150 years ago. Divers can almost imagine crew of Condor performing their tasks and Rose O’Neal Greenhow walking the decks.

The site sits in a relatively shallow, rocky bed, in only 24 feet of water. The main structure of the wreck itself is 21 feet below the water's surface, while parts of her machinery are only 13 feet below. 

Condor paddle wheel underwater

The wreck represents a relatively intact, 218.6-foot-long, iron-hulled steamship. The bow, sternpost, and rudder are still attached. In between are the outer hull plating, intact I-beam frames, the water tank, “beehive” boilers, both engines, paddlewheel shafts, paddlewheel hubs, keelson, and many other structural features. The engine room is clearly defined by the bottom of the bulkheads and is large enough to swim between the engines in full dive gear.

With a travel line running down the middle of the wreck and buoys at either end, the site is relatively easy to navigate. Dive slates with a site map (also seen below) are available for self-guided tours around the complete wreck. This dive provides an excellent opportunity to interact with North Carolina's cultural history.

Tour the Site

Select a link that corresponds with the map below to view an underwater video of the dive site.

Site map of Condor wreck
Site map of Condor wreck

All divers should follow safe scuba-diving practices. Due to unpredictable visibility and the preponderance of corroding iron, this site is considered intermediate diving. It is strongly recommended that visitors check on conditions with a lifeguard before swimming out to the wreck. No one should ever swim or dive alone! Remember: “Take only pictures and leave only bubbles.”

The Condor Dive Heritage Site and all shipwrecks along the NC coast are managed by the Underwater Archaeology Branch.