Notes about things regarding scuba diving that I have come to know.

Pete's Southern Maine Regional Dive Site Guide
Ships Cove at Fort Williams Park, Cape Elizabeth
Fort Williams Park A.K.A. Portland Head Light

This site is known by many names. Decommissioned by the US Army in 1962 the site has been a public park since 1979. The cove located down on the left and visible as you crest the entrance road is known as Ships Cove and is the principal dive site here. If you follow the main road you will come to Portland Headlight. Immortalized by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow it is not uncommon to see several tour busses loaded with visitors pass by during a dive outing. Most of the signage will be for Portland headlight, just follow signs to Fort Williams, the home of Ships Cove. Fort Williams is located on Cottage road in Cape Elizabeth.

This site offers 2 distinct dives. The left side in my opinion is the better of the 2 however the right is different and has it's share of delights. Parking is usually not a problem though it can be close. Generally there is enough fast moving sight seeing traffic that something will open up with a little patience. Being backed up to the ocean side is preferred. It is not uncommon to encounter dive classes at this site.

In season there are 2 porta-potties for your comfort. This park closes at sunset, and they mean it. About 10 minutes prior to the official published sunset time a truck with a PA speaker will direct you to leave. This means that night dives not permitted and even late summer evening dives are limited.

Remnants of the fort can still be explored. The stately stone structure up on the left is the Goddard Mansion. The building went into disrepair and in 1981 the fire department set it ablaze to gut the structure. The remaining stonework remained accessible to the public into the 1990s. During that time a local furniture filmed a popular TV commercial with the room settings placed in the majestic remains. The building is now boarded up and can only be viewed from outside. To this day it is a popular location for weddings and post wedding photo shoots.

But you came here to dive right? As I said my favorite is the left-hand side out in front of the mansion. Here you will find deep rugged ledges that extend down to about 40 feet at high tide. The site can be enjoyed at any tide but high tide is best.

Be careful in getting down to the water. There is a slope of loose cobblestones and the sea will rearrange them from time to time. They may be loose and laced with lost lobster gear as well as boat parts and general wreckage.

Once you get into the water and are ready to go begin a surface swim out and to the left. The main cove is a sandy bottom. Skate, flounder and sand dollars can be found down there but we usually conserve air on the way out. When you have had your fill of surface swimming drop down and continue heading out to the left. Eventually you will encounter the base of the cove side ledge. If you are near high tide and at least 12 feet deep head up into the rocks and locate the cut or canal that leads out of the cove. For the most part it is 1 diver wide and you will frequently have rock walls rising up well above you on both sides. Eventually you will get to the end of the ledge or down to 25 feet or so. At this point it's time to turn left and begin to explore your way up the coast. There is a prevailing current here that you will be swimming against. Generally it's noticeable but not objectionable though it will make for an easy swim back! I have been there during high moon tides when it was formidable. If we stayed down in the crevices we were fine. When cresting into the current it was still navigable but we were working.

Be sure to have a flashlight. This site has many crevices and overhangs. Visibility is unpredictable so if you are planning to dive as a team of 3 or more be prepared.

When it's time to head back just reverse your heading and enjoy the ride back in the current. You will eventually run out of rock and find yourself in front of the sandy cove. Make the right hand turn to head back to the beach. You may notice that the sand ripples are not running parallel to the beach since initially they are aligned with the prevailing flow. As you enter the cove proper they will align parallel to the beach and at a right angle to your travel as you would expect.

On this dive be prepared for some significant sounds. It is not uncommon to see oil tankers pass in front of the site. In season and on the right days the CAT, high speed ferry to Yarmouth Nova Scotia may even pass by. They are travelling out in the channel, well out of range to recreational shore divers. Keep this in mind if you consider heading straight out. Lobstermen and receational fishing boats are common here. Some divers will tow a flag here, we choose not to. I do carry a DSMB and spool that I can soot to the surface if I need to surface and have concerns about boating activity.

The second dive as you would expect is out to the right side. As much as the left is deep high fluted ledges the right side is a flatter rocky place. Begin your dive after entering from the beach. If it's high tide you can go to the ledges that line the right hand side about way out of the cove. Here you may be able to find the "caves". Large flat rocks are positioned to make some good sized spaces that multiple divers have been known to enter. I prefer to peer in with my light since they are loaded with anemones and other sea life that divers would disturb.

From there round the corner to the right and work your way down and back up the coast. The dive will not be quite as deep but much can be spotted.

It is not uncommon to encounter dive classes at this site. Local History Link

This Dive Site at a Glance:

  • SCUBA: Yes
  • SKIN-DIVE: Yes
  • PARKING: Free
  • TOILETS: In season
  • TIDE: All
  • SEASONS: All
  • EXPOSURE: NE
  • ENTRY/EXIT: Easy
  • FOOD: None
  • GPS: 43.625763,-70.212679
  • Google Maps accepts GPS points.

Here is a view of the parking area and general site

These are the 2 typical dives. The yellow dive to the left will have you in significant ledges that run down to about 40 feet at high tide. The magenta right-hand dive is a somewhat shallower space but is all rocky and full of surprises.

This page created January 2008