Short pieces about shipwrecks and dive boats

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Six Dive Wreck Shorts from the January issue of Diver Magazine

cutline: the liveaboard diveboat the Spree watches as the Texas Clipper is scuttled off Padre Island to create an artifical reef and a new dive site.

By Stephen Weir

Deeper is not always better in Florida

Dive chat boards around the world have been deep in discussion lately talking/typing about how a scuttled aircraft carrier has moved deeper into the Gulf of Mexico. Apparently this summer’s Hurricane Gustav not only battered the Gulf’s north coast, it actually shifted the Oriskany, the world’s largest artificial reef.
In May 2006 when the aircraft carrier was towed out into the Gulf near Pensacola, Florida, and sunk, the flight deck of the Oriskany was 135 ft (45 m) below the surface. After Hurricane Gustav rumbled through the area, the sunken ship slipped 10 ft (3.3 m) deeper into the Gulf.
While it is not unusual for sunken ships to shift and settle on the bottom of the ocean, what has attracted the attention of dive bloggers is that the deck of the Oriskany is now beyond generally accepted recreational diving limits.
“This is a shame.” posted Lee Bell on the popular rec.scuba group. " If the Oriskany is shifting, its probably won't be long before it's no longer a viable dive destination. Operators taking people out to the wreck are almost certainly already considering new limits on people that dive on it.
Newspapers in the Panhandle district of Florida have also been talking about the shifting wreck. Local dive shops who daily take divers out to the wreck note that while there are parts of the vessel and most of the marine life that is well above the 130 ft cut-off, it is the flight deck that their customers want to see and touch.
“When the ship was sunk in May 2006, the flight deck was 135 feet down, 5 feet outside the recreational diving limit, but instructors said it still was relatively safe for tempted divers to make the touch,” reported the Pensacola News Journal.”
"People just had to touch it," said Eilene Beard, Scuba Shack co-owner. "And we'd say, 'OK, bounce down there and touch it and get back up here so you don't use all your nitrogen.' "
It is estimated that since the sinking of the Oriskany, the dive industry has pumped $2 million into the local economy and created 37 new jobs. According to posters on the web, local shop owners fear that news of the underwater shift might deter potential divers from visiting.

Gustav pushes one of two Texas liveaboards to Florida

The Freeport, Texas based liveaboard dive boat MV Spree will be moving to the Florida Keys early next year. The Spree has been taking divers on overnight trips to the Flower Gardens underwater park in the Gulf of Mexico for over two decades,
In the wake of Hurricane Gustav, which decimated the Texas coast from Freeport to Galvaston, the operators of the award winning live aboard made the decision to move the Spree to Key West, Florida. Beginning May 2009 the Spree will be taking divers to the Dry Tortugas in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. MV Spree will be offering sport diving charters and technical diving charters to the Dry Tortugas for 3, 4 or 5 days, and offer up to 5 dives each day. The MV Spree will also offers 3-day and 5-day "keys krawls," featuring the wrecks and reefs of the lower keys
The MV Spree is a US-flagged, US Coast Guard inspected 100-foot triple-screw diesel crew boat class vessel converted for scuba diving and marine science operations. The ship’s website is http://www.spreeexpeditions.com/ The MV Fling, the Spree’s sister ship (owned by a different company) will continue to service the Flower Gardens out of Freeport, Texas.

2008 hurricanes leave another Gulf of Mexico shipwreck unmoved

The South Padre Island Tourism Board has confirmed that charter boats continue to take wreck divers out onto the Gulf of Mexico, and that the area was unaffected by recent hurricanes. According to spokesperson Blithe Wiley, one of the most popular diving attractions is the USTS Texas Clipper.
“ This is a relatively new diving attraction (and) is now coming into its prime,” Wiley told Diver Magazine. “ She is a 473-foot ship that was sunk 17 miles off South Padre Island in November 2007. The Island’s newest artificial reef offers something for divers of every level, from entry level on up.
“The Texas Clipper can be compared to a large museum, requiring divers to make several trips to fully appreciate it because of its size.” Continued Blithe Wiley. “The ship is so large you can dive a hundred times and still not see everything.”


… And another large sized artificial reef could soon be created in the Florida Keys

Reports out of Key West, Florida say that the state is prepared to contribute up to $1.6 million so that a 524-ft decommissioned Air Force missile-tracking vessel can be sunk to create an artificial reef in the Florida Keys. The long running plan to sink the Vanderberg, has run into a number of financial problems; however with the funding promise from the government, dive officials are hopeful that the project will be completed by early next year.
If the financial package is completed the Vandenberg will be towed from a shipyard in Norfolk, Virginia to Key West in December with a scuttling to take place in February 2009.
Estimated costs to intentionally sink the Vandenberg about six miles south of Key West have swelled to more than $8.2 million, almost $2.5 million more than was originally budgeted for.


State of Michigan establishes its 12th underwater preserve

Earlier this year the State of Michigan designated a shipwreck filled bay in Lake Michigan as an underwater preserve. Grand Traverse Bay and nearby waters now fall under the protection of the Department of Environmental Quality
According to Associated Press, the demarcation of Grand Traverse Bay has been done “to promote the location and protection of shipwrecks and artifacts on the lake bottom.”
Michigan’s dive community has been pressing the state government for the past three years to make the area an underwater preserve. “The Grand Traverse Bay Underwater Preserve Council says it will generate millions of tourist dollars by attracting recreational scuba divers and underwater researchers.”

Divers Sign Up to Send Ship Down in the St Lawrence River

Divers around the world are signing a petition in support of an Ontario group that wants to sink a Canadian Warship in the St Lawrence Rivers. The Eastern Ontario Artificial Reef Association (EOARA) posted an online petition and continues to get support for its plan to sink the HMCS Terra Nova near Brockville, Ontario.
“We are currently working with the Department of Fisheries & Oceans regarding the location and a concern they have with it being in a sturgeon nursing area,” said Tom Scott, a St Lawrence River dive boat charter operator and the president of EOARA. “Working with the different levels of government is slow and tedious.”
The signature drive is something that the EOARA has initiated while the organization deals with many levels of government. Scuba groups across North America are supporting the petition including the Ontario Underwater Council.
“Folks can sign the petition on the EOARA website (www.eoara.org),
he continued. “All folks that want to support the project regardless of where they live would be a help. Fund raising will not take off until we have received approval from all the different government agencies.”
Mr. Scott’s group has set their sights on the now mothballed HMCS Terra Nova to become the St Lawrence River’s first artificial reef. The retired 112-meter long warship is currently docked in Halifax, Nova Scotia. A second warship, the HMCS Gatineau, is also available to the group. The Canadian Navy has also mothballed her.
“We really want the Terra Nova, it is the right height for where we want to sink her in the St. Lawrence,” said Michael Ryan, spokesman for the EOARA earlier this year. “ We have located a large sandy flat spot (close to Brockville) away from the shipping lanes and still a thousand metres from shore where the depth is a maximum 43 metres. “
Anyone interested in the project can access a detailed explanation on the group’s website. “In the presentation that you can down load from the EOARA website there is some excellent video on the location that shows the river current and bottom composition of the target zone in the St Lawrence,” continued Mr. Scott. “ We dive the location fairly regularly. Usually early mornings and we usually use sleds that are towed by the boat so that we can cover large areas of ground.”
The Eastern Ontario Artificial Reef Association petition and presentation can be accessed at: www.eoara.org.

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