Sunday, 29 May 2011

Down she went. Divers and snorkelers right behind

WORLD'S NEWEST (FOR NOW) SHIPWRECK ALREADY HAS VISITORS - KITTIWAKE AN EXCLAIMATION MARK OFF CAYMAN'S SEVEN MILE BEACH


By Stephen Weir, Diver Magazine

For the dive industry Santa Claus rode into Grand Cayman on December 25th, not in a sleigh but on board a barely floating 251 ft long WW2 US warship pulled by an ocean going tug.
After seven years of planning, the retired USS Kittiwake was scuttled a few days after arriving at Grand Cayman Island. Live on the Internet, the Submarine Rescue vessel (ASR-13) was sunk upright in the sand just north of the famous Seven Mile Beach.
The ship was scuttled to take pressure off the reefs of one of the world’s most popular island dive destination. Two months after she went down, the ship (donated by the US Navy) has begun to attract divers and snorkelers in large numbers.
“I dived the wreck one month after her sinking,” said Suzy Marfleet, diver concierge with the Reef – a Seven Mile Beach dive operation. “ I have had a very positive response (from the divers she has escorted onto the new wreck). Many have said that it is interesting to see the wreck now, with no coral growth, and they look forward to seeing the change over the years, at the growth that will occur. The shallow depth makes it fun to dive, and most operators are giving 1 hour dive times.’
When the Cayman Islands really kicked off the worldwide interest in diving artificial reefs with the 1998 sinking of a Russian missile frigate off Cayman Brac (with Diver Magazine columnist Jean-Michel Cousteau on deck as she went down) there weren’t many diveable warships in the world.  Since then everything from an aircraft carrier to destroyers have been put down on the bottom to attract scuba tourists. There are now over 100 diveable scuttled ships off the coast of Miami, Florida alone!
What makes the Kittiwake different is that she is in shallow water – the deepest point is 57ft (19 metres).  Tourists can explore the ship on scuba or simply snorkel the upper levels.“There are 5 decks on the 47 foot tall Kittiwake. Externally, the crow's nest, mast and large stern a-frame have been cut down and remounted to make her height suitable for Cayman waters,” wrote Canadian diving expert Nancy Easterbrook. Her company Divetech has been an integral part of the acquisition of the wreck, the towing of the ship from North Carolina and the eventual sinking of the Kittiwake.
“Night dives on the Kittiwake are allowed. However, all night dives will be guided/supervised regardless of the qualifications of the divers” she continued. Dive shops must be licensed to take snorkelers and divers to the new site.
Can snorkelers and divers enjoy the wreck at the same time? Many operators aren’t ready to find out. Upscale water sports operator Red Sail schedule separate snorkel and dive trips to the wreck at slightly different times to make sure the twain don’t meet.
“If you want a fun and interesting dive that gets a large amount of bottom time, then it’s a great dive. My favourite part is the shower room, which still has intact mirrors – have you ever looked at yourself underwater?” continued Marfleet. “In another area there is also a working lathe, that you can still turn  - obviously in time this will rust and seize up but for now it is a fun toy to play with.”
Although the ship was built in 1945 she has become a child of emerging technologies.  Not only is there an official website for her, (/www.kittiwakecayman.com/) but, new underwater Kittiwake videos are being released onto the web weekly,
photo by Courtney Platt

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