A S S O C I A T I O N OF U N D E R W A T E R E X P L O R E R S
AUE Weekend Trip Report May 18, 2002
The weekend looked promising to dive Key West, and we had plans to visit the USS S-16, USS Wilkes Barre, and USS Curb. We departed on our afternoon trip to the S-16 (SS-121), a U.S. submarine sunk as a target in 1943. She now rests in 260fsw southwest of KW. I had recently been given some other numbers from a friend, one of which was in close proximity to the S-16 in 200fsw. My buddy and I decided to do a quick bounce to determine what it was. After a few moments looking for the wreck, a small spike registered on the bottom reader. We dropped our shotline and my buddy and I sailed for the bottom. We scootered down, planning to spend only a couple minutes on the wreck and be back at the surface in 7 minutes. Speeding down the line, we hit the cooler and darker bottom waters and swarms of amberjack rushed up to meet us. In short order we hit the bottom and observed some material a short distance away. It appeared to be several large, square tanks and a large outrigger or tower, surrounded by a cornucopia of miscellaneous debris. We did a couple laps looking for tell-tale signs to its identity. With the absence of an engine or other assorted machinery, we quickly realized this was someone's attempt to make a private reef and signaled to surface. There were some large snapper on the wreck, but due to the lack of lush encrustation, little else aside from the ubiquitous AJs. It was not much of a dive site. After a expedited safety stop, we surfaced at 7 minutes as planned.
We retrieved the shotline and motored the short distance to the S-16. As the day wore on, the seas flattened and it turned out to be a glorious afternoon. Since the sub was so close to the other site, we soon found ourselves setting the shotline on the S-16. We managed to nail the portside hull, just forward of the conning tower. My buddy and I headed down 10 minutes after the other group, in order to run clean-up and recover the hook after our dive. We scootered down and soon spotted several lights moving over the hull of the sub. Unlike several of the U-boats that can be found along the East Coast, the S-16 appears to be in much better shape. Since her outer hull is still basically intact, she looks very much like a submarine simply resting on the bottom. It was cool and dark on the bottom, but once your eyes got adjusted to the low light levels, visibility appeared to be perhaps 40-50 feet. We dropped our bottles and proceeded to run some laps around the vessel. The bow rests high of the sand so you are able to zip under the entire sub. It was funny to look over at my buddy and then behind him to see the train of amberjack that he was pulling along; these guys love it when divers visit.
Back towards the stern, we popped into the aft hatch that leads into the sub's interior. Dropping down the sleeve, the water became absolutely frigid. As I accessed the interior, I noticed the antennae and eyes of hundreds of colorful shrimp hanging onto every available surface in the vicinity of the hatch opening; a few feet away and the interior was barren. I poked around and looked at some interesting objects then worked myself out so my buddy could check out the interior as well. After his visit, we headed forward for a few more laps and found many of the other divers headed up the line. Playing around until our bottom time drew to a close, we donned our bottles and worked to free the hook. Decompression was rather uneventful, though we were accompanied by a curious 4-foot shark that continuously swam around the group.
Unfortunately, a storm system moved through early Sunday that curtailed our diving activities. We stuck our nose out Sunday morning only to find very sloppy seas and the continuous monsoon-like rain dampened spirits (and everything else). We opted to play it safe and turned around to the dock. To add insult to injury, just as we completed offloading and prepared to depart Key West, we noticed the wind became still and the sun beginning to poke out from behind the clouds. Oh well...