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AUE Weekend Trip Report, May 27-29, 2006

As always, I was looking forward to our annual jaunt out to the deep wrecks northwest of the Dry Tortugas over the Memorial Day weekend.  This year, I was especially enthusiastic since it would be an all rebreather trip:  lots of extra room and no noisy compressor between dives!  Even though we have been diving these same wrecks for over six years, we never grow tired of them as they are some of the most spectacular shipwrecks Florida has to offer.  Warm water, typically great visibility, large and abundant marine life, loaded with artifacts, and visually spectacular.  However, this year would present us entirely different wrecks due to the influence of Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma. 

It became apparent that both the RHEIN and ARABY MAID were extensively damaged during the storms.  The port side of RHEIN's hull was dramatically folded over onto itself in places, and collapsed towards the center in others.  The midship superstructure was totally decimated.  Where there were two deck levels standing before only massive piles of scattered debris remained.  In other areas, the deck collapsed towards and into the centerline of the vessel at dramatic angles.  Other areas of the upper hull were torn loose from the lower hull and keel.  Many areas were denuded of once luxurious growth and encrustation.  The flexing of the hull shattered over 65 years of encrustation off the starboard bow, leaving bare metal hull plates.  The engine room simply does not exist any longer -- the engines now rest completely in the open.  My first dive on the wreck was one of disbelief, shock, and horror.  While I have always understood that shipwrecks have a finite lifespan in the harsh ocean environment, I did not imagine so much change could occur over so little time to wrecks in deep, offshore areas.  Especially not to these wonderful shipwrecks.

The ARABY MAID was also impacted, but due to her lower relief, major structural damage was largely confined to the collapse of her upper deck support beams in areas.  As a result, the once intact lower wooden deck now resembled a lumber yard impacted by a tornado.  Planks of her deck were cast off the wreck as far as 150 feet into the sand.  Having survived over 100 years since her sinking, her inevitable demise will likely be hastened due to the 2005 hurricane impacts.

BEFORE - views of the remaining superstructure amidships.

AFTER - leveled upper decks and twisting of hull inward towards the centerline.

(l) BEFORE - starboard forecastle; (r) AFTER - pronounced list to starboard.

(l) Cargo hold aft of the superstructure with portside hull being pushed into it; (r) exposed engine amidships.

(l) Looking aft along the starboard deck amidships - note the angle of collapse; (r) Joe over the debris field along the port side.

(l) port side hull deformation; (r) a view of the portside hull where the upper portion of the vessel has been torn away from the lower hull.

(l) Pizzio checking out the ARABY MAID; (r) looking towards the bow, with the collision damage to the hull visible in the background.

(l) View of the oven that once was on the upper deck; (r) another view of the shattered lower deck.

(l) Pizzio rescues a porthole from inevitable destruction; (r) Joe saves one also.