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  

Date: Tue, 27 Jun 2000 14:05:01 PDT

AUE Tortugas Trip Report June 22-25, 2000

DAY 3 - "Oil Wreck" and Baja California

Eventually waking up, the team began preparing for our final dives of the trip. We were anchored over the "Oil Wreck," and unknown vessel that was reportedly sunk by the U-84, on the same day the U-boat sunk the Baja California. Called the "Oil Wreck" due to the ever-present oil slick that bubbles up from the sunken hulk, little else is known of the wreck due to the general lack of visitation by divers.

Laying at a depth of 140', it was appealing to shed a stage bottle for this dive. We all dropped off the back of the boat to see the portside hull rise up to meet us. The visibility on the very bottom was murky, a drastic change from the fantastic clarity we had grown accustomed to on the deeper wrecks. The wreck lays hard over on her starboard side, with a list of perhaps 120 degrees, almost appearing to be turtled. There was little wreckage or machinery on the decks, and it appeared the hull had a low and simple profile, indicating that it may be an escort oiler. The bow had some extensive damage, with hull plates blown outward, possibly from the original torpedo attack. The wreck was accommodating numerous jewfish which swam in and out of the wreck at our presence. Back amidships, I noticed a hatch with an intact port laying in the sand. Heading aft, there was a massive fracture that bisected the wreck just forward of the boilers. One of the large boilers had fallen loose and spilled partway out of the hull. Just aft of this, I investigated out in the sand and found some broken down structure that may have consisted of the stern superstructure; a solitary porthole with glass intact was found on one of the vertical bulkheads. Alas, my tools were left on the boat during this dive. By this time, Mikey came over to see this debris and then we continued towards the stern. Numerous large jewfish swam around the rudder and single screw as we investigated this area. Several of the larger jewfish "thumped" us numerous times which was pretty impressive. I eventually headed back towards the upline, content with a "short" dive. Apparently, Andrew was a bit more curious and checked out the interior of the wreck. Mikey watched as he entered one hole and a few moments later witnessed a large cloud of sediment flowing out of the wreck. A jewfish bolted out of one hole and eventually Andrew came out of another; apparently, Andrew wasn't well received by the large grouper. It sounded like Mikey could have drowned as he was laughing so hard. While Andrew wasn't particularly attractive to the jewfish, the oil from the interior of the wreck found his gear to be very attractive as he surfaced with a few globs. We all headed up for deco and then boarded the boat to head to the Baja California.

A Honduran freighter, the Baja California was built in 1914 in Sutherland, England. She boasted a length of 266' and a beam of 38'. Owned by Mayan S.S. Corporation, she was en route to Key West from New Orleans carrying a general cargo when a torpedo from U-84 struck the ship. She eventually sunk in 115' of water.

Upon our arrival to the Baja California, the seas began to build and the skies started to darken. A large storm system was headed our way, so we opted to have lunch and wait it out. After about an hour of pelting (horizontal) rain, booming thunder, and howling winds, the weather cleared enough for us to sneak into the water. We had tied into the subsurface "buoy" that is maintained on the wreck which leads directly to the stern section and its deck gun. Visibility on the bottom was again murky. Numerous large jewfish swarmed around the stern section. I opted to head towards the bow and look for the forward cargo area to search through the wreckage for some of the abundant glassware she was carrying. The California was carrying tons of glassware, from multi-colored art deco bottles, to inkwells, to stemware, to bowls, etc. After swimming through the very broken down midsection of the wreck, I started to look around the debris and immediately found some stemware and a large glass bowl amongst broken glass and china. Combs and cosmetic cases were also abundant. Satisfied with the goodies, I started back for the stern taking note of the very active marine life that looked to have gotten worked up with the passing of the storm. I played around the stern a bit, noticing several pieces of ordinance in the sand under the large deck gun. I found several manufacturer's plates on the gun, but neglected to bring any tools on this dive as well, so I was unable to free the encrusted prizes. Deco went quick as we were still able to view the stern and its swarms of circling fish from our shallow stops. Everyone managed to find a nice bottle or inkwell on this dive. We eventually secured all the gear and headed for home.

About 30 miles from the inlet, Mother Nature turned ugly and threw a large, nasty system of storms at us. We slowed to a crawl as Captain Jeff negotiated the ugly seas. We eventually found calmer water and made it back to the dock around 7pm.

All around, this was an incredible trip visiting some awe-inspiring wrecks. There is no doubt that we will soon be back to visit these again, as well as several other undocumented wrecks in the Tortugas area that range in depth from 190' - 450'.