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: Mon, 10 Sep 2001 19:09:40

AUE Tortugas Trip Report September 6-9
Rhein, Araby Maid II, U-2513, Oil Wreck, Baja California

It was yet another great trip to the deep wrecks in the vicinity of the Dry Tortugas. We managed to run eight dives over the two and a half days, with great visibility, awesome marine life, cool artifacts, and some kick-ass wrecks.

Our boats, Gulf Business and Nauti Gal, headed out to the Rhein at midnight on Thursday, reaching the site by sunrise the following morning. The Rhein was a 453-foot long German freighter, built by the Hamburg American Lines in 1926. December 1940 found the German freighter in Mexico, separated from home by a large expanse of hostile territory. While making for home, the Rhein was caught by the Dutch warship Van Kinsbergen. With no escape possible, the crew of the Rhein attempted to scuttle their vessel and caught fire to the ship. Before she was able to sink, the British warship Caradoc approached and hurled several 6-inch shells into her hull from her deck guns. She now sits upright in approximately 240 feet of water. For more information on the Rhein, check out the recent issue of Advanced Diver Magazine.

I planned to relax and enjoy my birthday exploring some areas of the wreck I had yet to visit. I dropped down and soon saw the bow of the wreck appear below me. We were hooked in on the starboard side of the hull, just aft of the ladders to the foredeck on the extreme bow. Due to the location of the hook, it would be a long swim to the stern, so I leisurely made my way aft. Numerous large black grouper, massive hogfish, stingrays, and a solitary jewfish were spotted within the first minute of the dive as I swam along the deck. I decided to poke around a bit amidships, looking through the remains of the superstructure. This area has really been walloped and is severely beaten down. Direct access to the boilers can be found through gaps of the collapsed bulkheads and decks, while the forward portion of the engine is buried under debris. After watching more jumbo black grouper swim about the wreck, I continued aft towards the stern superstructure.

I saw one of my buddies pop out from one of the aft cargo holds with a bottle in his hand. I inquired as to where it came from and he enthusiastically led me to a stash of beer bottles within the interior of the wreck. As we dropped into the cargo hold and along the deck, I soon saw a massive pile of boxes and bottles littered against a bulkhead in the distance. As I picked up one I was a bit shocked when it promptly broke at the neck. As I looked closely at another bottle, I noticed that it was finely spider-webbed with cracks. The majority of the others were as brittle as the first. There were boxes upon boxes of bottles that had fallen over from this storage area just aft of the superstructure, and they all appeared to have been roasted in the fire the crew set during their scuttling attempt. In fact, I found a few bottles that were melted together from the intense heat. Picking through the debris, I managed to find a couple more soundly intact bottles. I turned my dive and slowly meandered back towards the hook, taking a route through some of the decks to admire the numerous portholes that still can be found throughout the wreck. Returning to the line, I slowly headed up as I watched some of the other divers play about the bow area below me.

After taking a quick bite, we returned to the water for a second dive on the Rhein. Again, I swam aft towards the beer room to find a souvenir. After playing around a bit in there and inspecting some adjacent rooms, I headed up and into the aft portion of the superstructure. I slowly played around the interior, watching clouds of tiny tropicals dart about the wreckage, while monster amberjack patrolled just outside. After goofing off for a while I finned back towards the bow. I checked out the huge deck equipment and anchor tackle and then dropped over the tip of the bow, looking down at the sand 50 feet below. I did a free fall down and slowly circuited around the starboard bow. I again tried to make out the bow letters of the vessel, but the hull is just too encrusted to decipher anything. Pieces of the wreck have flaked off the hull and lay around the perimeter of the wreck, but again, I had no luck finding the letters of the Rhein anywhere. Heading up to the gunwale, I intercepted the hook and continued my ascent up the line for decompression. Surrounded by flocks of barracuda in the 150-foot visibility, I again enjoyed watching the remaining divers scooter and frolic about on the wreck below in the nice visibility.

After the team had boarded the boats, we motored over to the wreck of the Araby Maid II. The Araby Maid II was a three-masted schooner built in 1868 to replace the original Araby Maid, which had sunk a few years earlier. Sunk in a collision in 1903, the second Maid now rests in approximately 220 feet of water.

After consuming dinner and topping off our tanks, we splashed just before dark for a twilight dive on the iron-hulled schooner. I followed one of my buddies down into the clear dark blue waters. As the sun was just disappearing over the horizon, the water column took on a really neat hue. As I approached the wreck below, I saw that we had hooked into the port side near the stern. During the descent, you could see a large portion of the wreck stretch off into the gloom; while the ambient light was quickly fading, the water clarity was impressive. As I poked around the top decks a bit, I watched as several more lights came bouncing down the line. This wreck is littered with brass artifacts, though many are heavily eroded. Many more neat items undoubtedly lie under the layer of shell and coral debris that line the lower decks. As I played around the port side, my light reflected off something I hadn't noted before. As I approached it I realized it was a porthole with glass intact, laying on one of the upper deck support beams. I had probably swam over it several times and not noticed it, as the glass was mostly overgrown with colorful coralline algae. It was concreted to the beam, but with a little effort it popped loose. I placed it off to the side for the night, as well as placing several other neat brass goodies next to it. I made a quick transit towards the bow, checking out the rest of the guys above and below decks, their lights illuminating the wreck. Our bottom time expended, we headed back up the line for decompression. The night quickly enveloped us as we ran through our deco obligation, joined briefly by a large colorful nudibranch.

Boarding the boat, I was pleased at the incredible day of diving we had started out on and looked forward to the remainder of the trip.

More to come...