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, 10 Oct 2000 03:52:41 GMT

AUE Weekend Trip Report Key West, October 7-8

Two of us rolled into Key West late Friday night on three wheels and a prayer after one of my tires decided to literally fall apart. We decided it was a good omen for the weekend as the tire held together long enough for us to make KW and not blowout en route.

Earlier in the day I had learned that the boat we typically use, the Sea Hawk, was sold and would be heading to Mexico. We were to dive off the larger boat, the Sea Eagle, but we may need to find another boat to run future tech dives off Key West. Hopefully, we will hammer out the details soon so we can resume diving these great wrecks.

The team rendezvoused at the boat Saturday afternoon and caught up with events after the almost month-long hiatus due to the previous three weekends of weather blowouts. We proceeded to load our gear on the boat and were pleased with the abundant amount of room we would have to ourselves. Eventually, the boat departed in calm seas for our planned dive on the USS Kendrick. The USS Kendrick, a 348 long Bristol-Class destroyer, was sunk by the David Taylor Model Basin, Carderock, Maryland, in March of 1968. She now rests upright in ~330 of water. We pulled up on the Loran numbers but soon realized that the bottom reader on the boat, while adequate for locating the recreational dive sites that the boat visited 99.9% of the time, was inadequate for these depths; I never saw any marks that I felt comfortable with trying to grapple with our shot line. After working to find the wreck for a while, we decided to head over to the USS Wilkes Barre for a dive as it was getting late in the day.

The USS Wilkes Barre was a 608 long Cleveland-Class light cruiser sunk in 1972 after underwater explosive tests. She now sits in two sections in 253 of water off American Shoals. As we pulled up, we noticed a small boat had already hooked the stern section and was about to send three divers in. As we suited up, the divers off the small boat geared up and dropped in one at a time. After conferring with their Captain, we planned to drop on their line, rally at the stack (the shallowest point on the stern) at 25 minutes, and shoot a bag to deco under. The boat moved into position and our group of nine hit the water together. As we intercepted the line and moved towards the wreck, I noticed one of the other divers already ascending, his back towards us. I can only speculate at his reaction when he turned around to see 9 divers heading right for him. He began to motion wildly in an attempt to convey that they were pulling the hook, unaware that we already had made plans for our deco. Noticing the wreck off to the side, I turned to swim for the deck; the downline was horizontal and running almost parallel, though askew a bit, to the wreck. As I hit the deck, I turned to signal the others with my light. Eventually, the other guys noticed my signal and turned to join me on the wreck.

We had landed on the starboard side, just aft of the rear deck gun that still points slightly elevated and directly astern. A solitary bull shark circled the perimeter of the wreck, eventually moving off at our intrusion. A couple of the guys continued to where the hook met the wreck; they were treated to a show (comedy?) as one of the other divers was attempting to free their hook. I started to explore the wreck, heading forward to the superstructure. A few portholes, glass intact, still adorn the rear of this section. I poked around sticking my head into the gun placements to observe all the controls and gauges. As I swam adjacent to the 3" side guns and under a ladder, I noticed a large loudspeaker that had fallen to the deck. A cursory examination revealed the manufacturers plate still clearly visible on the artifact. I checked out several of the compartments taking note of all the equipment and gear still evident on this great wreck. Moving up towards the upper levels, I entered a room that had a large radar array. Light bulbs, still intact, floated on the ceiling. There were several brass switches evident which appeared by their markings to be related to the navigational lights for the ship. Brass speaking tubes were also observed in the upper corner of the compartment. I exited through the opposite hatch to meet with a school of large African pompano that were circling the wreck. The majority of the team were already working towards the shallow antiaircraft positions in anticipation of our departure. I made a quick inspection of the area, trying to locate the tackle that used to anchor the midwater float and downline on this wreck as we plan in install one in the near future. With the team all together, we reluctantly let go to drift off the wreck and complete our deco obligation.

After considering a dive on the S-16, we opted to return to the Wilkes on Sunday. We quickly marked the wreck, deployed a maker jug, and then towed our grapple and downline into the stern section of the wreck. After confirming that it was hooked into the wreck, we geared up and prepared to hit the water. Joe and I hit the water on the starboard side, with the rest of the team deploying off the stern and port side. I eventually intercepted the line and descended to the wreck. I noticed no one below me so I looked up under me to observe the rest of the team dropping down. Suddenly, Mikey shot past me for the wreck at Warp Factor 2.0. Reaching the wreck right behind Mikey, I worked to free the line which was resting against an encrusted part of the wreck while he eventually descended to retrieve the hook which was sitting in the sand, finally securing it back on deck. The visibility appeared a tad better today (60+?).

We all set upon our dives; I toured around the fracture area looking for points of entry for later dives. Heading around the port side, I poked my head into a hatch to observe a line of sinks and urinals. Suddenly, the other Mike B appeared down a corridor and entered the room. I backed out and headed aft. Stopping to check a few other compartments, I worked back towards the hangar opening at the stern. Dropping down, I observed Mikey and Jeff checking out the area. The hangar is basically a large pit, with not too much to see aside from several float lines lying scattered on the deck along the port side. Looking over in the starboard section, a ladder led up to two hatches; I noticed light from within the forward facing hatch and decided to follow the other guys. A long room ran forward with a line running from the hatch to an access hatch at the other end that led back on deck. The line was one of many that can be found throughout the wreck from when divers used to visit it on a regular basis. Swimming forward over some debris within the compartment, the others had already slipped through the hatch. I inspected some of the circuit breakers on the forward bulkhead, as well as a side compartment that was lined with sinks. Exiting the hatch, it was nice to be back in daylight.

I worked forward again, checking out the tiny hatch that led up into one of the large deck guns. Eventually, our bottom time neared the end, as several divers had already ascended up the line. Joe, Jeff, and I hovered next to the wreck as Mikey also began to float off the wreck. We all noticed a nice bull shark swimming along the far side of the superstructure and stopped to watch him. He turned and soon swam back around, swimming close past me and then off to the gloom. It was an impressive sight to watch that graceful animal cruise along the massive superstructure in really good visibility as it provided a neat sense of scale of the wreck. I worked up the line a bit as I watched Jeff and Joe free the hook. Soon, we all found ourselves drifting off into a gentle current to finish our deco amongst some very large jellyfish near the surface.

It was a great weekend of diving and I am sure we hooked some new divers on these cool wrecks off Key West.