“A little sporty out there today.” That was the succinct summary of our adventure from Captain David Brown of Little Deeper Charters, delivered with a smile on his face from a comfy chair on the dock. Amidst all the bustle of transporting dive gear from the dive boat to our waiting vehicles there were a lot of handshakes, back slaps, and camaraderie. Everybody was smiling as we chatted about the day and exchanged contact information with the new friends we had made. We all had just witnessed the creation of a new dive site. This is what our scuba diving obsession is truly about.
The Palm Beach County Dive Association has been working hard to bring a new artificial reef wreck dive site to the area and there has been tremendous effort behind the scenes. When I first learned of the new Danny McCauley Memorial Reef I recalled a conversation with Carman Vare, Environmental Program Supervisor at Palm Beach County Board of County Commissioners in 2012 when he said he was going to look at a potential new wreck the next day and wondered if this might be the one. With the combined efforts of the diving industry, the County of Palm Beach and Doitfordanny.com the new dive site has become a reality.
The Danny McCauley Memorial Reef has been deployed in less than 80 feet of water just north of the Lake Worth inlet with the intention of adding to a series of wrecks/reefs easily accessible to all divers on the drift dives the area is famous for. This 110 foot World War II vintage tugboat, formerly called the Pocahontas, was deployed perfectly upright with the bow facing south. Being a relatively small vessel at a moderate depth with plenty of open areas to explore, this promises to be an excellent dive for openwater divers.
After several delays due to Coast Guard inspections, mechanical failures, and weather, the decision was made to sink the tugboat the morning of February 22, 2013. The choice of this date was unintentional but somehow fitting. It was the anniversary of the passing of 16 year old Danny McCauley in a tragic automobile accident.
Word of the new date came to Florida Dive Connection on the morning of February 21st. Pura Vida Divers was handling the coordination of spectators and was gracious enough to find me space on their press boat, but the opportunity to dive the new wreck with my friends from Little Deeper was too enticing. I was in Ft. Myers Beach and made the four hour trip home Thursday night. After setting up and packing gear I made it to bed at 12:30 am. The alarm went off at 4:15 am and I was on the dock at Lake Park Marina just after 8:00 am and ready for the adventure.
We had a great group of experienced divers on the boat from all over the country and we ranged in age from the 20s to the 70s. Most of us were carrying cameras- video, still, or both, because we wanted to capture the memory of this special event.
As we cleared the Lake Worth Inlet a brisk wind had picked up and the 38ft. Delta dive boat was being knocked around a bit. I was up top talking with Captain Dave and went below to find half my gear on the deck. Most of the divers on the boat that day were used to this and preparations were continuing with everybody holding grab rails as we readied our cameras.
We sighted the Pocahontas being towed into position as soon as we cleared the inlet and hovered around the crowd of boats surrounding the tug watching it being anchored perfectly at the planned deployment spot. Work progressed and she was soon ready for sinking. Meanwhile the two foot seas had built into the four foot range and the wind was still blowing.
There was no pyrotechnics on this deployment. Concrete had been placed in the hull for ballast once the engines and machinery had been removed. Holes had been cut into the hull and temporarily sealed. At the prescribed moment the seals were removed and water was allowed to enter the hull.
The Pocahontas settled in the water quickly and began to go down by the stern. Soon, all that remained above water was the bow. She hung there for a brief moment before slipping below the water in a mass of turbulence and spraying air and seawater to come to rest exactly as planned on the sandy bottom. Across the waves came the sounds of cheers and boat horns blowing to mark the moment.
Time was needed for the wreck to settle and for inspection by safety divers. We moved off and our group of divers enjoyed a pleasant drift dive on the “Corridor” before coming back to have the new wreck all to ourselves.
By this time the seas had risen to the point where we had some six footers. We were being knocked around a lot. Those of us who were using cameras were feeling the effects and were a little queasy. There weren’t nearly as many smiles as there were when the day began. That all changed as we hit the water to see the new wreck.
The tugboat sits in 74 feet of seawater with the deck in the 50 foot range. She was visible on the bottom after we descended approximately 20 feet. Currents in this area tend to be strong but staying close to the wreck shields you and you can easily move about. The engines and operating equipment have all been removed and large holes have been cut in the deck and cabin, making it very open and easily accessible. There are several smaller rooms to peak in and the ladders and stairways remind you it was once a working boat. Be careful of the jagged edges on the steel where torches were used and stay clear of several ropes and lines left over from deployment.
The Danny McCauley Memorial Reef is a beautiful new wreck dive and will be spectacular once the coral and marine life begin to claim her as home. I explored every inch and got a maximum depth of 74 feet to the sand. At this depth the wreck can be easily seen on a single tank. With the tug sitting perfectly upright photo opportunities abound. Add this to your list of Florida “must do” dives.
CLICK HERE for Insider Information and Discounts when diving the Danny McCauley Memorial Reef and other area sites.