Key Largo Wrecks
The USCGC William J. Duane, none simply as the Duane, is a 327ft Coast Guard Cutter that was named after the Secretary of the Treasury under President Andrew Jackson. She was built in 1936 along with six other Coast Guard Cutters.
The Duane had a very storied career. She served patrol duty in the North Atlantic and Viet Nam. She served convoy escort duty in 1942, served as the flag ship for Major General John O’Daniel who headed Operation Dragoon during the D-Day invasion and assisted in the sinking of a German U-Boat. The Duane has a connection to the history of the State of Florida. She served escort duty during the Mariel Boat Lift which brought thousands of Cuban Refugees to the Florida Keys in 1980. Her proudest accomplishments were the hundreds of lives saved during her service.
The Duane was sunk in 1987 and quickly became the number one wreck dive in the United States of America. She sits upright in the sand at a maximum depth of 125ft. Her deck is at 100ft. and the top of the crow’s nest is at 50ft. You can see most any of the varied reef fish that Key Largo offers. The really exciting part of diving on the Duane is the squadron of Great Barracuda that patrol the area and the pelagic species that just might swim by such as Bull Sharks and the occasional Whale Shark in the early spring.
This dive is an advanced level dive. All dive operators require either and Advanced Dive Certification with recent diving experience or to be able to show two eighty foot or deeper dives in your log book within the last 12 months. You can also hire one of Key Largo’s experienced dive Instructors or Dive Masters to take you on a guided dive. You should arrange a minimum of one week in advance of your trip.
The USCGC George M. Bibb, known locally as the Bibb, was named after the Secretary of the Treasury under President John Tyler. She was built in 1936 as a part of a group of seven vessels that included the Duane. The 327ft. long Bibb lies on her starboard side. She was sunk the day after the Duane in 1987.
Like the Duane, the Bibb rescued many hundreds of people from disasters at sea. One of the Bibbs most famous rescues was of 202 survivors off the Merchant Marine ship SS Henry Mallory on a single day in 1943. She served patrol and escort duty in the North Atlantic, Caribbean Sea, Mediterranean Sea, Viet Nam and the Pacific Ocean. In 1945 the Bibb served as the landing operations flag ship in the invasion of Okinawa.
The Bibb rests on her starboard side. As you descend, you will touch her gunwale around 100ft. and the deepest part in the sand is at 135ft. The Bibb is very much coral and sponge covered with a myriad of fish life living in and around this warship.
This dive is an advanced level dive, even more so than the Duane due to its depth. All dive operators require either and Advanced Dive Certification with recent diving experience or to be able to show two eighty foot or deeper dives in your log book within the last 12 months. You can also hire one of Key Largo’s experienced dive Instructors or Dive Masters to take you on a guided dive. You should arrange a minimum of one week in advance of your trip.
THE SPIEGEL GROVE
The USS Spiegel Grove is the flag ship of all wreck dives in the Florida Keys. She is designated LSD-32 or Landing Ship Dock 32. She was named after the Ohio Home of President Rutherford B. Hayes.
The Spiegel Grove was launched in 1956. She is 510ft long with an 84ft beam, making her one of the largest artificial reefs in the world. Her main function was to carry a large contingent of US Marines and beach assault vehicles that could be launched in any war zone in the world. She also carried helicopters with a large helipad that covered the huge well deck. She carried four anti-aircraft batteries for protection.
The USS Spiegel Grove’s major claim to fame is that she carried and delivered many tons of food and medical supplies to several African countries on two separate Humanitarian missions in the 1960’s. This is when she earned the nickname “Top Dog”. The Spiegel Grove served in the Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea and the Mediterranean Sea.
The sinking of the Spiegel Grove in 2001 is a story unto its own. After completing the environmental cleaning she was towed to Key Largo for the final preparation. On the very day of her scheduled sinking she went down four to five hours prematurely and rolled upside down resting on the stern side of the heli-pad at 130ft and her bow sticking out of the water about 65ft. The Key Largo Community hired a salvage company to raise her stern back to the surface and rolled her onto her starboard side. She remained on her side for three years when Hurricane Dennis came by and stood her upright.
With all of the turning and rolling, the heli-pad broke off and is lying off to the side in the sand. Sometime in her career one of the anti-aircraft batteries wash removed but there are still three remaining. Most divers do not recognize the batteries because the barrels were removed during the cleaning process. When you approach the gun emplacement you will see two very large springs, these are the recoil springs of the gun. The Spiegel Grove’s deck is now at 100ft with the top of the superstructure at 65ft. The huge size of the Spiegel Grove will require divers to do approximately six dives to circumnavigate her one time. The divers will really enjoy the crane area. The top of each crane is at 65ft. with lots of places for marine life to hide out. The sinking committee saw fit to cut additional openings in the Spiegel Grove and added permanent lines inside providing divers easy access to some interior sections of the ship with multiple exists along the way. There really is so much to see on the exterior of the ship that there is no need to penetrate the interior. Penetration beyond these areas is dangerous and highly discouraged.
This dive is an advanced level dive. All dive operators require either and Advanced Dive Certification with recent diving experience or to be able to show two eighty foot or deeper dives in your log book within the last 12 months. You can also hire one of Key Largo’s experienced dive Instructors or Dive Masters to take you on a guided dive. You should arrange a minimum of one week in advance of your trip. The professional dive operators of Key Largo also require that divers own an Upper Keys Artificial Reef Medallion. This $10.00 medallion, good for each calendar year goes toward the debt that the community has on the wreck. Many Dive Operators require you to have this Medallion to dive on any of the Key Largo artificial reefs. The Artificial reef committee also offers a $250.00 life time medallion. The perks of this is that you do not have to purchase any of the annual medallions and your name gets molded onto a Bronze Plague that is or will be mounted permanently on the Spiegel Grove.
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The Benwood was a British freighter built in 1910. She is 360 ft. long with a 51ft. beam. She is a casualty of World War II, in that she was running without lights so as to not be seen by German U-Boats when she rammed into the 544ft. tanker Robert C. Tuttle which was also running without lights. The Captain of the Benwood, knowing she was going to sink, ran her aground where she sits today. He wanted to save his cargo of phosphates and hopefully salvage his ship. The cargo was saved but the Benwood was too badly damaged. US Navy used her for bombing practice through the remainder of World War II and on into the Korean War.
The Benwood was eventually blown up to prevent a navigation hazard. The Benwood is now one of the premier shallow dives in the John Pennekamp National Marine Sanctuary. She lies is around 35 ft. of water with the deepest point being 45ft. at the bow section. You will see large schools of Midnight Parrot Fish, large Moray Eels, Nurse Sharks buzzing around the area, and a huge abundance of Micro-organisms such as Feather Duster Worms and Christmas Tree Worms.
The shallow depths, great visibility and lack of current make the Benwood a great dive for any level of training. She can even be enjoyed by snorkelers.
THE CITY OF WASHINGTON
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The City of Washington was a steam engine powered Schooner that carried passengers regularly from New York to Havana, Cuba on a regular basis. She was 320 ft. long with a 38ft beam and was built in 1877.
The City of Washington’s claim to fame is that she was anchored near the Battleship USS Maine in the Havana harbor in 1898 when the Maine exploded. The City of Washington was able to rescue 90 crew members after the explosion that started the Spanish-American War. Her last years were not nearly as glorious. She spent her life as a barge and was doing so when she ran aground where she sits today.
The wreck sits in 20-25ft. of water and is covered with coral and sponges. The fish life that was drawn to the wreckage is incredible. The site is a fishbowl filled with diver friendly fish.
This wreck is also great for any level of SCUBA diver and snorkeler. She is very shallow, has good visibility and rarely has a current flow.
THE 1733 SPANISH GALLEON WRECKS
The San Jose & the El Infante
These wrecks were a part of the 1733 “Silver Plate” Fleet that was completely destroyed by a Hurricane just off the coast of the Florida Keys.
The fleet consisted of twenty-one vessels and less than fifteen have been discovered. The fleet began in Mexico where it was loaded with tons of cargo. On the way to Europe they made a stop in Havana, Cuba to take on additional treasure and passengers. After departing, Havana to head for Europe she encountered a Hurricane which destroyed the entire fleet.
The San Jose was built in New England and was originally called the Saint Joseph. After the Spanish acquired her they renamed her San Joseph Y Las Animus and then it was shortened to the San Jose. According to her manifest she was carrying 30,435 pesos in silver specie and bullion, sugar, indigo, dyewood, cocoa, tobacco, and ceramics.
The El Infante was originally named the Nuestra Senora de Balvaneda and carried a cargo of 562,509 in pesos in silver specie and bullion and 643 Marcos in worked silver. Some of the coinage was the world famous “pillar dollar” which were the first minted coins in the Americas.
The two galleons went down within sight of each other in the shallow waters just off the western tip of Key Largo. There is not much left of either treasure galleon except a number of ballasts stones that have been scattered by the centuries of hurricanes that have passed by the area and a few deck timbers. None the less, it is really exciting to take a dive back into history.
The wrecks both lie within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and removal of any artifact, including ballast stones or timbers is strictly prohibited.