Dive in Key Largo

Spiegel Grove

The Spiegel Grove - http://www.spiegelgrove.com/ - , Sunk in 2002, @15 miles north east of Tavanier.

Dive Trip Report s: 07-Sept-2002

News - 11-July-2005

The Spiegel Grove is UpRight!

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The Spiegel Grove - Glenn Patton Pics

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Storm uprights Spiegel Grove

Federal officials to close off site until stability is determined

Citizen Staff

KEY LARGO Underwater turbulence generated by Hurricane Dennis has uprighted the 510-foot artificial reef known as the Spiegel Grove.

The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary is working on an emergency closure of the site while it assesses the ship's stability and its general condition. Workers will be removing the mooring buoys temporarily, sanctuary spokeswoman Cheva Heck said.

The shifted position of the 510-foot ship comes as a surprise because the area experienced minimal tropical-storm force winds during the passage of Hurricane Dennis on Saturday.

On Monday, a boat from Key Largo dive shop Ocean Divers visited the former Navy ship, which was scuttled in 130 feet of water May 17, 2002. When divers arrived at the site six miles offshore, they saw that several mooring balls were missing.

The dive boat tied off on one of the three remaining moorings and instructors Bob Snyder and Steve Schalk descended the mooring lines.

At 90 feet, Schalk said he saw nothing and came to the surface. Snyder, who descended to the ship's bow, was stunned by what he saw.

"I was in shock," he said Monday. "I had to ask myself, 'Am I narcked [suffering from nitrogen narcosis]?' There was only 10-foot visibility, so I dropped down 10 feet and I could see both sides of the ship. It was sitting upright."

In 2002, the Spiegel Grove sank prematurely, and upside-down, with its bow jutting 50 feet in the air while it was being prepared for scuttling. Contractors on the project were hired by the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, which spearheaded the effort. Salvers later turned the 6,880-ton ship on its side, where it remained, becoming a popular dive attraction and drawing many tourists from the heavily dived coral reef tract.

Original plans called for the ship to be sunk upright, a task ultimately performed three years later by Mother Nature.

The fact that a large ship rolled 90 degrees as the result of a hurricane that never came close to Key Largo has Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary officials concerned .

"It's good in that it is what the supporters of the project wanted," said sanctuary Superintendent Billy Causey. "It's bad in that it is not supposed to move. It makes me worried about the Vandenberg project."

Artificial Reefs of the Keys wants to scuttle the 520-foot USS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg in 140 feet of water seven miles off Key West. The wreck would be accessible by both advanced and intermediate divers and snorkelers, because sections of the top of the boat would be 40 feet below the surface of the ocean. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration already has issued a permit for the project.

The organizers of the Vandenberg project have been working with the world's top artificial reef experts on the project. The experts collectively have sunk 18 ships, more than any other [group] in the world, project organizer Capt. Joe Weatherby said.

The Vandenberg can withstand a 100-year storm and is being weighted down with an extra six million pounds of ballast and locked in place with extra anchors, Weatherby said. The Vandenberg is twice as heavy as the Spiel Grove.

"It's our position that in a hurricane, the Vandenberg is the safest place and the least likely to move," Weatherby said.

"We're very concerned that the ship moved in a relatively minor storm," Heck said of the Spiegel Grove.

Heck pointed out that the Key Largo chamber and Monroe County, which helped fund the project, would be responsible for any damage the ship may have caused to the living coral reef.

Late Monday afternoon, Hank Becker, who leads the Upper Keys mooring team for the sanctuary, was heading back out to the ship for another look.

Heck said a stability analysis would be conducted before the ship would again be open as a dive site.


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I just got a call from the FKNMS telling me the SPIEGEL GROVE is now upright! There were reports today that the mooring buoys were all gone, so when FKNMS divers dived the wreck to determine where the moorings were damaged, they observed the wreck sitting bolt upright on the bottom. The wreck is offlimits to diving while new moorings are put in place.

She is upright, and is expected to wallow out the sand under her keel. But if she was righted by less than 15-foot seas, it is unclear how stable the wreck actually is. While she undoubtedly is safe to dive, who knows what the next major storm event will do to the wreck.

The other side effect of this will likely be no new artificial reefs will be allowed in FKNMS due to the fact that this wreck was significantly moved by a very minor storm. There is no telling what would have happened if the Upper

Keys took a direct hit.
Expect a front page report in the Miami Herald and Key West Citizen tomorrow....
Michael C. Barnette
Shipwrecks of the Sunshine State: Florida's Submerged History
Association of Underwater Explorers

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KEY LARGO, Fla. - In the wake of Hurricane Dennis, a man-made mistake with the largest intentionally sunk ship in the world was found Monday to have been put right.

The former USS Spiegel Grove, now serving as artificial reef on the bottom in 130 feet of water off Key Largo, flipped upright as the core of the storm passed well over 200 miles to the west.

It's a position project organizers wanted since the retired 510-foot Landing Ship Dock prematurely sank and rolled over May 17, 2002, leaving its upside-down bow protruding from the water.

Three weeks later, a salvage team managed to fully sink the vessel, but on its right side instead of its keel. Three years later, the Spiegel Grove is the most popular artificial wreck in the Florida Keys, home at least 166 different fish species, said Lad Akins of the Reef Environmental Education Foundation.

"I'm flabbergasted," Rob Bleser, volunteer project director, said Monday afternoon after a dive on the newly oriented Spiegel Grove. "Nature took its course and put it where it belongs."

"This will mean a whole new dive for those that have dove it before," Bleser said. Its highest point is now 60 feet down .

Words of delight about the Spiegel Grove moved quickly through the Florida Keys' sport dive industry, but at least one federal official was not happy.

"It's bad news from my perspective as a resource manager that it moved," said Billy Causey, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Superintendent. "We have to figure out why."

Matt Strahan, meteorologist in charge at the National Weather Service Office in Key West, said waves at the wreck were as high as 20 feet Friday afternoon, when Dennis was southeast of Cuba .

"Waves that high in close proximity to the reef can produce unusually strong currents with tremendous force," Strahan said.

The Spiegel Grove reef is about six miles off Key Largo. Bleser says there have been about 75,000 sport dives on the wreck since it opened.

The ship, designed to carry cargo and craft for amphibious landings, was retired by the Navy in 1989.

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Last Updated: 15-July-2005

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