The Saga of the Spiegel Grove is an AMAZING Story with Florida Keys TV and my724outdoors.com!
In May 2002, a retired 510-foot Navy Landing Ship Dock named Spiegel Grove was sunk off Key Largo to become an artificial reef, providing sanctuary to hundreds of aquatic species. In May 2022, divers and underwater enthusiasts celebrated the 20th anniversary of the ship’s sinking. Now the backbone of a new reef ecosystem 6 miles offshore, Spiegel Grove is the third-largest ship ever intentionally sunk to become an artificial reef. The story of its journey from the surface to the sandy bottom 130 feet below, however, is as compelling as the ship’s size.
Recalling a Premature Plunge From 1956 to its decommissioning in 1989, The Spiegel Grove helped enforce America’s Cold War strategy of containment, which called for rushing troops and equipment to support friendly governments. The massive ship was originally designed to carry cargo and craft for amphibious landings. To evolve into an artificial reef in the Atlantic Ocean, it first needed to be freed of any materials or toxins that were potentially hazardous to the marine environment. In June 2001, after 12 years spent tethered in the Navy’s “Mothball Fleet” in Virginia’s James River, Spiegel Grove was towed to undergo an elaborate cleaning process. Officials with the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary later performed a stability analysis and installed new mooring buoys on the wreck. Rob Bleser, the project manager during the 2002 sinking, said the ship has remained in the upright position ever since, despite subsequent hurricanes passing through or near the Keys. “In its upright orientation, one is overwhelmed by a feeling of its history, massive size and the ship’s ability to continue making history,” Bleser said. Explore Today’s Spiegel Grove Today, the top deck of Spiegel Grove is about 60 feet below the surface of the ocean. The ship is so wide that, on many days, the view of the superstructure fades into a green-blue abyss. On the clearest days, the sandy bottom is visible nearly 130 feet from the surface. Mooring buoys provide convenient, coral-friendly boat tie-offs.
Eleven months later, it was relocated to Key Largo waters. As the vessel was floating offshore during preparations for its intentional sinking, it began taking on water faster than expected. All personnel evacuated the ship without incident. On May 17, 2002, Spiegel prematurely partially sank and rolled over, leaving the ship’s upside-down bow protruding above the surface of the water. Three weeks later, a salvage team managed to fully sink the vessel and it came to rest on its starboard side. It remained in that position for three years. In 2005, Hurricane Dennis gave an amazing gift to sport divers by shifting Spiegel Grove from lying on its side to an upright stance — the position artificial reef project organizers had initially anticipated.
On the afternoon before the hurricane brushed the Florida Keys July 9, 2005, waves from Dennis near the Spiegel Grove wreck site were estimated to be as high as 20 feet, according to meteorologists at the Florida Keys National Weather Service office. Such waves in proximity to the reef could have produced unusually strong currents with tremendous force. To Dive Spiegel Grove, Be Prepared and Well Trained For a normal dive on a wreck without penetration, Keys dive professionals recommend (and at certain shops, require) that divers be in exceptional physical health and have at least advanced open-water certification, a wreck-diving specialty or higher, and similar recent dive experience. In addition to adhering to a dive plan and buddy system, it is also advised that wreck divers intending to enter the upper decks of Spiegel Grove — areas that were prepared to lessen the risk of such activity — have knowledge and proof of certifications regarding diving in overhead environments.
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