Friday, April 24, 2009


There are a couple of fevers gripping Key West at the moment. One is the Cuban Embargo that business leaders are hoping will soon vanish. Their fond hope is that reopening business links with the Communist Island will give our small town a boost. The sceptic in me is bound to wonder if cruise ships will choose Key West over Havana but hey, if I get that much talked about ferry service from Stock Island I will be happy. The other fever affects me not one bit. It's the prospect of sinking a ship off Key West to allow recreational divers, those that still have jobs in their real lives, to go diving from Key West. On Wednesday, a day no cruise ships were scheduled to dock in Key West four tugs showed up in the harbor dragging a derelict Navy ship that had been scheduled for scrapping, but now will live on forever as the world's second largest artificial reef. How do I know? Because even the slowest dolt in Key West can recite by heart the "world's secon..." etc etc. It is also very well known around town these daysthat the Vandenberg was a satellite tracking ship, and... was used to track the Apollo space missions. Instead of a ending up as scrap this venerable old ship is to be sunk in about a month and will become a diving attraction, sufficient they think to wrest the crown of "Diving Capital of the Keys" from Key Largo. People showed up to stare at the ship when it was docked at Truman Annex Wednesday afternoon:

The ship has spent huge amounts of time and money (a total somewhere between eight and twelve million depending on who you talk to) being cleaned up in Norfolk, Virgina, preparatory to being sunk. And most recently the city plunked a million and a half dollars into the project to prevent it going bankrupt. The Spottswood family also plunked down a similar amount if I remember correctly, so now they have to finish up the work and get ready to pull the plug. Currently the Vandenberg looks more like a construction site than a dive attraction:

I became a PADI certified open water diver in the mid 1980's at Monastery beach near Carmel California, and the experience was such that I decided diving really wasn't for me. The waters were of course dark and freezing despite the dry suit I wore, the colors underwater were muted by pea soup nature of the water and the paraphernalia needed to go diving was so complex that I decided if it wasn't warm enough and clear enough for snorkeling, I wasn't going to bother. It's a rule that has stood me in good stead, and because I like gin-clear waters and revel in heat and humidity I have snorkeled to my heart's content, never once missing the business of weightlessness while listening to my breath sound like a steam engine while drifting under water.

The top of the Vandenberg is scheduled to sit forty feet (13 meters) from the surface, too deep for my lungs. Which is okay because I think wreck diving is a little creepy. Not so much here because no one died, but when i swam over the Rhone in the US Virgins I got creeped out when I spotted the anchor on the bottom, and just viewing film of the exploration of the Titanic, gives me the shudders. I am overly sensitive no doubt. There will be festivities at the waterfront, centered on the Vandenberg's little neighbor, the valiant USS Mohawk, whose fantail offers a grandstand view of the Vandenberg:

I wish them joy of it and I hope the diving is as munificent as everyone expects it to be. But for my part the scuttling of a ship is just too creepy. I recall when they sank the Spiegel Grove off the Upper Keys that old ship declined to obey orders and at first wouldn't go down, then finally, reluctantly sank, it chose to land upside down. It took a storm to right the ship on the sea floor. Call me sentimental but that business sent me a message.Flags don't fly so very well fifty feet underwater, methinks.