(DiverWire) It may have taken nearly a decade to become a reality, but it’s only been a couple of months and the Kittiwake wreck in Grand Cayman has rocketed to the top of “MUST” lists for divers and snorkelers traveling to the Caribbean.
The 251-ft vessel was sunk in January after years of planning, preparation, re-planning, inspections, studies and safety checks. Sitting in just 64 feet of water, the vessel is easily viewed from the surface and perfect for both scuba divers and snorkelers – by design.
According to Nancy Easterbrook of DiveTech@ Cobalt Coast and the project manager for “all things” Kittiwake, “This was something the Cayman Islands needed. Cayman is the home of modern recreational scuba diving and it’s important to have new sites and attractions so divers will return.”
Soon, the Kittiwake will become as familiar to visitors to Grand Cayman as Stingray City (another man-made attraction), but the process of placing the former submarine rescue vessel (ASR-13) to its final resting place was anything but simple. Originally commissioned by the US Navy in 1945, the USS Kittiwake served until 1994. The vessel helped recover the “black box” from the space shuttle Challenger explosion and was instrumental in helping test US ballistic missiles and defense systems.
Easterbrook says the Kittiwake is the first US vessel to become an artificial reef in non-US waters, which increased the amount of paperwork, review and requirements. “We had to do everything twice – once for the US government and once for the Cayman government.” She points out the process included a change in administrations in the US, updates on acceptable environmental standards and what exactly was acceptable for the wreck.
Despite the challenges, the final Kittiwake site is something that must be experienced first-hand. Every conceivable idea, suggestion and thought was put into making the wreck accessible and safe for all levels of divers and even snorkelers, since the tallest piece is just 15 feet from the surface.
Recreational divers will appreciate how open the decks are and how many items have been left available for divers to explore. This includes the mirrors and sinks in the bathroom area, many different generators and machines, a recompression chamber (since dive teams were stationed on the Kittiwake during her 50-plus years of service), and a diving bell that’s just perfect for keepsake photos that divers can truly appreciate.
“It’s one of the easiest wrecks I’ve ever been able to dive on,” said one diver after a recent trip to the wreck. “There was a lot to explore and see. Normally, wrecks are dark and mysterious, but the Kittiwake is open and easy to explore.” That observation is true, but a could be a bit misleading. Typically, recreational divers explore the first two levels with more experienced and trained divers encouraged to explore the lower decks.
Watch and Explore Decks 4 and 5
Easterbrook said the ship had undergone extensive preparation for divers including extra large cutouts that allow in extra light and provide easy access in and out of the vessel. Divers will also notice that there doesn’t appear to be a single sharp edge anywhere (thanks largely to the hours of time put in by volunteers).
Almost all of the dive operators on Grand Cayman schedule multiple trips to the Kittiwake each week. The vessel’s location, just a few minutes from shore, provides a quick and easy boat ride to the site. With seven moorings set up, there is plenty of space for operators to visit the Kittiwake. On any given day, multiple dive boats with eager divers aboard are surround the wreck.
The Kittiwake has already become a very popular attraction. According to Cayman Islands officials, more than 8,000 divers and snorkelers have already visited since January. Each visitor has a yellow Kittiwake tag that is sold to help finance the cleanup and maintenance of the wreck. Dive operators have aggressively scheduled daily trips to the site. For a list of all the operators and trip schedules, click here: Grand Cayman Dive Operators
Already local fish populations have made the Kittiwake home. One large giant Goliath grouper has also become a local favorite. (Watch the video below)
For more details about the Kittiwake, visit the official website http://www.kittiwakecayman.com/