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New Year brings new wreck for Scuba Divers in South Florida

It’s 2010 and there’s reason for divers to celebrate. The Miami dive community is already off to a fabulous year thanks to the tenacious efforts of Mike Beach and Miami-Dade Reef Guard Association (MIRA). Earlier this week, the group helped sink the 210 ft. Ophelia Brian wreck in the nearby waters of Miami. DiverWire writer Lisa Mongy was on the water to chronicle this event.

As December came to a close, it was a typical south Florida day.  Clear sky’s sprinkled with a few clouds looking down upon the turquoise blue water of the Atlantic Ocean. There was a slight wind in the air as seagulls bid their final farewell to the vessel built in 1965 in Hamburg Germany.  She’s one of the largest ship purposely sunk as an artificial reef, she’s also a sister ship to two other local popular wrecks – the Ultra Freeze and the Deep Freeze which beckoned Ophelia to join the depths and grace the sport diving community with her presence.

It was a day that played out like a well orchestrated coming out party.  Ophelia glided down the Miami River escorted by RJ Diving Ventures.  The drawbridges lifted in synchronized timing as she glided past onlookers curious stares.  She waltzed her way around the Miami sky line as if giving out dance cards to the divers anxious to take her hand.  Finally on the outside, in deep water she took a final bow.  Standing tall, looking proud, with numerous boats, local officials, diving and fishing enthusiast all with camera’s in hand and helicopters in the air, it was time.

The staff of Bruce Schurger Company pulled the port and starboard plugs and within 10 minutes Ophelia slipped beneath the surface and turned the tranquil water to bubbling Champaign.  Everyone cheered with delight and waited anxiously for a sign that things were settled in her new home below.  Time seemed to tick at a slow pace before the team from MIRA and the Department of Environmental Regulations (DERM) got in to survey the site.

What they found amazed the crowd but not the planners.  Bruce Schurgar hit a perfect 10.  His team planned and choreographed the event without a single hitch.  Holes had been cut in all the right places, ballast was set properly and anchor chains placed at the correct lengths.  Ophelia now rests upright in 115 feet on a dance floor of white sand.  Once the survey team surfaced it was time for the first set of recreational divers to explore the virgin wreck.

I must say it was an exhilarating experience to know you are one of the first 10 divers to lay eyes on her beauty.  Maybe not in the sterile condition of fresh metal but looking into the future knowing in a short time it will be teaming with life thus allowing neighboring areas some relief while creating a recreational area to explore.  We were astonished to come across visibility that exceeded 70 feet within 45 minutes of her sinking.  Only small pockets inside the freight cargo hold area had dust clouds.  Reef Guard members took pictures next to their names that were spray painted on the walls as a sign of gratitude for their financial support during the clean up.  Banners were also hoisted commemorating Ophelia’s upcoming birthday.  You see the ship was actually a combined gift donated by the Brian and Lavinia Snyder Foundation.  All members of the family are avid SCUBA divers.  When Lavinia (Mom) heard of the upcoming project and funding needed the Foundation made a generous gift for Brian’s (Dad) Christmas present and Ophelia’s upcoming 18th birthday.  Quite a legacy to leave a gift that will last decades!

So now you know the rest of the story.  How the old Sea Taxi became the Ophelia Brian.  The local community is very thankful for their support.  In addition we are also grateful for RJ’s Diving Venture who generously donated all proceeds from the 12/30/09 sinking trip back to MIRA and local dive businesses that have helped to fund MIRA’s initial costs: RJ Diving Ventures, Underwater Unlimited, Austin’s Dive Center, South Beach Divers, Grove Scuba, Gary Hunt and James Daley of, Tarpoon Lagoon, and Ocean Safari.  You can help MIRA’s ongoing reef efforts by purchasing a $200.00 lifetime membership medallion or a $10.00 yearly medallion.

Are you ready to dive Ophelia Brian? It’s open to divers RIGHT NOW! Adventurous divers looking to start the new year on a new wreck, should contact their Miami-area dive center. RJ’s Diving is doing a double dip on Saturday, January 2, 2010.  Contact them for cost, space and information: 305-861-6277

Lisa Mongy: Lisa has been diving for more than 30 years. An SSI Platinum Instructor, Lisa operates out of Underwater Unlimited in Miami, Florida. She leads weekly dive trips and is a strong advocate for promoting recreational SCUBA diving.

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