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SCUBA Dive the Spiegel Grove; Be A Part of History

Matthew J. Mongelia is an advanced diver who loves to dive the Spiegel Grove wreck with his mom, Lisa (a local PADI instructor). Matthew took a few minutes to talk about the “Grove” AND a special opportunity for divers to have a PERMANENT place on this fantastic wreck.

As Florida was one of the earliest colonized places in the new world, there are many wrecks off its shores. With colonization comes the need for supplies, with supplies comes ships (lots of them), and lets face it, many a conquistador’s ship could have benefited greatly from GPS.

What was a disaster for them in now a boon to the dive community. Yet, with a myriad of antiquated wrecks possibly the biggest “sunken vessel attraction” off the coast of the Florida Keys is modern, the wreck of the USS Spiegel Grove.  In 2002, the Navy was asking “who wants to sink my battle ship?” and the Keys answered. It took a bit of work to finally get it down there (a botched attempt in May of that year preceded the official sinking in June, though it landed on it’s side), and a little help from mother nature during the 2005 hurricane season (Hurricane Dennis, tipped the little lady back proper), but since it’s new residency at the bottom of the ocean, the Spiegel has become among the top dive destinations in the area.

There are few sights more grandiose than arriving at the deck of the Spiegel. Any urge one might have to experience seeing the Titanic in person might just be assuaged. The wreck is enormous. For many divers, however wonderful their past dives may have been, there is often a feeling of, well that was great, but it’s not like the crazy things I see on TV. There is very little chance of having that sentiment on this dive. It’s too big. Too looming. The scale of the wreck, combined with the myriad of life thriving on it is awe-inspiring. As you begin to leave the buoy line, what then slowly creeps into your mind is that you are not standing on the deck, but rather hovering above it, as if you were flying.

There are many things you can see under water that are from the “upper world,” there are even places with whole buildings underwater, but a retired Navy ship, has the unique quality of making one feel dwarfed by comparison. In our modern times, skyscrapers are a part of every day life. Miami’s own down town area boasts plenty of them. But buildings are stationary. They sit there, and anyone can go up inside them, stand on the roof, and have a certain sense of having conquered the thing. Any person with $20 can go to the top of the empire state building.

The Spiegel, in its past life, was a mobile fortress, charging all over the waters of the world, and to see it, even docked, there would have always been the knowledge that its fixed state is only temporary. It would be incredibly rare to encounter it with the freedom as diving it allows. It’s beautiful, no doubt, but the way in which a diver encounters the wreck, the element of freedom, gives it a hint of adventure. And I suppose that is the right word. Diving the Spiegel is an outright adventure. Divers go from hovering above the immense structure, to swimming through it, to hovering above it again. The fish surrounding divers are doing the same. Every one and every thing is exploring. Exploring a thing, that, had it not been sitting in 140ft of water, would be impossible. It’s a wonderful experience.

But the Spiegel Grove is not the only sunken Navy or military ship in Florida’s waters, and while they are all great dives, there is something that sets the Spiegel apart.

With the Spiegel, divers are able to have a personal touch. Open to the public is the ability to purchase what is called a “lifetime membership medallion.”  $250.00 gets a nameplate with whatever text the purchaser wants on it up to 28 characters.  The plaques are part of a program that operates under the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, that through private donations to the Upper Keys Artificial Reef Foundation helps offset the cost of retiring the debt incurred by sinking the Grove as well as covering yearly maintenance.

Of the 1,000 name slots available, over 930 are already taken.  They call it a “lifetime” membership, but in reality it is much more than that. The plaques will surely outlive the purchasers. Their children, and children’s children, and so on will be able to take a dive down into the warm waters of the Atlantic, and remember that their ancestors dove here and loved this place. Aside from all the wonder and amazement of the wreck itself, the life that thrives on it, the history of the people who served on it, the divers are a part of the history. It is stunning to even think about. To my knowledge, or rather, to my much more informed mother’s, this feature is unique to the Spiegel. I am fortunate enough, and deeply proud, to say that I personally have a part of the wreck with my family’s name on it.

It’s a heck of an heirloom. And I think there are other’s out there who would feel the same. So if you can, I greatly encourage anyone, by themselves, or with their family, or a group of their best dive buddies, to go in on a plaque. I don’t think I even need to encourage you to visit it, because seeing it once is enough to hook anyone. It is an unparalleled experience. Dive safe, and I hope to see you down there.

For more details about the medallion program, click here:

http://www.keylargochamber.org/snorkel.htm

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