In October 2017 Tropical Storm Nate pitched the USS Kittwake on its side and up against the reef.
As a result, diving the USS Kittiwake shipwreck now provides an entirely different scuba diving experience. Previously she rested squarely on her keel, much like she was still sailing on the surface of the sea. However, she now looks and feels much more like a shipwreck.
Furthermore, navigation in the interior of the ship is more interesting. Likewise the feel of the ship has changed completely. The angle of the decks, walls and ceilings challenge your orientation and gives you the sense of a “true shipwreck”. Coral and algae continue to grow, and more fishes can be seen in and around the ship.
If you are wreck certified, shaft alley and the lower decks offer great opportunities for exploration. With numerous entry and egress points diving the USS Kittiwake is safe and quite interesting. Furthermore, the ship provides a great opportunity for training on wreck diving and exploration.
Whether you are a recreational or beginning diver to an experienced wreck diver, diving the USS Kittiwake offers a wonderful scuba diving adventure.
Diving the USS Kittiwake – History
The government of Grand Cayman sank the USS Kittiwake just off Seven
Mile Beach in 2011. Previously, the ship had a 54-year career in the US Navy as a submarine rescue ship. This ship utilized scuba divers throughout her career in the US Navy. Now, fittingly, she serves scuba divers in the Cayman Islands.
The USS Kittiwake Shipwreck has matured gracefully since she has been sunk. Though the logo is all but gone in the engine room, mirrors are gone or broken, and the upper part of the ship trimmed to prevent hazards on the surface, the wreck maintains an elegant grace.
While diving the USS Kittiwake you will find the lower shaft alley and other areas in the lower part of the ship are a bit more difficult to navigate. However, this again makes the dive a bit more alluring and challenging. Entry into the lower portions of the ship requires a shipwreck certification and should not be entered without the requisite training.
In conclusion, I hope you can go to Grand Cayman and take the opportunity for diving the USS Kittiwake. It will be a memorable experience.
View my complete gallery of the USS Kittiwake prior to your dives to get the most from the experience.
I had a lot of fun putting these images together and creating some really interesting fine art and vintage photos of the Carthaginian II shipwreck in Maui Hawaii. When I dive on a particular site a number of times I tend to equate a certain feel or mood for the site. The Carthaginian II, originally a German cement transport ship, is almost 100 years old and was originally built and launched in 1920. The ship was purchased by the Lahaina Restoration Foundation and extensive refitted to make the ship resemble a 1800’s period whaling ship. The ship was
used as a floating museum in the harbor of Lahaina for over 30 years. Remembering the ship floating in the harbor and now seeing her laying on the sea floor just outside of the harbor brings up a certain sense of nostalgia.
Age and Mystery
What I wanted to create was a sense of the age of the ship and the purpose that she served in Maui and even in Hawaii more generally. When I dive on the ship, although she is not large, I sometimes get a sense of the “ghosts” of periods past associated with this aging wreck. The ship’s main mast collapsed in the summer of 2011 and is now situated on top of the ship. The hold is buckled significantly but makes a great shot if you lie down on the floor of the cargo hold of the ship. There are a number of
hard corals that have attached themselves to various portions of the wreck and you can usually find a reasonable variety of marine life on board.
To get the feel I was looking for in Vintage Carthaginian II, I choose to take a number of wide angle shots where I can see the entire ship and also a few photos where I would have interesting features that would lend themselves to a sense of age and provide a certain forlorn aspect to the photo. As many of you can appreciate, getting a great photo to work with is the first part of the endeavor and I then went to work in Photoshop to give the images the exact look
and feel that I wanted. As I began to work
with the images I kept coming back to black and white images with good contrast with interesting textures and/or features to bring out the moodiness of the dive site. These photos will go well with whale song form the Humpbacks that you can typically hear if you dive the site from late December up to late April or May.
I hope will agree the final images for Vintage Carthaginian II provide a sense of mystery and intrigue as well as a sense of discovery. Though the ship continues to age and various parts continue to deteriorate the wreck still continue to be a
great dive for a long time. The key on this dive as most dives is to go very slow. This is a small sight and while she lies at about 80 feet you still have plenty of bottom time to explore. Let you imagination run away with you and imagine the life of the whaler and the importance of whaling in the development of the Hawaiian Islands.
Some of the most interesting types of shipwrecks for scuba diving are the purpose sunk ships that have been scuttled to create artificial reefs. After adequate preparation, this is a wonderful way for older ships to give not only a benefit to scuba divers but also a shelter to a variety of marine organisms (see National Geographic article “Artificial Reefs: Trash to Treasure” February 5, 2001).
Along with true shipwrecks, there have been and continue to be a large number of ships sunk to create artificial reefs (Wikipedia provides a list of some wrecks that have been reefed over the last twenty years including the HMAS Adelaide and the USS Kittiwake which were just sunk in 2011). These wrecks have come to be an important part of the local ecosystems*. In fact, these wrecks may also offer an opportunity to help improve the condition of reefs
globally. Studies from the Red Sea and other locations tend to show that there is little difference between developments of an artificial reef as compared to natural reefs. Artificial reefs made from steel vessels offers long-term development for the reef and immediate space for organisms to inhabit.
PADI and NAUI offer specialty shipwrecks diving courses to train divers in “safety, hazards and cautions, special risks of overhead environments, entanglement, limited visibility, deep diving, equipment, site of wrecks, sources of information, search methods, underwater navigation, legal aspects, artifacts, treasure, salvage, archaeology, and much more”. Wreck diving can be a wonderful experience for any diver. However, before penetrating any ship the diver should have adequate training according to the state of the ship being explored. Deep water wrecks, “natural” shipwrecks, etc., should only be explored by experienced and trained divers using appropriate safety gear and precautions.
Unlike true shipwrecks many reefed ships such as the USS Kittiwake in Grand Cayman, have been extensively prepared for reefing to make entry, exploration and exiting the ship relatively safe and easy. However, many older reefed ships should be approached cautiously and if the diver is not “wreck” certified penetration of the wreck should not be attempted. They key is to understand the condition of the wreck and what the diver is likely to encounter before entering the water. Use of a high quality scuba diving operation will greatly add to the safety and enjoyment of the diving experience.
As an underwater photographer, shipwrecks hold a special fascination to me. To be able to capture the mystery and character of the ship in a photo is a special challenge. However, there are those moments when you are able to get everything just right and the photo seems to come alive. The ability of a photo to transport the viewer into the image and experience the wonder of the moment is the real test of a truly amazing photo.
*Note: While there continues to be some debate about the benefits of creating artificial reefs, the benefit of these reefs can be clearly seen from many long-term – 20 year plus artificial reefs in the Atlantic, Pacific, Mediterranean and other locations. You can read more about reefing of ships at www.natgeo.com and many other websites and review “National Guidance: Best Management Practices for Preparing Vessels Intended to Create Artificial Reefs” which was developed by the USEPA and the US Maritime Administration.
Come explore my shipwreck diving photos in the following galleries on my website and remember “the pool is open”.
View the complete USS Kittiwake shipwreck photo gallery here or click on each photo to go to the gallery.
The USS Kittiwake shipwreck is a Chanticleer Class Submarine Rescue Ship. Its keel was laid down, January 5, 1945, at the Savannah Machinery and Foundry, Company shipyard in Savannah, GA. It was launched on July 10, 1945 and commissioned as the USS Kittiwake (ASR-013). She was decommissioned September 30, 1994 and struck from the Naval Register September 30, 1994. She was initially transferred to MARAD for lay up in the National Defense Reserve Fleet and then withdrawn from the fleet February 18, 2010 and prepared for reefing in the Cayman Islands.
The Chanticleer Class ships were designated specifically for submarine rescue. Each ship in this class was equipped with powerful pumps, heavy air compressors, and special mooring equipment. The Chanticleer Class ASRs support air and helium-oxygen diving operations to a depth of 300 feet of sea water (fsw) and use the McCann Rescue Chamber for submarine personnel rescue operations. The ASR design provided a large deck working area.
The USS Kittiwake shipwreck finished a distinguished service career spanning almost 50 years when she was decommissioned from the U.S. Navy in 1994. Following her retirement, the ship became part of America’s National Defense Reserve Fleet under the control of MARAD, or the Maritime Administration, part of the U.S. Department of Transportation. The ship ended her career as the first MARAD ship sold to a foreign government for artificial reefing.
USS Kittiwake Shipwreck Overview
That a patch of sand off the north end of Seven Mile Beach has become the final “port-of-call” of the USS Kittiwake shipwreck is the result of a long and determined effort by a partnership consisting of the Cayman
Islands government and the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA). Negotiations had to be conducted and funds raised to purchase the ship from the U.S. government and prepare it for sinking as a dive site, including removing hazardous contaminants and cutting openings in the hull and bulkheads to give divers greater access to the vessel’s interior.
After years of delays and concerns that the plan might never come to fruition, the Kittiwake began the first stage of its last voyage in February, when it was towed from its Reserve Fleet mooring at Newport News, Virginia, to the facilities of private contractor Dominion Marine. There, all the final preparations for the sinking were completed. The ship was sunk January 5, 2011 off the north end of Seven Mile Beach in Grand Cayman.
There are 5 decks on the 47 foot tall USS Kittiwake shipwreck. Externally, the crow’s nest, mast and large stern a-frame have been cut down and remounted to make her height suitable for Cayman waters. The upper decks accommodate the 2 bridges (both an external and internal bridge to allow operations in heavy seas) along with the radio and navigation room. The sonar has been removed. The Captain and XO’s quarters are also on the upper decks.
On the main deck of the USS Kittiwake shipwreck, starting at the bow, you will find the rec room, mess hall, ironing room, small tool workshop and recompression chambers. You will also see a large a-frame structure on the stern that supported submarines and hard hat divers. This also supported the diving bell where divers would enter to return to the ship from the ocean and then be placed in the chambers for decompression.
Below the main deck, 2 decks exist that include the crews quarter, medic/hospital station, engine and propulsion rooms, air bank storage and compressors, as well as the steering gear, shaft, gyro, ammunition lockers, cold storage and barber shop to name a few areas. While the USS Kittiwake shipwreck has been opened up with large access holes both vertically and horizontally, every space on the ship was used while in service.
LT L. H. COLLIER 1946 – 1948
LTT. C. HURST 1948- 1950
LT W. K. WILSON 1950 – 1952
LTP. P. ROGERS 1952- 1954
LT T. E. COLBURNE 1954 – 1954
LCDRW.H.HIBBS 1956- 1958
LCDR W. M. SCOTT 1958 – 1960
LCDR P.O. POWELL 1960 – 1962
LCDR R. E. KUTZLEB 1962 – 1964
LCDR G. R. LANGFORD 1964 – 1966
LCDR H. H. SCRANTON 1966 – 1968
LCDR R. F. JAMES 1968 – 1970
LCDR W. J. MULLALY 1970 – 1971
LCDR S. MCNEASE 1971 – 1974
CDR F. K. DUFFY 1974 – 1977
CDR F. M. SCHERY 1977 – 1979
CDRP. F. FAWCETT 1979- 1981
CDR R. J. NORRIS 1983 – 1985
CDR J. S. TROTTER 1988 – 1991
CDR S. N. ZEHNER 1993 – 1994
Largest Boom Capacity 11 t.
two single 3″/50 cal dual purpose gun mounts
two single 40mm AA gun mounts
eight single 20mm AA gun mounts
four depth charge tracks
Diesel 1,785 Bbls
four G.M. 12-278A Diesel-electric engines
single Fairbanks Morse Main Reduction Gears
Ship’s Service Generators
two Diesel-drive 200Kw 120V/240V D.C.
one Diesel-drive 100Kw 120V/240V D.C.
single propeller, 3,000hp