Palm Beach Coast Wrecks / Wrecks
Many diving destinations provide access to more than one wreck, but few have as many sunken vessels concentrated in a single area as does Palm Beach County. What truly set this area apart isn't just total numbers, but also the placement of these wrecks, which are both close to shore and in many cases close to each other. There are a number of sites where divers can explore two to four wrecks on a single submersion.
To show just how true this is, we will start with our legacy wreck the Mizpah.
Sunk in 1968 just north of the Lake Worth Inlet in 85 feet of water, the Mizpah is the Palm Beach Coast’s oldest artificial reef. Most of its 160-foot hull remains intact with a luxuriant skin of living sponges and corals. Close by is the wreck of the PC-1174, an old patrol craft near the same size as the Mizpah that was sunk later the same year. In the years since, the PC-1174 has broken into several pieces, with the largest piece actually lying under the bow of the Mizpah.
By utilizing the currents north bound flow, and navigating with the aid of rock piles placed in a line along the bottom, divers will come upon the third wreck of the Mizpah Corridor, the Amaryllis. The story on the Amaryllis is that all the decks and superstructure on the 450-foot ship were removed when she was salvaged after washing ashore during a hurricane. Today, locals refer to the Amaryllis as the 450-foot canoe.
Should you still have enough air, you will likely make it to the fourth wreck on the list, the China Barge. While it may be small in size, the wreck is still an amazing spot with lots of marine growth and fish life. From start to end the Mizpah Corridor is a 1,700-foot long drift dive. Adding to the fun is the promise that you will likely see more than one goliath grouper along the way.
The Mizpah Corridor is by no means Palm Beach County’s only signature wreck combination.
Also a short boat ride from the Lake Worth Inlet is Governor’s Riverwalk. Governor’s is comprised of four large coastal freighters, which were seized for drug smuggling; all were placed on the bottom in February 2002 as part of Palm Beach County’s Artificial Reef Program.
The first three in the collection that went down together in consecutive order includes the Shasha Boekanier (length 184 feet) first, followed by the St. Jacques (length 180 feet) with the Gilbert Sea (length 170 feet) directly behind her. Knowing that currents will always be a constant and dives will be conducted as drifts, the vessels were placed in line, in 90-foot depths like a convoy under way.
Nine months later, a fourth vessel, the Thozina (measuring 174 feet) was added to the group. Landing directly behind the Gilbert Sea and expanding Governor’s to a spectacular artificial reef system, the group can be covered entirely in one dive.
Farther north in Jupiter is the Zion Train, a compilation of two freighters and a barge in 90 feet of water. Although the Esso Bonaire, a 146 ft. freighter is the oldest, sunk in the 1980’s, the name Zion Train stuck because it is the first wreck divers will see at the start of the drift.
Built in the Netherlands in 1962, the 164-foot long Zion Train was scuttled in June 2003, but the years have not been kind to the hulk. Hurricanes Frances and Jean broke up the hull and pushed portions of the wreck hundreds of yards away and leaving only her stern section remaining in front of the Miss Jenny, a small barge that sits second in line and upside down.
Coming off the barge, divers will cross a short open space of 100 feet long to the last wreck in the lineup, the Esso Bonaire. Interestingly, this vessel wasn’t bothered by either of the storms that ravaged the Zion Train, and the wreck remains upright, just the way she has since she was sent to the bottom.
The real value of these wrecks does not come from dramatic profiles and places to do serious penetration, but for their ability to draw in sizable schools of small baitfish, all sorts of jacks, (big amberjacks during the spring to early summer months) barracudas, sharks in the winter months and of course goliath groupers. The Zion Train is one of Jupiter’s top sites for seeing anywhere from 60 to 100 plus of these big fish gathered during the months of August and September.
The Mizpah Corridor, Governor’s and Zion Train are by no means Palm Beach County’s only hallmark wreck dives. There is many more.
The wreck of the MG-111 is a busted up barge sitting 65 feet of water just slightly north of the Jupiter inlet. While the wreck itself is not very visual it is a magnet for scores of fish life, and is an important aggregation site for the goliath groupers during the spawning season August and September.
The Princess Ann, a former 350-foot ferry sunk in the early 1990′s in 100 feet of water. Her collapsed hull attracts large schools of jacks, barracudas, groupers, goliath grouper and the occasional bull shark. Larger numbers of all these fish, particularly sharks, appear here in winter months.
Further south, Boynton Beach’s signature wreck dive is the M/V Castor. Since the Castor’s last ride on the waves on December 14, 2001, the 238-foot freighter has undergone a number of changes. Structurally, her entire midsection, where the cargo holds used to be, have collapsed, and now lay predominantly flat on the bottom in 110 feet of water. Colonized by orange cup corals and sponges, the Castor is one of the most colorful wrecks on the Palm Beach Coast, but even that feature takes a back seat to the fish life that favor it.
By mid August, the Castor turns into the southernmost spawning aggregation site for goliath grouper on Florida’s east coast. When they are there, so are the scad— small baitfish that come in schools large enough to shroud most of the wreck. While their purpose is to feed on the eggs released by the giant groupers during spawning, the scad in turn become prey for schools of jacks and barracuda. As the saying goes, “big fish eat little fish.”
A short distance from the Castor are two more wrecks that, when conditions are right, can be done together on one dive.
The first is the Budweiser Bar, a 169-foot long coastal freighter that was sent to the bottom in 1987, and now sits upright in 95 feet of water. The second, the Captain Tony, is a 167-foot freighter lying in a slightly shallower depth of 85 feet, put down in October 1996.
The two wrecks are connected by a series of rubble piles that run from the Budweiser Bar’s stern to the bow of the Captain Tony. The swim from one to the other takes 7 to 10 minutes to complete, and is best done on Nitrox EAN 36 for maximizing bottom time.
In addition to being colorful, and often loaded with fish life, both wrecks still sit completely upright with plenty of penetration spots that are excellent for advanced recreational and introductory technical training.
For the technically minded, there is the Hydro Atlantic.
Sitting upright in 174 feet of water, the Hydro Atlantic is the one wreck that is not part of Palm Beach County’s artificial reef program. Instead, the 320-foot cable layer sank December 7, 1987 just outside of the Boca Inlet while it was being towed during a storm. Though wearing a heavy coral growth, the wreck is still entirely intact. In the deep blue depths, her huge aft crane creates an awesome silhouette. For those with wreck penetration skills, the Hydro Atlantic’s engine room can be fun to explore.
While tropical storms and time have broken many of these ships apart, they are seldom short of amazing when you see the amount of sea life they attract, making them some of the fishiest wrecks on the Florida coast. But when diving them, be prepared to sometimes fly like superman during the dive as most of these same sites often include healthy currents from the Gulf Stream. After all, this is what helps bring the marine life here.