PBCDA’s Artificial Reef Fund
It’s inspiring when you drop down to the bottom of the seabed and the high profile of a ship’s bow or stern snaps into view. There’s something about a wreck that holds an element of mystery for most divers. What is inside? Where has this vessel been? And how did it end up here? If you dive in Palm Beach, there’s a good chance you’ve visited the Danny Wreck. This 110-foot, World War II vintage tugboat, formerly called the Pocahontas, was placed on the bottom back in Feb 22, 2013 for the purpose of creating an artificial reef. Today, this vessel sits completely upright in 75 feet of water, and making it even more exciting –and fun to dive- is its resident goliath groupers and large cut out areas for divers to penetrate. So, why is it now called The Danny? Danny “Daniel” McCauley was an avid fishermen and diver whose life was cut short at the age of 17 in a tragic automobile accident while on the way to school in 2012. Many of his classmates at Palm Beach Central High School knew and loved him for his good nature and camaraderie as a member of the varsity wrestling team. But his family and friends knew that the ocean was what Danny loved most. As a means to celebrate his life, the McCauley family donated $10,000 to the PBC’s Environmental Resources Management (ERM) for the acquisition of a new artificial reef, which the Diving Association was currently working on at the time. With the combined efforts of Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resources Management (ERM), the Doitfordanny.com fundraiser (where the McCauley family funds were derived), along with the PBCDA’s own non-profit Artificial Reef Fund (ARF), the objective to create a new dive site was made a reality. In addition to this tremendous initiative being shared by all parties, the decision to rename the wreck after Danny McCauley was equally unanimous. Video showing the sinking of the Danny Wreck off of West Palm Beach, Florida Feb 22, 2013, in memory of Danny McCauley. Video includes onboard video during the sinking. Click on the image to view the video on YouTube. Sitting upright on the bottom with the deck in the 50-foot range, the Danny is an excellent dive for many open water divers. Currents in this area can sometimes be strong, but staying close to the wreck provides enough shielding allowing divers to easily move about. Although the tug’s engines and operating equipment have all been removed, large holes were cut in the deck and cabin, making it open and easily accessible. Adding to its great value as a training site for divers on a Wreck Diver Specialty Certification course, there are several smaller rooms to peak in, while the ladders and stairways remind you that this was once a working boat. Should the Danny not be enough, there are several more artificial reefs to its north that have been placed over the years by Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resources Management (ERM). One of those is the Spud Barge, another popular dive site offering a massive barge wreck lying upside down with its sides opened up. Divers can move about, accessing the barge from one side, exiting from the other and back again. Ocean Memorials – artificial reefs to remember those we’ve lost In light of the 3rd year anniversary of the sinking of the Danny McCauley Memorial Reef, the Palm Beach County Diving Association (PBCDA) has been working hard to add additional new and exciting sites for divers to explore – namely the placement of another derelict ship on the sea floor to serve as artificial reef. The most promising candidate for Palm Beach County’s artificial reef program is the MV Ana Cecilia, a 170-foot vessel seized by US Border Patrol back in 2015. Should the Ana Cecilia be acquired, two of the locations currently under consideration is the back side of Breakers Reef in 110 feet of water, and a spot nearby the Danny, in 90 feet of water. However, such an endeavor will not take place without sufficient funding. While a portion of the revenue comes from vessel registration fees to grants from federal and state agencies collected by ERM, a majority of the revenue stream is derived from a surprising number of sources. Such avenues include donations from various individuals and corporations, local fishing tournaments, and the Palm Beach County Diving Association (PBCDA). In addition to conducting fund raising events for the Artificial Reef Fund (ARF) such as the PBCDA Summer’s End Party coming up Sept. 17th, 2016, there is also a memorial program where you can make a contribution to honor a loved one and others. Memorials underway include the families of Danny Floyd Posey (April 17, 1953 – November 22, 2015) and David Ballard (August 1, 1947 - December 4, 2015). Picture of David Ballard with his daughter Lindsay Ballard during a dive here in Palm Beach, FL. While both avid divers come from two different places – one from Augusta, GA, the other from Houston, Texas, their commonality was that they shared the same love for Palm Beach County, Florida’s diving. This love of Palm Beach County diving is remembered fondly by both the Posey and Ballard families, who have donated toward the artificial reef program, and have encouraged others to follow suit. While most donations do not reach the level of the McCauley family what should be considered with a degree of certainty is the end result. Artificial reefs not only provide habitat for marine life, they also take pressure off of natural reefs by giving divers another option for exploration. Furthermore, studies show that every $1 spent on the creation of an artificial reef produces an estimated $138 in economic benefit to the local economy. A great return on investment for a great place like Palm Beach County. For more information on making a contribution to Palm Beach County Artificial Reef Program, please contact Shana Phelan, PBCDA Administrator at 561.840.8750.
Palm Beach Coast 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.