- Published on Wednesday, 28 November 2012 00:04
- Written by Sammy Cimeno
By Sammy Cimeno
There are many fabulous shipwreck dives throughout the world’s oceans, and Southern California divers are fortunate to have a large number of quality shipwrecks in their own backyard. San Diego’s Wreck Alley must be included on the “bucket list” of every serious wreck diver. These comfortable and approachable shipwrecks offer something for all divers regardless of experience.
Wreck Alley is located about a mile off of San Diego’s coastline near Mission Bay and is composed of six artificial wrecks and a hand few sunk by acts of nature. The six were cleaned of toxic material, made diver safe by strategically cutting diver-sized holes through the hull and bulkheads. Each was deliberately sunk as an artificial reef to attract fish and to be playgrounds for wreck divers. Visibility on the wrecks ranges from 20 to 60 feet. All rest in water 60 to 100 feet deep and are in a variety of conditions—the older wrecks are beginning to collapse, while the younger wrecks are mostly intact. All have been underwater long enough to have acquired a healthy coat of encrusting invertebrates, and are home to a huge variety of fish. The San Diego Dive Boat Operators and the San Diego Oceans Foundation keep the sites buoyed so divers can easily find the wrecks and have descent/ascent lines to use for safety stops. Divers should be properly trained before entering any confined space.
The HMCS Yukon is the most recent addition to Wreck Alley and its most popular. This 366-foot Canadian Mackenzie Class Destroyer was cleaned and deliberately sunk by the San Diego Oceans Foundation in 2000. She was intended to be sunk to sit upright, but prematurely foundered and now rests on her port side. The Yukon is the most intact of the wrecks, and is one of the few designed to carry people as well as cargo, so she offers more opportunity for deep penetration and getting lost.
The Yukon sits in 105 feet of water, and on average she rises about 40 feet off the bottom. The Yukon looks like a warship with its guns still pointed skyward for action. Her huge propellers and intact superstructure give the divers a “real wreck” experience. The Yukon has been underwater for over a decade and the marine life has draped the wreck in a tapestry of brilliant colors. In some areas huge, white Metridium anemones cover the superstructure and deck equipment; in other spots pink and lavender Corynactis cover the metal. Countless fish find a home within her hull, and this is a good wreck to look for nudibranchs.
The Ruby E was first christened as the coast Guard Cutter Cyane in 1943 to combat bootlegging during Prohibition, but went into service after prohibition ended and never was used for this purpose. She did anti-submarine detail off Alaska during World War II, and was decommissioned afterwards. Later, she became a fish-processing vessel, a salvage vessel, and was impounded for smuggling drugs. Al Bruton, a local San Diego diver, convinced the Tug and Barge Company to donate the vessel, and the 165-foot ship was sunk on July 18, 1989.
Today the Ruby E is one of the better wrecks of Wreck Alley. She sits upright in 80 feet of water and her extensive deck is only 60 feet deep. Eric Mycroft of the Lois Ann said this is his favorite wreck, “She looks like a Rose Parade Float, sitting upright like a wreck should and in covered with red strawberry anemones. This wreck always makes me happy.”
The El Ray served as a 110-foot kelp-harvesting vessel for the Kelco Corporation from 1946 to 1981. Her harvesting blades are mounted on her bow, and would cut the top 3 feet of kelp and transport the slippery mass to holding tanks in the stern of the vessel. After thousands of voyages the tired ship was destined for the scrap yard, but fate took over when as the San Diego Council of Diving Instructors and The California Department of Fish and Game developed an artificial reef program. Kelpco donated the El Ray and she was cleaned and made diver safe. On April2, 1987 the El Ray was towed to Wreck alley, and with the help of a US Navy Demolition Team, was sent to the bottom, becoming the first addition to Wreck Alley.
Today the El Ray sits upright about 80 feet below the surface. While her wooden superstructure has deteriorated, the El Ray is still in great condition and is a joy to explore. Strawberry anemones, gorgonians, bryozoans, orange, and brown cup corals now cover her hull; and the recesses of the wreck are home to countless fish.
The NOSC Tower is one of the few “true wrecks” in Wreck Alley, since she was sunk, (or in this case collapsed) by an act of nature. The Naval Ocean Systems Center (NOSC) Tower was put into service around 1959. Although she looked like an oil production platform the U.S. Navy used her as a platform for oceanic research. She was 100 feet tall and sat in 60 feet of water. Her service came to an abrupt end in 1988 when a particularly large storm collapsed the tower.
This is a very comfortable wreck dive since she sits on a 60-foot bottom and the wreckage extends up to 35 feet. The mass of twisted metal is a haven for marine life. Much of the structure is covered with mussels and hordes of enormous sea stars have grown fat grazing on the mussels. Huge schools of blacksmith and baitfish circle the wreckage and there are lots of other fish, including a large number of fat calico bass and sheephead. This wreck is great for underwater photographers since they have unlimited freedom to position themselves to get creative perspectives of the Tower.
Shooters Fantasy is a 65-foot long, commercial fishing boat that was intentionally sunk in 1987. She was a fun dive and divers would regularly pull up odd random items that were scattered about as she sunk. One big winter storm moved the ship, and she was lost for some time, but was found in 2009 by Tyler Stalter and the Deep Outdoors team. The wreck rolled over in the storm and the tuna tower was crushed but the rest of the wreck is still largely intact. She is covered in sea life and is a beautiful wreck to dive.
The P-38 Lightning was built by Lockhead for the Army Air Corps as a fighter-bomber. This plane was ditched on May 28, 1943 during a training flight, but was not discovered by divers until 1995. The plane has deteriorated somewhat, but is good condition for her age. The P-38 sits 135 feet deep, and is a technical dive. The size of the wreck is small and can easily be explored in a short dive; the abundance of very large fish makes this a memorable dive.
Wreck Alley has a large number of wrecks in close proximity, and the weather and creature comforts in nearby San Diego are worth the trip even without the wrecks. No matter if the wreck is large or small, old or new, deep or shallow, the wrecks of Wreck Alley offer a wide variety of experiences for divers of all skill levels.
Eric Mycroft from Lois Ann contributed to this article. www.loisann.com