Below the ocean’s surface rest giants, the wooden and steel beauties that once demanded the sea’s attention. Lying there quietly, patiently suspended under the weight of water, what secrets do they hold? What lost memories are kept in their walls at the bottom of the sea?
There is a calming silence as a diver approaches these giants. In the middle of a sandy desert, a diver approaches a dark shadow. As the current pushes them closer, the shadow grows and the shape of a bow or stern emerges. Then the sheer size of the sunken vessel towers overhead. It is dark and mysterious, yet full of life… and forgotten memories.
Many wrecks off the coast of Palm Beach were sunk in the 1960s and now sport coats of sponges and coral growth, surrounded by underwater life. One in particular, the Mizpah, is a popular wreck to dive. Once a private Greek luxury liner, she was commissioned by the U.S. government for service in WWII, her rails outfitted with guns to patrol the coast for German U-Boats. After decommission, she sat in a storage yard for some time before being re-discovered. Her original family could not bear to see her wither on land, so they cleaned her up and gave her a burial at sea.
I had the honor last August to go shipwreck diving with a granddaughter of the family who purchased the Mizpah and made an artificial reef out of her. My dive buddy showed me photos of the vessel in her prime and shared stories of childhood on the boat. It was an incredible experience to watch her eyes light up when she first saw the Mizpah underwater… how it had become a beautiful habitat. Seeing her excitement and, post-dive, her quiet reverence, made me realize there are secrets and lost memories in the walls of these sunken vessels and that these forgotten walls now have new purpose and life.
Shipwreck Diving and Sealife
Once at the bottom of the sea, these sunken giants attract life quicker than you might expect. In Palm Beach, from mid-August through October, wrecks are surrounded by Goliath groupers. Their favorite places to aggregate for spawning is around wrecks.
Dive operators have created The Palm Beach County Diving Association (PBCDA) to give divers and dive operators a bigger voice in local ocean-related issues, and to aid in the sinking of other ships as part of an active artificial reef program. On Oct. 6, the PBCDA is hosting its annual Artificial Reef Fundraiser at the Loggerhead Marinelife Center in Juno Beach. All proceeds go to the creation of artificial reefs in Palm Beach County. Tickets include an evening of entertainment, delicious food and beer, and a plethora of raffle and silent auction prizes. Tickets are available for purchase online at www.divepbc.com/participate. All are welcome to attend and be a part of the local underwater history.
By Andrea Whitaker
Underwater photo credit: Photo by Andrea Whitaker
Historical photo credit: Photo by Devon Kinney and family