July 12, 2005
Hurricane Dennis Fixes Botched Florida Reef
MIAMI -- Mother Nature tidied up a man-made mess off the coast of the Florida Keys when the force of Hurricane Dennis flipped a sunken U.S. Navy ship into the perfect position to help form an artificial reef.
Powerful waves and currents generated by the hurricane flipped over the 510-foot (155-meter) USS Spiegel Grove and set it to rest on its keel on the ocean floor, reef project managers said on Tuesday.
That was the position Key Largo scuba divers and tourism promoters had aimed for when they scuttled the 6,880-tonhulk in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary in 2002.
"I'm flabbergasted," said Rob Bleser, the volunteer project director, after diving on the reoriented wreck on Monday. "Nature took its course and put it where it belongs."
The Cold War relic was the largest vessel ever deliberately sunk to form the backbone of a coral ridge to nurture sea life and amuse scuba divers.
Work crews had planned to slowly sink it upright. But it went down prematurely and rolled over, creating a navigational hazard when it landed bottom-up with the stern on the seabed and the bow jutting above the waterline.
Salvage crews used giant airbags and steel cables to nudge it over onto its starboard side, where it was safe from passing vessels but slightly disorienting for divers to swim through.
Then Hurricane Dennis blitzed past on Saturday, staying well west of the islands of the Florida Keys but kicking up 20-foot (5.6-meter) waves.
"Waves that high in close proximity to the reef can produce unusually strong currents with tremendous force," said National Weather Service meteorologist Matt Strahan.
The Spiegel Grove carried landing craft and cargo in the Mediterranean and Caribbean and was retired in 1989. It lies in 130 feet of water, a few miles off Key Largo.