While wreck diving is not one of the Palm Beach Florida’s signature traits, there are a few in 70 – 100-foot depth range that make for some very fun and exciting scuba diving.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that South Florida has the most extensive collection of diveable wrecks in the world. In Broward County alone, aggressive artificial reef initiatives have placed more than 112 artificial reef sites on the seafloor, most of which are comprised of derelict ships. The Florida Keys offer some the world’s largest wrecks such as Key Largo’s Spiegel Grove, which measures 510 feet in length, and the even larger 520-foot Vandenberg located in Key West. And then there are the wrecks in my own diving back yard: Palm Beach County. These waters offer not only an abundant assortment of wrecks, but also a unique and exciting way to dive them.
Wreck Clusters, What’s that?
Palm Beach Florida is known as a drift diving destination. Here, where the coastline makes a distinct bulge to the east, the Continental Shelf veers closer to shore than at any other place on North America’s east coast. Sites just a few miles from shore are washed by the waters of the Gulf Stream as this river within the ocean flows northward, bathing reefs in currents that can range from mild to strong.
Strong currents usually create problems for wreck divers, from the sometimes-Herculean task of a strong-arm descent the downline to the wreck to the risk of being blown off the wreck during exploration, and the need to cling to a line during ascent while feeling like a flag hanging in a strong wind. The things that set wreck diving in Palm Beach apart from other current-prone destinations are the favoring of drift diving techniques over tethered dives, and the placement of the wrecks themselves.
Palm Beach dive operators employ live-boat deployment and pick up techniques that drop divers up-current of wrecks, allowing for easy free-floating descents that land divers right on their chosen wreck. In addition, many wrecks have been put down in close formations that run parallel to prevailing currents, allowing divers to ride the currents and visit multiple wrecks on a single dive.
Two of the most popular wreck compilations lie right off the shores of West Palm Beach, with Governor’s Riverwalk to the south of the Palm Beach Inlet, and the group known as The Mizpah Corridor just to the north of the inlet.
Governor’s is comprised of four medium-size coastal freighters seized for drug smuggling in the late 1990’s. In February of 2002, the first three – the 184-foot Shasha Boekanier, the 180-foot St. Jacques and the 170-foot Gilbert Sea were placed on the bottom in 90 feet of water. The three ships sunk together as part of Palm Beach County’s Artificial Reef Program, with their placement set in a linear pattern running south to north to take advantage of the Gulf Stream’s northerly flow. Nine months later a fourth freighter, the 174-foot Thozina, was added to the group directly behind the Gilbert Sea.
This wreck collection can be covered with one dive using live-boat techniques. Working with the Gulf Stream current, boat captains will drop divers several hundred feet south of the Shasha Boekanier, gauging the current so that the group has sufficient time to descend without overshooting the wreck.
Over the years the forces of nature have worked relentlessly on these freighters. As a result, all four have been broken in two. Most of their remains still track in consecutive order south to north, with a few parts positioned more to the east and west.
The broken and twisted shapes of these hulks actually make dives more interesting, as there are numerous shadowy nooks and crannies to explore in search of marine life. I have dove this site more than a dozen times, and I still haven’t had enough of it as each time always rendered a different story.
A large contributor to their attractiveness is the layer upon layer of marine growth that has taken over most of their steel skeletons, adding a wealth of color to their exterior. The coral and sponge communities that now cling to the wrecks provide a bevy of hiding places for a broad range of small fish and invertebrates. And it’s not just small critters you should keep an eye out for. In addition to large barracudas, schooling jacks and the occasional Goliath grouper, this wreck site is regularly visited by large bull and lemon sharks.
The Mizpah Corridor
The wreck collection known as the Mizpah Corridor lies just to the north of Palm Beach Inlet, directly off Singer Island in the same diver-friendly 90-feet of water as Governor’s. As at other sites, the boat captain will work with the Gulf Stream’s natural northernly flow to drop divers up current of the first wreck, the M/V Ana Cecilia.
The Anna C, as she is generally referred to, is a 170-foot cargo ship that was sunk as an artificial reef on July 13, 2016. Sitting up on the bottom in 90 feet of water facing south, the bow’s tall profile will be the first thing that will come into view as you approach the wreck. Before her placement, all hatchways were stripped of the doors all the way to the engine room to make penetration easier for visiting divers.
After exploring the Anna C, letting the currents carry you some 175 feet to the north will bring you to the Palm Beaches’ legacy wreck as well as the site’s namesake, 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. Sadly, time has taken its toll on this wreck, rendering most of her 160-foot hull a crumpled mess. The upside to the wreck is the luxuriant skin of living sponges and corals covering it.
Close by and almost touching the Mizpah is the wreck of the PC-1174. This vessel was once a patrol craft near the same size as the Mizpah. Sunk later in the same year, this wreck originally sat a considerable distance from the Mizpah, but the power of the Gulf Stream created a marriage between the two by pushing one into the other.
And just like the Mizpah, the PC-1174 too has succumbed to the relentless forces of nature and is now broken into several pieces and covered in dense marine growth, with the largest piece of the ship now lying under the bow of the Mizpah.
Until the Anna Cecilia catches up on the growth department, these two wrecks will likely remain the bigger fish attractors of the group. But as interesting as these three wrecks can be, you should save some air for a northward drift to remaining wrecks in the collection
Next up is the Amaryllis. The story of this site 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” as the only thing left of her is the lower portion of her hull. So yes, the Amaryllis is the least exciting of group, but not the last.
Should you still have enough air, you will likely make it to the Corridor’s fifth wreck, 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.