U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk on Schedule for Deployment in Spite of Tropical Storm Debby

FT. MYERS BEACH- June 25, 2012- As the day began, what remains of Tropical Storm Debby was delivering driving rain and strong steady west winds. My hopes of getting an up close look at the former USCGC Mohawk were dwindling. I resigned myself to a weather watch and went about my day.

The Mohawk lies at her berth in Cortez at the Kelly Brothers Marine Contractors yard off Main Street, being lovingly prepared for the next chapter in her illustrious life, set to begin in just a few days. A crew of talented and experienced men working with a company called Reefmakers is doing work that can only be described as a “balancing act.” The old ship must be stripped of potential harm; both to the environment and to future explorers. All pollutants must be removed and possible diver entanglements stripped. At the same time she must retain her glory and provide the thrill of discovery to divers while maintaining her structural integrity to withstand the abuse of Gulf storms. It is a worthy task, but these men have done it before and are confident in their ability. Even with the bad weather they are still on schedule.

As lunch hour approaches the rain has stopped and the sun is peeking through the gray skies. With camera and notepad in hand I set off on my unannounced visit. As I top the Matanzas Pass Bridge the mass of gray/blue paint known as Dazzle Camouflage stands out incongruously amid the normal mix of trawlers, sightseeing boats, and work boats moored along the Cortez waterfront. The Mohawk is there and I have to resist the urge to stop on the bridge for a picture.

The Kelly Brothers yard is uninviting and the tall chain link gate is only partially open. I drive through and around mud puddles making my way towards the water. Aware that this is a work area and not designed for visitors I park far from the Mohawk and get out to walk. I’m soon challenged, and after stating my intentions I’m told I need to talk to Joe.

The title on Joe Weatherby’s business card is “Shipwrecker.” When I saw it I thought it was clever but after a half hour of conversation I realized how appropriate and insightful the description is. Joe’s got what it takes: training, skill, talent, experience, enthusiasm, and marketing ability. I learned a lot from Joe today and I thoroughly enjoyed our conversation. The Mohawk now and the USS Vandenburg before her are benefiting from Joe’s and Reefmakers’ involvement. Reefmakers Website






Reefmakers’ successful work on the Vandenburg project is validating their approach to artificial reef projects. According to Joe, “We do it right, with care given to preparation and placement.” In the past many artificial reefs were simply sanitized with little thought given to the small details that generate diver interest. This approach has led to many ships being deployed that are unexciting and are so stripped that they quickly become unstable and deteriorate. “A lot of care is going into the preparation so she’ll continue to hold interest,” Joe says of the Mohawk. He describes his work as, “A recipe for economic success.”

Reefmakers adds a new dimension to their projects because of their experience. Their talent pool is made up of treasure hunters, dive boat captains, media professionals, and of course, divers. They bring new insights to their projects. They prepare them with a focus on diver enjoyment, they place them for most effective accessibility, and they market them for best return. Captain Joe says, “We’re in the business of diving. We’re product centered.” That is why their Vandenberg Artificial Reef project won North America’s most prestigious ecotourism award, the Society of American Travel Writers’ Phoenix Award.

So, what will be so special about the Mohawk? Joe Weatherby says, “What she lacks in size she’ll make up in wow factor!” They’re not stripping out most of the bulkheads to sell for scrap like many other projects. The engines will be left in and will be accessible to divers as will be many of the fixtures and other operational equipment. According to Joe Weatherby, “It will be a wonderland for divers.” He went on to say, “This ship is different. She’s got guns, a lifeboat, propellers, and the engine is exposed. You’ll be able to dive all the way down the smokestack.” Two replica 50 caliber machine guns will be mounted on the deck, along with a period lifeboat, and I was surprised to see two searchlights still mounted on the bridge.






As with the Vandenburg, Reefmakers is working hard to promote the project. The news media has been kept well informed and videos of the sinking will be available almost instantaneously. I noticed but hadn’t connected the fact that Joe’s hair is cut in a Mohawk haircut. Joe laughingly asked me what I thought about it and said that he and a few others did it in honor of the project. Pretty clever, I think.  Joe also let me in on a secret. Jim Croce of the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum has donated an 18th century “onion” bottle with a musket ball recovered from Port Royal in Jamaica in it. The bottle has been hidden in the Mohawk for some lucky diver to find. Visit the St. Augustine Pirate and Treasure Museum Website for details.

When asked about the schedule Joe said, “We’re on our final punch list and as soon as we get our window we’re going.” Joe’s window is the weather which is expected to cooperate. Although the seas are high in the gulf today they’re expected to calm by the weekend. Reefmakers plans are to depart the dock at high tide on July 1st for the tow out to the site for a deployment on July 2nd, keeping with the original schedule, in spite of Debby’s interference.

The Mohawk presents an exciting opportunity for divers to experience a unique piece of history. The 165 foot long ship is large enough to impress but not so big she can’t be easily explored. Deployed in 90 feet of water, her structure will still be in the range of openwater divers but she is not so deep to be a “tech only” wreck. The thoughtful preparation makes the ship interesting and she will surely become a “must do” dive. Area dive operations are preparing to accommodate divers who want to see the Mohawk so make plans to enjoy this wonderful opportunity.

Avatar of Richard Black
No comments yet.

Leave a Reply