There is exciting news about a new wreck dive site coming to Southwest Florida
The former U.S. Coast Guard “A” Class Cutter U.S.S Mohawk (WPG-78) is scheduled for sinking in July 2012 and will become Florida’s newest artificial reef, to the delight of divers and fisherman alike. According to the Lee County Department of Natural Resources the 77 year old historic ship will become a Veterans’ Memorial Reef about 20 miles offshore Ft. Myers in approximately 90 feet of water near the current “Charlie’s Reef” site, adding to over a dozen existing artificial reef sites within a 15 mile radius of Sanibel and Captiva Islands. Speaking of the plan to use the Mohawk as an artificial reef, the last Captain of the Mohawk, Commander Mark Fedor, called it, “an honorable continuation of the legacy of the Mohawk and the United States Coast Guard.”
The historic 165 foot long ship will be deployed in the Gulf of Mexico within boating range of the Southwest Florida population bases and at a depth accessible to a large number of SCUBA divers, assuring broad interest and will be a boon to the local diving and fishing community. A recent study by Florida Sea Grant and University of Florida researchers estimates that anglers and divers who use Lee County artificial reefs spend nearly $60 million annually. Mike Campbell, the Lee County Natural Resources senior environmental specialist, who is coordinating the project stated, “By using the Mohawk as a veterans’ memorial reef, we are able to prevent a piece of our national history from being turned into scrap, all while honoring our service men and women in an economically and environmentally positive way.” He went on to say, “This ship is most likely one of the most historically significant pieces ever to be used for this purpose. We are very lucky. It’s all about honoring our veterans and providing a positive economic impact on our community.”
The positive financial impact realized by communities that invest in artificial reef programs such as this is becoming quite clear. When discussing the increased revenue, Campbell cited the impact the Vandenburg has had in Key West and commented about the U.S.S. Oriskany sunk offshore Pensacola area. “I’m really proud as a community we were able to take part in this just from honoring our veterans to the economic prospects of it,” said Campbell, “Every place that I am aware of using ships as artificial reefs have made a very significant impact on that community.”
Commissioned in 1935, the USS Mohawk was the last remaining ship of the Battle of the Atlantic – the longest continuous military campaign in World War II. Initially, the ship was assigned patrol and icebreaking duties on the Hudson and Delaware rivers but with the outbreak of World War II the Mohawk was assigned to the North Atlantic escort operations with the Greenland Patrol and became part of the Battle of the Atlantic. Patrolling the icy waters of the North Atlantic Ocean and guarding America’s vital convoys, she launched 14 attacks against submarine contacts between Aug. 27, 1942, and April 8, 1945 and rescued hundreds of survivors. In December of 1944 the Mohawk herself survived an iceberg strike five feet below her waterline on her port side. The former U.S. Coast Guard cutter is most famous for being the last ship to radio Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower that the weather was clearing for the D-Day invasion in 1944. “It is a great honor. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for Lee County to be able to participate. This is the last ship of the Battle of the Atlantic, the last ship of what they call the famous class of ships.” said Mike Campbell.
After her years of service to the United States and ownership by commercial ventures the Mohawk was eventually purchased by the Miami Dade Historical Maritime Museum. She was restored and became The USS Mohawk CGC Memorial Museum in Key West. http://www.uscgcmohawk.org/
Since 2006 she has been berthed at the inner quay wall, at the old Navy pier in the Truman Waterfront Key West and has welcomed many visitors.
Time and salt water has taken its toll on the old ship and the hull became so rusted that it was no longer feasible to maintain the Mohawk as a floating museum. The historic ship was in danger of sinking at its dock. Campbell said County officials were notified that the museum was looking at options to dispose of the historic vessel before it became too great a liability. Scrapping the old ship would have netted the museum nearly $250,000 but the most sensible option was to donate it to be used as an artificial reef.
With this decision, the process began and in the early part of this year, the Miami-Dade Historical Maritime Museum gave the ship as a donation to Lee County. A grant was obtained from the West Coast Inland Navigation District to pay the $1.3 million of expenses to prepare and sink the vessel. The U.S.S. Mohawk was towed from Key West and after a two day journey arrived at San Carlos Island in Ft. Myers Beach on May 16.
The old ship is now docked at Kelly Brothers Marine Construction off of Main Street and over the next several weeks, she will be transformed for her final service as a Veterans’ Memorial Reef. The process to clean and prepare the ship for sinking will take thirty to forty five days. “We are over-preparing on this, just to ensure that it will be environmentally safe,” said Campbell. “We are actually cleaning all the PCBs that may be aboard as well as the wiring and the hydrocarbons and asbestos as needed. We are also outfitting it with four-ton trim, twin machine gun replicas. So, we are not stripping it down to bare bones.” The goal is to prepare the ship as an interesting wreck dive and artificial reef that is environmentally safe while keeping diver safety in mind.
Click here for more information about Lee County’s Artificial Reefs
Or find the guide by visiting Leecounty.com and clicking on “Departments,” then “Natural Resources,” then “Artificial Reefs.”