Joes Tug, now an artificial reef was stolen and sunk by a bunch of Florida Keys Pirates
Joes Tug has a buoy to mark the dive site, but it’s 15' below the surface of the water. The Key West dive operators have tied a plastic milk jug to the buoy line to mark the bow of the wreck. The depth of the water is 65'. It’s located 6 miles south southeast of Key West. This is NOT a Sanctuary Protection Area. The GPS Coordinates are 24'27.842N and 081'44.259W.
Now I’ve heard that this vessel was a working harbor tug in Key West and I heard that it’s really an old shrimp boat. After seeing it underwater I still don’t know which one it was. You’ll have to decide for yourself.
She was a 75' steel hulled vessel. She sank in 1986 at the dock at Safe Harbor in Key West. She was raised and sold to the folks in Miami to be sunk as an artificial reef. She was cleaned, all entanglements and doors were removed. She was loaded with steel beams to help stabilize her for the trip to Miami. On January 21, 1989, the night before she was scheduled to leave, a bunch of local so called “pirates” had a little too much Rum to drink and decided she should stay in the Florida Key. Supposedly the Captain of this ship was named Joe and that’s where the wreck got its name. So Capt. Joe and his friends stole the ship under the cover of darkness, tied it to their boat and began to tow it out to deep water. Before they reached their chosen location, she began to take on water. They had to cut her free. She sank just on the outside edge of the reef in 65' of water on the sandy bottom. She landed in the upright position.
She was soon discovered by local divers. It wasn’t until late in the 1990's that the Key West dive shops would visit the wreck. They were afraid the cops would think they had some part of the taking and sinking of the ship. No one was ever prosecuted for the crime.
Initially she was an easy swim through wreck. On September 25, 1998, Hurricane
Georges tore through the Lower Keys and Key West with winds of 105 mph sustained and gusts to 140 mph. This created a surge strong enough to pick up the wreck and break her in half. The bow is now 30 feet from the stern. The next storm Hurricane Irene manages to rip the wheelhouse completely off the ship. There are scattered pieces of metal all around and between the two pieces of the wreck. Machinery and rigging lay in her hull.
You’ll need to be careful. There’s lots of jagged pieces of metal on the hull. She’s home to large schools of grunts, schoolmaster and yellowtail snapper. The reef near by offers lots of beautiful corals, sponges and marine life.
The visibility at Joes Tug is usually good due to her location outside the reef. You may experience strong current. This is a great dive site for the underwater photographer. The marine life, coral growth and local lore all add to the beauty of this Florida Keys wreck dive.
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