The Thunderbolt artificial reef’s old job was to be intentionally struck by lightening, now she’s in Davy Jones Locker off the Florida Key
The Thunderbolt has no marker. The depth of the water is 120'. There are two mooring buoys, one on the bow and one on the stern, but they’re under the water at 15' and 20' down. There’s a metal ring on top of the buoys. Someone will need to free dive down with a line from the boat and pass it thru the ring, then cleat it off on your boat. This is a protected area. Special rules and regulations do apply. The saying is “Take only photos and leave only bubbles.” It’s located 5 miles southeast of Vaca Key and one mile south southwest of red channel marker #20. I’m gonna give you two sets of GPS Coordinates 24'39.663N and 080'57.784w, and the other is 24'39.677N and 80'57.822W. I don’t know which is the best one. I’ve never had my boat up to this wreck.
She was built in 1942 and is 189' long. She began her life as the USS Randolph. She was used to lay cables across the ocean floor. Next she was purchased by Florida Power and Light. They used her to study lightning. They would force ionized gas into the upper atmosphere which caused lightning. It would then strike the ship enabling the researchers to measure its impact. After that she was used to survey the bottom of the ocean.
She was tied to a dock at Miami Harbor where she accidentally sank. A group of Middle Keys divers got together and purchased her to be cleaned and intentionally scuttled as an artificial reef.
On March 6, 1986, The Thunderbolt came to rest in the sand on the ocean floor. She sits intact and in the upright position. At 20' down you can begin to see the ship. At 65' you meet the superstructure, at 75' you’ll see the observation deck, at 85' you’re at a huge horizontal cable handling reel on the bow of the ship. This reel is swarming with a school of small silver baitfish. The hatch on the main deck leads into the engine room where you can penetrate the ship to a depth of 110'. The aft end has been cut away exposing the interior of the ship. The two large bronze propellers and rudder are still in place. She has become totally encrusted with coral and sponges.
You’ll see lots of marine life such as cobia, shark, jack crevalle, grouper, tarpon, amber jack, Jewfish, barracuda and spiny sea urchin. Many times you’ll be greeted by several large barracudas at the mooring buoy and they’ll escort you all the way down to the wreck.
The visibility is on and off depending on the tides. The current is lots of times strong, especially deep. The wreck is covered in silt, so be careful with your fins. Advanced skill level is required by the dive shops, so bring along your C-Card and log books. Although intermediate skill level is accepted on good days I’ve heard.
The Thunderbolt is part of the Florida Keys Artificial Reef Association. It’s claimed to be the best wreck dive in the Middle Keys. It’s a must see!
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