The Wilkes Barre wreck is the largest ship sank as an artificial reef in the Florida Keys
The Wilkes Barre wreck doesn’t have any marker or mooring buoys to tie your boat to. You’ll have to anchor. Be mindful that while you’re down there diving, the anchor line could chaff off on the wreck. The depth of the water is 250'. This is not a Sanctuary Preservation Area. It’s located 13.5 miles southwest of Summerland Key. The GPS Coordinates are 24'29.094N and 081'33.202W for the bow section and 24'29.046N and 081'33.139W for the stern section.
This is an extremely deep wreck dive and should only be attempted by those with the proper training and certification. It would be wise to have a local diver as guide for this dive. You’re probable only going to get around 25 minutes of bottom time and your decompression is a long one it’s around 60 minutes.
This shipwreck is 610' long and 63' wide. It was a Cleveland Class Light Cruiser that saw lots of action during WWII. She earned four battle stars for her service. She was decommissioned on October 9, 1947. She was struck from the Navy’s list on January 15, 1971. She was brought to Key West to be used for testing underwater explosives. On May 12, 1972, she was the largest ship intentionally sunk as an artificial reef in the Florida Keys and they used underwater explosives to get her to the bottom of the ocean which is 250' down. At this depth this dive site is classified as an advanced dive. You would also need to have technical training.
The ship was blown into two pieces with the explosion. She separated between the smokestacks and superstructure. The stern section sank first, but it didn’t go down until 10 pm. The next morning the bow section was hit again with explosives and sank 100 yards to the east of the stern section. A gun turret was blown off during the explosion. It rests 50' off the starboard side of the wreck in the sand. Machinery and brass gears are scattered on the ocean floor all around the shipwreck.
The stern sits in the upright position and is oriented east to west. You’ll reach the superstructure at 140' down. The main deck will be reached at 200' down. The bow lies on its starboard side 100 yards to the east. The outside of the hull is reached at 200'. Radars, monitors, phones and many other instruments are still on the ship. The glass in some of the portholes escaped the explosion and is still intact and in place. Her railing and cables are twisted and covered with large oysters and other invertebrates. The guns and superstructure have tangled nets and monofilament left there by unhappy shrimpers and fishermen.
The Wilkes Barre wreck is the cruising grounds for scary large fish. You likely to come face to face with sharks, barracuda, and really large jewfish.
Her nickname is the “Lethal Lady” so plan your dive carefully if you plan to visit the best technical dive in the Florida Keys.
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