Kittiwake shipwreck diving offers the opportunity to explore the modified wreckage of the USS Kittiwake, a salvage and rescue vessel that was operational for over 50 years.
After being donated by the Maritime Administration for the purpose of creating an artificial reef, the vessel was cleared of all hazardous materials, had holes cut from the hull, and all the doors removed in preparation for her descent January 5, 2011 in the waters of the northern portion of Seven Mile Beach.
Kittiwake is a sizeable vessel, with a length of over 250 feet and five decks that was able to accommodate 85 sailors, so there is much to explore, and plenty of space for the habitation of marine life (who treat the old ship like an urban housing complex). It is an excellent home for the Cayman sea creatures, as well as an endlessly fascinating exploration site for divers and snorkelers.
A Kittiwake wreck dive offers a legion of opportunities for reef and wreckage exploration. A good many of the vessel's original instruments were left intact, so you can roam through the different chambers and explore all of the different rooms and features as you go.
Regardless of your level of diving skill, the Kittiwake is an excellent dive spot. In addition, Kittiwake snorkel opportunities are also vast. We offer both single and double tank dives seven days per week (upon request). We're thrilled to have received TripAdvisor's Certificate of Excellence Award for our stellar reviews, and we are anxious to show you why we've been so honored.
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Kittiwake was launched 10 July 1945, by Savannah Machine & Foundry Co., Savannah, Georgia; sponsored by Mrs. Howard S. Rue, Jr.; and commissioned 18 July 1946, Lt. L. H. Collier in command.
The water is so clear you can see it from the surface. It's the Cayman Islands' newest tourist attraction, the USS Kittiwake.
The Kittiwake is a Chanticleer-class submarine rescue ship that was part of the U.S. Navy's fleet until it was decommissioned in 1994. Now it's an artificial reef, one that Scuba Diving magazine says is a must for divers.
"It is definitely one of the top 10 purposely sunk wrecks because of its accessibility," says the magazine's editor, David Espinosa. "It's in relatively shallow water and it's upright."
The Kittiwake was sunk a little over a year ago just off Grand Cayman's popular Seven Mile Beach. A five-minute boat ride brings divers to the site where the vessel's bottom sits about 60 feet down on the sandy floor of the Caribbean Sea.
Getting the 251-foot-long ship to the bottom of the ocean was easy, unlike the effort to obtain the vessel.
"It was a pilot project and that was part of the complexity of it," says Nancy Easterbrook, who spearheaded the Kittiwake project on behalf of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association.
The Caymans applied to the U.S. government to receive a decommissioned ship to use as an artificial reef, a process that was open for the first time to international applicants. Then Easterbrook journeyed to Norfolk, Virginia, to tour the available ships.
She says choosing the USS Kittiwake was the easy part of her eight-year effort. "She was a ship that served divers all of her life," she says, "so it just seemed the appropriate ship."
Before the vessel could be transported to its new home, it had to be cleared of all military equipment, undergo an inspection for hazardous materials and pass environmental regulations in the United States and the Cayman Islands.
As a submarine rescue vessel, the Kittiwake was home to many Navy divers during its 49 years of service. When built, it was outfitted with a recompression chamber, a diving bell and a diving locker. But the ship's highlight for most divers today is an unlikely place: the vessel's head.
"They've left the mirrors inside the bathrooms, so you can actually take a look at yourself while diving," says Jason Shaddox, an instructor with local dive company Don Foster's.
But you don't have to be a diver to appreciate this new attraction. "It's the only wreck I've been around where you can snorkel on it and see what we see as divers," Shaddox adds. "The only thing you don't see as a snorkeler is what is inside."
In just over a year, a ship that might have ended up in the scrapheap has been transformed into a must-see for visitors.
Inside there are five decks with the stairs intact. A dive will take you through the recreation room, mess hall, crew quarters, navigation room and up to the main deck, which sits about 15 feet from the water's surface.
"The warmth of the water and the visibility is incredible, so you can see the whole ship from the surface," says Easterbrook. "It's kind of eerie because it's something that doesn't belong there but on the other hand, it's quite friendly to divers and snorkelers."
The vessel has also quickly become a friendly spot for marine life. Recently, the island was abuzz when a whale shark was spotted near the ship.
After shakedown, Kittiwake departed Charleston, South Carolina, 3 October for Balboa, Canal Zone, arriving 8 October. Assigned to support and rescue duty with Submarine Squadron 6, the submarine rescue ship accompanied submarines during sea trials and maneuvers to monitor diving operations; to practice underwater rescue procedures; and to recover practice torpedoes. While based at Balboa, her operations carried her to the Virgin Islands, to Puerto Rico, and along the Atlantic coast to the Davis Strait.
Departing Balboa 31 May 1949, Kittiwake arrived Norfolk, Virginia 6 June to continue duty with SUBRON 6. From 17 January to 1 February 1950 she provided divers and equipment during salvage operations to free the battleship Missouri, grounded in tidal banks off Thimble Shoals, Virginia. During the 1950s she cruised the Atlantic from New England to the Caribbean while supporting ships of Submarine Force U.S. Atlantic Fleet with a trained and highly skilled crew. While on station off the coast of Cape Canaveral, Florida, 20 July 1960, she stood ready to assist the fleet ballistic missile submarine USS George Washington (SSBN-598) as George Washington successfully launched the first two Polaris ballistic missiles ever fired from a submarine beneath the sea.
Kittiwake continued operating out of Norfolk until 1 August 1961 when she departed for the Mediterranean. Arriving at Rota, Spain, on 15 August, she cruised the Mediterranean from Spain to Greece while deployed with the United States Sixth Fleet. After supporting submarine maneuvers out of Piraeus, Greece, from 20 September to 9 October, she departed the Mediterranean 8 November and arrived Norfolk on the 18th. She then conducted operations out of Norfolk for the next 18 months. While on duty off Key West 2 February 1963, she sighted a Cuban boat, Jose Maria Perez and took on board 12 refugees (including 3 children) fleeing communist oppression in Cuba; they were carried to safety at Key West.
Departing Charleston, South Carolina, 16 April, Kittiwake arrived at St. Nazaire, France, 3 May with two Landing Craft Utility (LCU's) in tow. She proceeded to the Mediterranean 10 May and reached Rota on the 14th. For more than two months she participated in fleet operations before departing Rota 31 July for the United States. Returning to Norfolk 10 August 1963, she resumed training and support operations with submarines, along the Atlantic coast. Through 1964 and 1965, Kittiwake continued her role in maintaining the readiness of individual submarines which were to carry out their missions of defense and deterrence effectively. She escorted them as they left the East Coast shipyards for sea trials, standing ready to come to their rescue should difficulties arise. Constant exercise in use of weapons by submarines was furnished by Kittiwake, such as running as a target and recovering exercise torpedoes and mines. The operations ranged from the Virginia Capes to the Atlantic missile range off Florida. On 6 April 1965, she departed Norfolk with submarines for exercises off the coast of Spain, thence to the Mediterranean Sea.
Kittiwake departed Toulon 31 May 1965, to operate out of Rota, Spain, in support of the fleet ballistic missile submarines of Submarine Squadron 16: USS Andrew Jackson (SSBN-619), USS Woodrow Wilson (SSBN-624), USS James Madison (SSBN-627), and USS Nathan Hale (SSBN-623). Following torpedo recovery and training off the coast of Spain, she sailed for Holy Loch, Scotland 30 June 1965, to give support to Submarine Squadron 14 there. She recovered torpedoes for the fleet ballistic missile submarines USS James Monroe (SSBN-622) and USS John Adams (SSBN-620), provided underway training for men of the submarine tender USS Hunley (AS-31), then sailed 20 July for Norfolk, arriving 30 July 1965. During the autumn months, Kittiwake guarded new Polaris submarines, USS Lewis and Clark (SSBN-644) and USS Simon Bolivar (SSBN-641), during their builder's sea trials prior to commissioning.
Kittiwake operated on the United States East Coast and in the Caribbean until sailing for the Mediterranean 8 July 1966. She reached the Bay of Cádiz on the 20th and transited the straits 2 days later. She operated in the Mediterranean until emerging at Rota, Spain, 1 September. She headed for Holy Loch on the 6th and arrived on the 11th. Four days later she was ordered to the North Sea to assist in locating and salvaging the German submarine Hai (S-171). She reached the scene of the tragedy 17 September and remained on hand assisting salvage operations until the 20th. She continued to operate off Western Europe until returning to Norfolk 13 November. Kittiwake operated on the East Coast into 1967.