Revisiting the Spiegel Grove & Duane

by Steve May

It’s been quite a while since I had a chance to dive the Coast Guard Cutter Duane and the Military Transport Ship Spiegel Grove. So, when I got a chance in December 2005 to dive them again, I was enthusiastic to see what had changed.

For the folks who are not familiar with the wrecks, I’ll give you a short run down on them.

The Spiegel Grove is the newer of the two, originally sank, (a little ahead of schedule in May of 2002), before the prep team could complete their work on site. The 510 ft long ship ended upside down, with her bow sticking out of the water. After a lot of work, she was eventually turned onto her starboard side and settled on the sea floor. Thousands of divers have flocked to see the new wreck. The story doesn’t end there. In July of 2005, hurricane Dennis roared through the Florida Keys and stood the Spiegel Grove upright, thereby helping to do what the humans had been trying to do all along. Maybe the prayers of the folks who worked on the Spiegel Grove project were answered after all. If you had any doubt that hurricanes are powerful, think of the 510 feet long ship, weighing many, many tons, sitting on the bottom in 130 feet of water, getting shoved bolt upright by that storm!

The 327-foot long Duane began life as an artificial reef in November 1987, south of Molasses Reef, off Key Largo. She sits upright on the bottom in 120 feet of water. The Duane sits only a hundred yards from her sister ship, the Bibb that went down the day after the Duane.

Spiegel Grove photo locations

Now that the Spiegel Grove is upright, it’s a whole new dive. If you dove it before and liked it, you’ll like it even more now that it’s upright. There is more structure to see shallower. It’s easier to orient yourself and it “looks” more impressive, (to me anyway), not that it wasn’t impressive before. Any time you’re on a wreck that big, it’s pretty impressive. The visibility was only about 30 feet and there was a lot of “stuff” in the water. You know, that stringy, “snot” looking stuff, (highly technical term). I would have really liked the visibility to have been better, so I could see the size of the ship better. Photographers are like that, they like great visibility for their photos. Usually the visibility is much better, in the 50-80 foot ranges and occasionally even better. But, we’re talking about December, and I was very happy to have pretty calm seas, clear skies, no cold front moving through, minimal current, and 76-degree water. So, I guess I shouldn’t whine too much. There still isn’t much real increase in the growth on the wreck since

Black Grouper cruising the Spiegel Grove. Taken at location 2.

I first dove it in July of 2003 while it was on its side. It just looks a little more beat-up along the rails and more algae growth. The most notable change in the fish life on the wreck was the presence of a lot more Black Grouper. All the Grouper were about the same size. The smallest was about 18-20 inches and the largest was only a few inches longer, probably no more than 20-22 inches. During each dive I saw at least a dozen Grouper spread out over the forward half of the Spiegel Grove’s deck. The Grouper and some Amber Jacks were taking passes at large schools of large minnows in the open water above and around the deck.

When we got up to the bow, I motioned for my dive buddy (my wife) to pose on the tip of the bow. I was thinking: “the bow scene from the Titanic movie”. She was thinking “huh”, “whatever”or“how about this” or something like that. At that point we were getting close to needing to head back toward the ascent line, so we didn’t have the luxury of taking lots of pictures and working with the posing.

Spiegel Grove Bow (Titanic Style). Taken at location 1.

The next day when we got to dive the Duane, the weather was holding up just fine and the visibility had improved to about 50-60 feet. The last time I dove the Duane, (September of 2001) the growth and fish life were getting pretty good. I was happy to see cup corals and sponges along the rails, doors and stairways.

Duane Photo Locations

Structurally the Duane seems to be holding up well. The Radar Mast is still standing, despite several hurricanes rolling through or sideswiping the area over the last several years.

Duane Mast. Photo location 1.

This time around, the growth was even more abundant. The colorful cup corals had spread even further, and the sponges had increased in size and variety considerably. The fish life that make’s up such a large part of the reef ecosystem is now very abundant on the Duane. Growth is starting to really cover the structure and obscure the sharp lines of the former Coast Guard Cutter. As we ascended the line toward our safety stop, a hawksbill turtle passed us parallel to the ascent line within a few feet. After the turtle disappeared up the line, I clipped the camera to my scooter ring to free my hands for the ascent line and safety stop. As we ascended, the turtle came right back down the line, again passing within a few feet of us. Obviously, the divers were just another part of the scenery for the Hawksbill on her trip back down to the wreck. And that’s the way it should be.

Growth and fish life on the Duane

Fish life on the Duane

Hawks Bill Turtle on the Duane.

Photo location 3.

Colorful growth through a porthole on the Duane.

Photo location 2.

If you haven’t had a chance to dive the Spiegel Grove since she was pushed upright by hurricane Dennis or the Duane recently, then you owe it to yourself to get your dive buddy and make a plan to visit these remarkable wrecks in Key Largo. As a bonus, they are easy to get to. Nearly all the dive shops from Key Largo to Tavernier Key can get you to these two wrecks. Because of the depth, an Advanced Open Water Certification is required. These sites are also the perfect dives to get maximum benefit from Nitrox.