Celebrating the Ex USS Kittiwake
In January 2011, the 251 foot United States Navy Chanticleer-class submarine rescue vessel, the USS Kittiwake was laid to rest beneath the pristine waters of Grand Cayman’s West Bay. Since the sinking, the Ex USS Kittiwake has made some big waves. In the past 5 years, this rusty hulk has had a watch named for it, been voted best wreck dive by countless media outlets, and adorned the glossy covers of endless SCUBA magazines.
In celebration of the 5th year underwater, the CITA has dressed the massive wreck with images of the ship in her glory days. The laminated images were placed around the wreck site to give divers the feeling of being in an underwater museum.
The Kittiwake served from 1945 to 1994. Her most memorable call of duty was the recovery of the black box from the Space Shuttle Challenger, after the tragic disaster.
Local divers Stephen Aynsley and Mikkel Libach attach images of the Kittiwake from her past life as a United States Navy rescue vessel.
Over the past five years the Kittiwake wreck has seen approximately 53,000 divers, and 67,800 snorkelers making her one of the most popular underwater attractions in the Caribbean.
With seven mooring buoys in place, the Ex USS Kittiwake sits almost perfectly upright at a maximum depth of only 62 feet. The top of the wreck is within 15 feet of the surface, making it one of the few shipwrecks accessible to both scuba and snorkelers.
As a submarine rescue vessel, the Kittiwake was home to many Navy divers during its 49 years of service. When built, she was was outfitted with a recompression chamber, a diving bell and a diving locker.
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.
Over the past 5 years, the Kittiwake has become home to some interesting critters. Eagle rays are often seen circling the wreck while hawksbill turtles explore the upper decks searching for a spongy snack. Whether you are snorkeling above the vessel’s large smoke stack and main decks or are diving into the inner engine rooms and crew quarters, the Kittiwake is fantastic for exploration and adventure.