On January 5th 2011, the Kittiwake (an ex USA Navy Vessel) was brought to the Cayman Islands and sunk to make an artificial reef off Grand Cayman’s Seven Mile Beach. In her day, the Kittiwake was a submarine rescue vessel.
Her primary role was to assist submarines by:
- Assisting them on trials
- Rescuing them when they were stuck, broken, or trapped
- Bringing them supplies and personnel
- Recovering practice torpedoes
The Kittiwake was in service from 1945 to 1994, serving more than 50 years. After she was retired from duty in 1994 the Caymans Islands Government purchased her to make an artificial reef. In preparation for sinking the Kittiwake was cleaned of all chemicals and oils to insure that no pollutants could harm the nearby coral reefs, and had most of her internal fixtures removed to make the vessel as diver friendly as possible.
The Kittiwake is a large vessel measuring 251 feet long, hosting 5 decks, and weighing 2200 tons. She sits in ~60 feet of water. Open water divers can swim the first three decks, and advanced divers can swim through all five decks. Some highlights of the dive include two recompression champers, which served the divers who got decompression sickness on the Kittiwake, the bathroom which still has mirrors so you can see yourself, and the mess hall which still has tables and chairs.
Most of the Kittiwake’s missions are still classified to this day, however a quick search online gets plenty of hits to some of her adventures. Most notably in 1986 the Kittiwake recovered the Blackbox from the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster. The Blackbox was recovered from the Atlantic Ocean.
Today the Kittiwake lays in a marine park serving as an artificial reef. Divers and snorkelers are not allowed to take or touch anything in the marine park. To dive or snorkel the Kittiwake, you must go on a licenced vessel.
To get a list of licenced vessels click here.
To learn more about diving the Kittiwake click here.
(Kittiwake newly sunk; credit Lawson Wood)
Damage Control Petty Officer, and a fire on the Bridge By Jon Glatstein, Former Kittiwake crew
During my tour on the USS Kittiwake I was appointed as the DCPO (Damage Control Petty Officer) for OPS (operations) Division. The divisional DCPO is responsible for performing maintenance on all of the damage control equipment in the spaces assigned to his division.
Now, OFFICIALLY, before you are permitted to be a DCPO you must complete the PQS (Personnel Qualification Standards), which is a booklet of tasks you must perform to the satisfaction of someone who is already qualified. Then you must go to the DCPO school. You should have already been to general damage control school as a matter of course as every sailor goes through the USS Buttercup damage control mockup at least once in their career. I had most of these things covered. It was par for the course on the Kittiwake for qualifications to slip a little because we did not have very many people to choose from. Fortunately, during my stint as DCPO I did in fact get sent to the DCPO school on base, and by my own doing I kept bothering the leading DC1 (First Class Petty Officer in the Damage Control specialty) to get my PQS signed off.
So, by the time the ship was getting it’s next damage control inspection, I had everything I needed to be official. Naturally, I assumed everyone else did too. I also assumed everyone was performing the work using the official PMS (Planned Maintenance System) procedures. I was very confident while the OPS division spaces got inspected, and I passed with flying colors. Even got a “Bravo Zulu” from the division LPO (Leading Petty Officer). Little did I know that every other division on the ship was failing miserably.
Suddenly a meeting of all of the DCPOs was called in the crew rec room. There I sat wondering what was going on. The leading inspector, a chief from someplace on base, asked that everyone who had their PQS signed off for DCPO please raise their hand. Myself and two other sailors raised our hands. The chief then asked for anyone who had been to the DCPO school to raise their hands, one other sailor and I raised our hands, and the other guy was not one of the ones that had their PQS signed off. To make things worse, the chief had been the one that had inspected my spaces. He told me I could leave and that everyone else would have to stay. He went on to say that it may be a late night. I left the rec room, but stayed aboard to help out. I gained a good understanding of why the inspectors were a little pissed off.
Of course, within a week or two everyone that needed to be qualified was, everything got fixed, we got reinspected, everyone passed with no problems, and life went on.
Several months later, as we were pulling into port in Norfolk, Just as we were getting turned around to back up into our south quay wall mooring (an extremely tense time on the bridge), a shower of sparks started sputtering out of the main engine ammeter bridge repeater. I was on the bridge at the time. I don’t recall what watch position I was standing for Special Sea and Anchor detail back then. I grabbed a CO2 fire extinguisher from it’s mount, banged it against the floor as trained (for some kind of static discharge issue that I never really understood), got the nozzle pointed in the right direction, and just as I was about to squeeze the trigger the thought went through my mind “geeze, I sure hope this extinguisher works or I’m gonna be in big trouble.”
Well, the extinguisher worked. fine. The Boatswains mate had already called away the fire over the 1MC (the ships PA system). A couple other related fires broke out and I extinguished them. Some sparks fell down on the Helmsman and the Lee Helmsman, but they were OK. By the time the Damage Control party showed up it was all over.
To this day I still thank goodness that the freakin extinguisher worked. Not because of what damage may have been done, just because of the amount of trouble I am sure I would have been in if it didn’t.