There have been rumors about various deep-water sites of San Diego for years. These spots were too deep for ordinary scuba and told well before technical diving established a foothold in San Diego. Certain stories were told about various spots that were simply too deep for air and conventional scuba. Test target bombings of Navy vessels during the 30’s, the “Bottle Shop” near the Coronados Islands 170 feet down, where a wooden ship filled with boxes of the old San Diego Brewery beer sank (the bottles remain but remnants of the ship are gone) and the WWII Bomber sunk in 260 feet off Sugarloaf Rock in Mexico are all stories that have been told for years in dive shops and on dive boats in San Diego. Like a lot of dive spots, technical diving opened the door to underwater exploration that was not previously possible.
One spot that has always peaked my interest is the Trident Missile Tower sunk off the US/Mexico border. The Missile Tower is part of the California Fish and Game Artificial reef program and was sunk in 1992.
This reef was part of the International Artificial Reef constructed in 1991 near the US/ Mexico border. It is still considered under construction according to various listings by the Department of Fish and Game. Six reefs make up the International Artificial Reef. The reefs are primarily constructed out of 25,000 tons of quarry rock surround the Missile Tower.
The Missile Tower sits slightly south of the six quarry rock reefs in 160 to 165 feet of water. The Missile Tower is a former Trident Missile launching platform for the US Navy. The spot is a very popular sport fishing area due to the amount of life that the reefs attract.
The Missile Tower is a deep technical dive. It is past the 130-foot sport diving limit and is a technical scuba dive only. Only those trained in technical diving and trimix should attempt to dive the reefs or the tower. You should not attempt this dive if you are not properly equipped or trained in technical diving and trimix.
Descending the anchor line to the 160 foot depth, the first thing you notice about the Missile Tower is the White Metridium Anenomes that blanket the entire structure. I remember when the first Metridium’s showed up on the El Rey wreck in San Diego after it sunk in 1988. The local dive community always considered San Diego waters to be too warm to have Metridium’s grow here and they were only seen in Northern California. Now they seem to blanket most of the wrecks in San Diego.
The Missile Tower is a structure about 60 feet high and 25 feet wide. Depending on who you talk to, the Missile Tower was used to test launch either Trident Missiles or Polaris or Poseidon submarine-based missiles. You can still make out various parts of the Tower and overall it is recognizable. The tower is still in good shape after being on the bottom for 10+ years. You can peer through the cylinders and also make out interesting features of the tower.
Corynactis anemones also have taken over every square inch of this structure. Various rockfish and sea bass swim through the structure and provide for an interesting dive. Hunting is not recommended due to the depth of the dive sites.
Underwater photography options abound at the site. Both wide angle and macro opportunities exist at every turn. Up close shots of the anenomes are incredible due to their large size. The real dramatic shots are the wide-angle of the Tower itself. I have seen some black and white photos that really capture the mood of the wreck.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Off the US coast near the US/Mexico border. (GPS N 32°42.29.47″, W 117°14.47.4″‘ – GPS for reference only. Do not use as sole source of navigation.)
Access: Boat only, short run for charter boats out of San Diego Bay. Public launch ramps also in San Diego Bay.
Depths: 165 feet.
Skill Level: Technical, Trimix only
Visibility: Good, averaging 20-30 feet.
Photography: Very good for both macro and wide angle. Lots of rockfish and sand bass depending on the season. Good amount of colorful small creatures, too.
Hunting: Not recommended due to depth.
Hazards: Depth, currents, surge, boat traffic, and fishing lines.
Recommended operators: Currently only private boats go to The Missile Tower due to the depth it is at.