I feel privileged to have been a personal witness the day the Ruby E sank to her final resting place and began her life as a reef. That was nearly 15 years ago. In spite of the fact that it was an intentional sinking—to create an artificial reef—she did not go easily. The plan was to open the valves
in the morning and let her fill with water. By late afternoon, it was obvious this was not going to do the job, so fire hoses and pumps were brought in.
Soon the stern was sinking and all at once the rear end of the ship was heading for the bottom—but not the bow. The stern of the 135-foot long ship hit the bottom 80 feet below with a shudder and the bow went upright. There she sat for what seemed like a very long time, but it was only just a few minutes. The bow gasped, then began to also sink slowly. To cheers of other spectators on surrounding boats, the Ruby E settled to the bottom upright to become the second official installment in San Diego’s “Wreck Alley” (the first being the kelp cutter El Rey, sunk a few years earlier nearby). Later that day I was allowed to be one of the first divers on the wreck.
Since that time there have additions to Wreck Alley, both intentional and accidental. The NOSC tower was toppled by a storm in 1988 and most noteworthy was the sinking of the 366-foot Canadian destroyer Yukon, put down in 2000 in 100 feet of water, also not too far away.
But of the vessels sunk in Wreck Alley, the Ruby E remains my favorite. It is small enough to be easily explored in one dive yet large enough to keep you coming back for more. It has an excellent bottom profile but is not too deep. Top of the wreck is only 50 feet and much of the wreck can be explored at about
70 feet or less. The bottom is only 80 to 85 feet down. Some penetrations are possible but nothing really very hair-raising. In short, the Ruby is a good beginners’ wreck that will keep experienced divers coming back for more.
The main attraction of this wreck is the marine life. It is absolutely spectacular. Most of the wreck is covered in a patchwork quilt of corynactus anemone colonies in nearly every warm hue you can imagine—red, orange, yellow, lavender, pink. Crawling on the deck are crabs, stars, and sea cucumbers. Fish have long ago set up permanent residence on this hulk. Rubber lip perch like the area around the railings. Cabezon and rockfish patrol the decks and superstructure. Schools of opaleye patrol the top of the wreck while smaller fish like ghost gobies, island kelpfish and greenlings move about on the encrusted metal faces.
The wreck is a photographer’s dream come true. The disintegrating metal layered in marine life create a myriad of angles for the astute wide-angle photographer. As for close-up work, you could spend dive after dive photographing just the anemones. Then there are the little fish, invertebrates, and nudibranches. All colorful, all abundant.
For the casual explorer a dive light is a must. Many of the compartments are wide open, but there are lots of dark corners. The two uppermost compartments of the superstructure, the wheelhouse and crew’s quarters, can be penetrated with a light by the intermediate diver when visibility is good. Any of the other compartments are more difficult. The deck compartments have become silted and require special training. A bit easier, but still dangerous, is the engine compartment. This is a great area for photos of shadows and light and other divers peering into the wreck.
Dive conditions on the wreck vary from day to day, sometimes hour to hour. Wreck Alley seems to be particularly vulnerable to plankton blooms. They move in and out. You can have 15-foot of visibility in the morning that opens up to 50 in the afternoon. Often the poor visibility is just the top layer of water and clarity greatly improves with depth. All in all, you can expect about 25-foot visibility on average. Of all the wrecks at Wreck Alley, it has been my experience that the Ruby E seems to fare best.
Currents are a constant here but rarely strong. The Ruby E also seems to have the least problems with currents.
The wreck is located just two miles off Mission Beach and only minutes from the mouth of Mission Bay where many dive charter boat reside, and there are several boat launching ramps. The wreck is clearly marked with a mooring buoy that is occupied much of the time.
Dive Spot At A Glance
Location: Approximately two miles off Mission Beach Jetty. GPS N32°46.035′, W117°16.612. Both bow and stern are usually marked with a buoy, but sometimes these buoys are missing.
Access: Boat only. Charter boats nearby out of Mission Bay. Boat launch ramps also for private boats.
Skill Level: All to upper levels of wreck. More advanced for deeper sections and penetrations. Special training needed for some sections due to silting.
Depths: 50 to 85 feet, but most of the dive can be made around 75 feet or less.
Visibility: Generally good but variable due to plankton blooms.
Photography: Excellent wide-angle in and around the wreck encrusted with colorful marine life.