It has now been around nine months since the 366-foot long Canadian destroyer Yukon quietly slipped beneath the surface in the dark of night off San Diego. After nine months, life has arisen from this event into a new birth. If you have not dived the Yukon lately, you are in for a pleasant surprise! The ocean as already begun to adorn and decorate her, even sooner than some had expected.
First a bit of history: The Yukon was always intended for the sea floor off San Diego. Through the efforts of countless volunteers and financial contributors, the ship was prepped and towed into place for a scheduled July 15, 2000 sinking with much fanfare. The night before mother ocean, however, had different plans. Wind and waves shifted and she went down in darkness. As many declared with a grin, “Ship happens!”
Fortunately, she was in her designated location with the only variation to the plans being a roll on to her port side. One of the hardest working volunteers on the project, Milt Beard, was largely responsible for cutting the holes in the ship. The odd but fun angle of the Yukon on the bottom is now affectionately known as “Milt’s tilt.”
For weeks, she gleamed white (although actually light gray) on the bottom to the delight of exploring divers. Slowly a thin layer of slimy algae begin to form and then the winter storms set in.
Some of the light rigging has now broken loose on the wreck and bangs around in the surge. While this can be a little disconcerting, especially in penetrating the wreck (properly trained and experienced divers only please!), there is no hazard as the preparation crews were very careful to remove any possible entanglements.
Because of its open ocean location, surge can be strong on the wreck. This is especially apparent along the shallowest portions. Use caution (or have fun if you have the nerve and experience) around some of the openings. Because there a numerous openings on the wreck, the surge can create large thrusts and vacuums of water pulling divers in and then spitting them out again with sometimes great force.
Across the shallowest portions of the wreck, the starboard rail and superstructure about 60 feet down, kelp is growing. Fish have moved in quickly. On the outside, the schools obviously find some comfort in the kelp or shadow of the wreck. Inside, scorpionfish have become especially abundant in some of the aft compartments. Even lobster has been reported tucked back into some of the darker corners.
The bottom of the ship, exposed due to the ship’s sideways resting position, has the thickest marine growth because it has been underwater the longest. The “propellers” are especially interesting with many odd angles and lots of small critters. On the starboard propeller are anemones, tiny crabs, brittle stars and numerous nudibranches. These are not true propellers but rather “training propellers” that simulated the torque and load of being underway for Canadian sailors learning to use the ship dockside. The port side propeller is now half buried in the sand. A portion of it is clean and shiny, stainless steel polished by the constantly moving sand on the bottom, 100 feet down. Unfortunately, as of this writing, the two aft mooring buoys have broken loose making a moderate swim necessary to reach the propellers. Take this into consideration in your dive planning.
As the ship is settling into the bottom, sand is intruding into other areas of the wreck as well. Some compartments now have sand inside. Caution is recommended.
The San Diego Oceans Foundation (SDOF), the principle group responsible for the sinking, is embarking on a dynamic project for which they need your help. SDOF is looking for divers who dive the Yukon regularly who would be willing to volunteer five minutes of their dive to collect information on the growth of marine life. The monitoring project will document the growth to assess the biological productivity of the ship. If there is a significant amount of growth over time, SDOF may be able to bring more ships to San Diego.
Dr. Paul Dayton of Scripps Institute of Oceanography will head up the project for gathering the ground-breaking data on how an artificial reef attracts propagates life over time. Believe it or not this has never been done anywhere! You could be the first to help scientists gather the required data, and all you have to do is dive. Gathering the data is easy—as simple as writing down what you see. They also need a pool of photographers to take pictures of pre-defined areas—15 shots of the placed grids is all it takes. Film is supplied. Interested divers should contact Noelle Barger via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (619) 523-1903.
And a final note: The debt on the expenses for the ship, its towing, prep and sinking still exists. If you enjoy diving the Yukon, or plan on diving it in the future, let’s help pay the mortgage! Contact the above number to make your contribution.