It was the biggest thing to hit the Caribbean dive scene since Stingray City when the ex-USS Kittiwake was sunk in Grand Cayman on Wednesday, 5 January, 2011.
The ship’s new role is as dive site and artificial reef and it marked the culmination of around eight years of hard work by public and private sector bodies, explains project leader Nancy Easterbrook.
“It was a little overwhelming – like you feel after having a baby. All that waiting and then, phew, it’s done, but you realise that it’s only the beginning!
“But we have had millions and millions in PR value for all the coverage we got in diving magazines and our dive industry but also outside that. It was picked up by so many people worldwide and the clips of her sinking are incredibly popular,” says Nancy.
Over 10,000 people dived the site in 2011 from Cayman and much further afield and the Kittiwake is a regular subject of seminars and talks given by tourism bodies at such events as DEMA, the world’s biggest dive industry conference.
Jane van der Bol, executive director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association, adds that the wreck dive is a very exciting development for the country.
“The attraction has stimulated tremendous press and brought a new wave of diving back. It is a high calibre wreck; diving five floors is exciting, even thrilling when you know what the ship’s role was in its operational life.
“A year on, the numbers are very positive and show it is a viable and vital attraction for us here in the Cayman Islands. It’s very special.”
To celebrate the anniversary, a series of events is taking place for the sponsors and friends of the project plus ex-crew members who are, says Nancy, very supportive of the Kittiwake and happy she has a new home.
“The sinking date moved a few times because of weather, so some people who had planned on attending that gave money, time and services, we didn’t get a chance to thank them all and celebrate together.
“So we are getting the sponsors and a wide team of people from government and the private sector so they can be officially thanked for their participation on some evening functions and some regular diving days for those who are coming from off-island. Then there’s a boat parade and dive on 5th January with a helicopter and videographer, too.”
The public can of course enjoy the Kittwwake from 6th January onwards and there is a series of treasure hunts to take place on the wreck – more of that in Weekenders yet to come, folks.
“January and February is culinary month so in addition to those great activities there is a watersports element – a lionfish hunt and tasting and to celebrate the Kittiwake anniversary, a treasure hunt every Tuesday afternoon at 2pm. Anybody can sign up and participate, just call your local dive operator and ask.
“There will be coins hidden around the ship and there are hundreds of donated prizes for divers; they will be allowed to get a set number of coins, then we head to Margaritaville at 6pm for a prize ceremony with Seven Fathoms Wrecker – the official cocktail of the Kittiwake.”
As a dive, says Nancy, the Kittiwake is a fabulous experience.
“You expect to see coral, marine life and so on but what you do not expect to see is a shipwreck because it doesn’t belong there. It is kind of surreal, mystical, magical and takes you back in history.
“You think of what it used to do; she is an unusual wreck in a category of her own for many reasons and one is that she is so close to shore. A lot of places, where you go diving, you have to take boat rides for several hours to get to the wreck, they are in deeper water and it takes experienced divers to go there.”
The Kittiwake is incredibly popular as a snorkel site, too.
One reason is that the 251-foot vessel is in relatively shallow water and that she is navigable easier.
“You can go into each room – you’re in the galley, you’re in the head, there’s the shower and it is great fun for people to explore her.”
There had been several years work on the exact location that the wreck was to be sunk but ultimately Hurricane Rina had a say in the placement of the Kittiwake – she shifted 60 feet but is now in a very solid position closer to the reef with large sand walls on the weather side and tons of sand in the bottom of the hull which all adds up to a very solid and stable location.
“She found her spot,” says Nancy, laughing.
Wednesday, 4 January
Kittiwake First Anniversary Celebration & Recognition Ceremony
Reception at Government House
Thursday, 5 January
An Evening under the Stars commemorating the Kittiwake Sinking Event and featuring a Silent Auction of a special Kittiwake souvenir and other items.
The Crescent, Camana Bay
Presented by Island Companies