Grand Cayman’s most famous and photogenic shipwreck, the USS Kittiwake, was toppled on its side as the island felt the impact of a glancing blow from Hurricane Nate at the weekend.

Though the storm passed almost 300 miles from Cayman, it brought rolling southern swells that were enough to snap the ship’s anchor chains, leaving the 251-foot-long, 2,200-ton vessel on its side.

The site was understood to be closed to tourists Monday as divers from Divetech assessed the damage.

Jason Washington, of Ambassador Divers, snorkeled the site on Sunday to get a preliminary look at the impact. He found it tilted on its side, with the port side rail in the sand.

He said the site would have to be closed to divers while the damage was assessed. But he believes it will soon be reopened and may even be a more appealing prospect for divers because of the damage.

“The silver lining to this cloud is we effectively have a brand new dive site. Divers, photographers and videographers have come from all over the world to photograph the Kittiwake and now they have a reason to come back. The lighting is different, the angles are different; for a photographer, it is a completely different site.”

Christian Black, an international photographer who has done multiple underwater shoots in Cayman, including at the Kittiwake, echoed those sentiments, commenting on Facebook, “Wow! Can’t wait to go back and photograph her again. Gonna be like a whole new dive site.”

Rough seas brought by the passage of Hurricane Nate also damaged the West Bay dock. – PHOTO: TANEOS RAMSAY

Other divers expressed concern that the damage would impact the accessibility of the site, particularly for beginner divers and snorkelers.

Cayman Islands-based underwater photographer Ellen Cuylaerts said the new position of the wreck could mean that divers needed more training and experience to go inside.

“We have been spoiled for many years with this easy and shallow dive,” she said. “Almost every time you entered, you could see light and the risk of vertigo was almost nil.

“The upside is it will grow even more beautiful and, thinking about animal behavior, more animals might find shelter in dark nooks. My only big concern is that the reef close by will be severely damaged if she keeps moving.”

Mr. Washington said the shell of the ship was intact and he believes it will still be possible for divers to swim through the interior of the former U.S. Navy submarine rescue vessel.

He said professional divers likely would check for debris that needed to be cleared before the site could be reopened to recreational divers.

The Cayman Islands Tourism Association, which manages the attraction, did not respond to requests for comment.

Dock damaged

The Kittiwake was not the only victim in the West Bay area of Hurricane Nate. High seas also tore apart the West Bay dock on Northwest Point Road.

Planks of wood that had been loosened and cast adrift during the stormy weather, and which had been gathered by residents and passersby, were piled up beside the dock Monday morning.

The dock is closed until it can be repaired.

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  1. I would say to all in the Watersport and DOE . If Nate could do that much damage from being 100’s of miles away, imagine what would happen if Cayman Islands got a direct hit from a hurricane . So all that is involved and makes your livelihood from the wreck , secure it properly way before the next Hurricane .

  2. It seems that the wreck was wrongly positioned when it was first sunk. By sinking it broadside to most incoming storms it is more susceptible to storm damage.

    Also it was a great idea to make it accessible to snorkelers. But the more shallow the water the more effect waves will have on it.

    Great shame as I have dived the Kittiwake a number of times. Let’s hope the next storm doesn’t take it over the drop off. More anchoring is needed.

  3. Anchoring and securing the kittiwake looks like who ever did it thought that the ship is still on the surface . How I see in the photo how those two chains coming out the anchor chutes is somewhat of how you would anchor the ship on the surface not under .
    I would suggest that whoever is responsible for making sure that the wreck is properly secured they should get some experts advice on how to do it to avoid future damage and destruction to the corals and wreck. .