Former Kittiwake crewman returns to vessel on dive trip

Earlier this year, a Michigan resident visited Cayman to see his erstwhile home, which happens to be located at the bottom of the sea.

The visitor was former US Navy sailor Pete Larson, who was stationed on the USS Kittiwake from 1986-1989. The Kittiwake was decommissioned in 1994 and sunk in 2011 in the waters off Seven Mile Beach, where it serves as one of the Caribbean’s most popular dive sites.

Larson’s visit in February was captured on video by Divetech and published online this week.

“When we jumped in and swam towards the wreck, I was thinking about what it was going to look like when it came up to me,” Larson said on the video.

Larson, who worked as an engineer on the ship, said some areas of the boat were familiar to him, while other rooms he didn’t remember at all. He said he was surprised to see some of the expensive equipment left on the vessel.

“The reduction gear I was surprised to see still on it,” he said. “That was so expensive the Navy leased them and didn’t own them – it was the one thing I for sure thought would be gone.”

Larson said he was also surprised to see the vessel stripped bare of paint, considering how much the Navy members were required to paint the ship.

The 251-foot-long USS Kittiwake, a Chanticleer-class submarine rescue vessel, was launched in 1945.

One of its most high-profile missions came in 1986, when it recovered the black box from the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster.

Larson said his trip beneath the waves to explore the Kittiwake was a memorable one.

“Nostalgic would be a good word to use when you look at something you haven’t seen in 30 years. But it was pretty cool to be back on it, to see it again, to see how it continues on – not cut up in a Louisiana shipyard for scrap metal,” he said. “It actually has a purpose now.”

According to Divetech, Larson is the first person who worked on the Kittiwake to visit the ship again as a dive site.

“Divemasters often regale stories of her previous missions prior to decommission in 1994,” Divetech stated on its website. “However, up until now, no one really knew what life was like serving and living on the Kittiwake.”