Skip navigation

The Spiegel Grove Wreck


When dive industry representatives in the upper Florida Keys volunteered to help obtain and sink a retired U.S. Navy ship as the world's largest artificial reef, they had no idea it would take nearly eight years and more than a million dollars to get the job done. This timeline shows major milestones from the project's origins through 2005, when Hurricane Dennis turned the ship upright.

July 1994
Leaders of the Keys dive community run into each other at a bar adjacent to Ocean Divers, a Key Largo dive shop. In attendance are Joe Clark, Dick Drake, Stephen Frink, Bill Harrigan, Doc Schweinler and Spencer Slate. They discuss procuring a ship from the U.S. Maritime Administration's (MARAD) James River Reserve Fleet also known as the "mothball fleet" or "ghost fleet," and sinking it as an artificial reef.

July 1994
Photographer-diver and former Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary Manager Harrigan visits the James River fleet at Fort Eustis, Va., and selects the Spiegel Grove for the project.

August 1995
The Key Largo Chamber of Commerce Artificial Reef Committee identifies funds left over from the sinking of the Duane and Bibb, two retired Coast Guard ships. The money is earmarked as start-up funding for the Spiegel Grove project. The project is estimated to cost $300,000.

August 1996
The Key Largo District Advisory Committee, a subcommittee of the Monroe County Tourist Development Council (TDC), approves the allocation of $100,000 of TDC funds to sink the Spiegel Grove - to be released until after the ship is sunk. The local business community begins fundraising. A 21-foot boat with 200 horsepower outboard was purchased assisted by Mercury Marine and auctioned to help raise money for the Spiegel Grove. Local businesses donated money as well, and by the time the project was ready for implementation, the account had swelled to $90,000.

Spiegel Grove backers urge U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set standards for levels of contaminants to be permitted aboard ships to be sunk as artificial reefs.

EPA approves the contaminant Spiegel Grove removal plan.

October 1999
Monroe County Tourist Development Council approves expenditure of additional $168,000 in Tourist Development Council funds to sink the Spiegel Grove, bringing the total TDC expenditure to $268,000. Funds will be released when the ship is sunk.

Late 1999
Initial memorandum of agreement transfers ownership of Spiegel Grove from U.S. Maritime Administration to the state of Florida.

Florida lawyers question initial memorandum of understanding. Spiegel Grove partners travel to state capital in Tallahassee to formulate a new agreement.

February 2001
Ocean Reefs Inc. contracted to clean the Spiegel Grove.

May 21, 2001
With newly signed memorandum of understanding, ownership of the Spiegel Grove is transferred from MARAD to state of Florida, who transfers ship to Monroe County.

June 13, 2001
Spiegel Grove is towed out of the St. James River "Mothball Fleet" to Accurate Marine Shipyard near Norfolk, Va., for cleaning by Ocean Reefs Inc.

September 2001
Due to a lack of company resources, Ocean Reefs abandons the project.

October-December 2001
No cleanup activity on the Spiegel Grove. Ship remains at Accurate Marine amassing a $1,500 per day dockage bill. Key Largo chamber officials begin efforts to garner additional funding resources and another shipyard to complete the project.

Nov. 8, 2001
Local dive shops and business leaders come together to discuss emergency fundraising to salvage the Spiegel Grove project. Frink suggests a combination of lifetime dive medallions to be sold at $250 each, and annual dive medallions at $10 each, to retire the debt. Local dive operators enthusiastically support medallion program. Kevin Senecal of Divers Direct agrees to guarantee $250,000 advance towards dive medallion program.

Jan. 2, 2002
Key Largo Chamber of Commerce signs a new contract with Bay Bridge Enterprises of Chesapeake, Va., to clean Spiegel Grove. Cleaning begins immediately with project costs now estimated to exceed $1 million.

Jan. 7, 2002
First order for purchase of commemorative medallions to raise additional funds to sink the Spiegel Grove is taken. Medallions are sold through the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, Divers Direct and Keys dive shops.

April 14, 2002
Monroe County Commission approves allocation of an additional $300,000 in TDC funds to sink the Spiegel Grove, bringing the total TDC contribution to $568,000.

May 6, 2002
Jason Walker, U.S. Coast Guard environmental officer in Norfolk, Va., conducts final inspection of work and gives the go-ahead for the ship to leave Bay Bridge.

May 8, 2002
Spiegel Grove departs Bay Bridge and being towed to Key Largo.

May 14, 2002
Spiegel Grove arrives off Key Largo.

May 17, 2002
Spiegel Grove sank prematurely Friday, hours before crews had planned to scuttle it to create an artificial reef. Efforts to reorient the ship are under way.

May 19, 2002
Key Largo Chamber of Commerce inks contract with Resolve Towing and Salvage to reorient Spiegel Grove.

May 22, 2002
Resolve's salvage ship, Lana Rose, arrives next to the Spiegel Grove as organizers work out plans to reorient the ship.

May 24, 2002
Resolve announces plan to roll ship at least onto its side and possibly upright using combination of airbags, tug boats, and air pumped into ship's own ballast tanks.

June 6, 2002
Technical divers finish installing approximately 70 airlift bags to provide 500 tons of buoyancy to ship.

June 6, 2002
Resolve announces June 10 as likely date to attempt to roll ship.

June 9, 2002
Two tugboats hook up cables to the Spiegel Grove to help roll the ship.

June 10, 2002
After an around the clock effort, the Spiegel Grove slips beneath the surface at 6:35 p.m. Divers enter the water and confirm the ship has come to rest on its side.

June 16, 2002

A fluid leak from the sunken Spiegel Grove causes organizers to delay the public opening of the new artificial reef from June 18 to a date to-be-decided.

June 20, 2002
Water tests conducted by scientists from Louisiana State University show fluid leak is not a safety or health hazard.

June 23, 2002
Divers soak up fluid residue from compartment inside Spiegel Grove and express confidence leak is under control.

June 24, 2002
Spiegel Grove opens to public diving. Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary installs mooring buoys on wreck.

June 26, 2002
Key Largo Chamber of Commerce formally dedicates Spiegel Grove artificial reef site.

July 11, 2005
Divers discover that Hurricane Dennis, which brushed the Keys two days earlier, has turned the ship upright to the position intended by organizers in 2002.

Microsoft Word Download this story as a Microsoft Word file.

More information on the Spiegel Grove and links to Key Largo visitor information are available on this website. Visitors are encouraged to contact the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, toll-free in the U.S. and Canada, at 1-800-FLA-KEYS, Ext. 1. Elsewhere, dial 305-451-1414.

Contact: Andy Newman

Spiegel Grove Home
View Nautical Chart
Spiegel Grove Photo Gallery
News and History