The U.S.S. Kittiwake, Grand Cayman’s immensely popular shipwreck, is being shaped by the sea as it undergoes its natural life cycle in the shallow waters off Seven Mile Beach. Recent rough seas moved the wreck slightly, so the Kittiwake now leans on her port side and is 10 feet deeper. Dive leaders say the ship is intact, and the Kittiwake remains a spectacular dive, only now there are new things to explore and photograph.
“With all its new angles, the wreck has become an even more interesting place to swim around and navigate,” said Jo Mikutowicz, owner of Divetech. “It’s still teaming with marine life; schools of horse-eyed Jacks, turtles, green moray eels and tons of fish. There are some exits that are now not accessible because they’re facing the sand, but there are no new holes that have been created.”
“Our Sunset Divers team was pleasantly surprised during the assessment dive, and could not wait to take our visitors back to see the ‘new’ Kittiwake,” said Sunset House’s Emma Jean Fisher, also watersports director of the Cayman Islands Tourism Association (CITA). “The early reports from our first guests through the Kittiwake are that she feels more like a wreck now, an awesome dive!”
Since the Kittiwake was scuttled by CITA and Cayman dive leaders in 2011, she has sat upright in the marine park. An artificial reef, the shipwreck immediately began attracting marine life, and today it is home to many varieties of fish. Thousands of divers, underwater photographers, free divers and snorkelers have explored the shipwreck. Local dive industry leaders say with these changes, the Kittiwake offers a brand-new experience, something Dr. Alex Mustard, an award-winning underwater photographer and regular visitor to Cayman, is looking forward to.
“I am excited to get back down there to dive the wreck and get stuck into the next chapter in her journey. It will be like seeing an old friend with new stories to share,” he said. “I think she will be more photogenic in this new position, especially in the afternoon light. She will feel less artificial and she should be a more exciting dive.”
Cayman has been spared from the bigger storms over the past few hurricane seasons, so the Kittiwake has remained upright and untouched to everyone’s joy. Alex Mustard, who has photographed several of Cayman’s wrecks, isn’t surprised by the movement of the shipwreck.
“The venerable Oro Verde followed a similar pattern from upright and white, to a brilliant wreck dive, shaped by the ocean and reclaimed by nature,” he said.
The Kittiwake is a Chanticleer-class submarine rescue ship that served with the 6th Submarine Squadron for 49 years during World War II. She was tugged to the west side of Grand Cayman and sunk to serve as an artificial reef and the final dive site featured in Cayman’s Dive 365 Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to offer visitors a new diving experience for every day of the year.
The Kittiwake has proven to be a star of the effort, and she now attracts approximately 20,000 divers and snorkelers a year, including former crew members. Jo Mikutowicz says several have reached out to say the Kittiwake’s new position suits her well.
“They say when the Kittiwake was in service throughout the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Atlantic and Indian oceans, she spent a lot of time in rough seas, so seeing her listed to port is how they remember her,” said Mikutowicz.