It was almost a carnival atmosphere close to Virgin Gorda’s Mountain Point on April 9th. The celebration was to mark the transition of the Kodiak Queen, formerly the US Navy’s YO44 and Pearl Harbor survivor, from a derelict and abandoned relic to an exciting dive site.
The sinking of the fragile vessel had been held up due to inclement weather but on April 8th the climate changed to calm and swell-free and the ship was towed to its final resting place, secured with multiple anchors and prepared for the sinking on the following day.
During the course of the morning more and more observers arrived in all manner of different watercraft to witness the historic occasion. The fascination was largely due to the incredible artwork sculpted onto the upper works of the ship; a cleverly designed kraken made from steel rebar and wire mesh complete with eyes and tentacles, some parts of which could be penetrated by scuba divers. Involved in the project were a large contingent of experts; designers, engineers, fabricators, heavy equipment operators, divers, marine biologists and volunteers.
The flotilla of onlookers included a fleet of inflatables with the ‘Mavericks’ on board hosted by Sir Richard Branson of Necker Island, his private retreat. The Mavericks are a group of successful entrepreneurs whose goal is to ‘give back’ to society in the form of support for worthy causes. They were the major donors for the project. Virgin Island Search and Rescue was there in their new vessel, press boats were there, government officials were seen and a dedicated videographer Robert Sorrenti filmed the whole event to become a feature documentary. Hovering above was a drone and a helicopter, owned by Google’s Larry Page of nearby Eustatia Island.
The team of divers headed by director Chris Juredin of Commercial Dive Services and ‘We be Divin’ started the sinking operation at about 8.30am. Holes in the hull were made in very specific locations and water was pumped into the vessel in order to aid in the submerging process. As the hours passed more and more casual observers and tour boats arrived to witness the spectacle. As the vessel slowly submerged the carnival atmosphere ramped up with music, drinking, the occasional popping of champagne corks and other revelry. By noon it looked like the obstinate Queen would finally accept her final resting place – but suddenly there was an audible gasp – the legendary vessel slewed to one side and appeared to be sinking on her side. Horror upon horror … all that work, creative energy and blood, sweat and tears looked to be hanging in the balance. She went down with raucous fanfare, horns blaring, more popping of champagne corks and cheers of approval – all from those spectators who were not major players. It was Lauren Keil of Virgin Unite, the PR non-profit organization and major player in the project, who was the first to dive on the submerged Kodiak Queen and soon ascended with the happy news that the vessel had landed on an even keel with only minor damage to the extensive artwork – the kraken was whole! What an achievement for the Juredin team!
The next day a dive was organized by the Mavericks and this writer got an up-close look at the sunken art reef. I had captained one of the support boats carrying co-founders of the project; designer Aydeka James and engineer Mike Cline, and two major sponsors. All were delighted with
Apart from many other positives, the project is being heralded as an educational site for children, while also providing an exciting attraction for locals to learn to swim, dive, and understand marine ecosystems.
Author’s note: All credit to Owen Buggy, without whom this project would never have happened and who provided many of the images with solid support from Wayne.