Dive Report: Dive with Denise! Vaca Key’s Ivory Coast Wreck

Dive Report: Dive with Denise! Vaca Key’s Ivory Coast Wreck

Denise DeCrow of Key Colony Beach and Cabana Breezes manager received the details of her next adventure while she was still recovering from her last adventure. A late night at the Doghouse which didn’t come to fruition ‘til 4 am.

“Let’s go diving! I want to go see the Goliath Grouper at the Adolphus Wreck in the middle Keys! Bob Chinnis says he’s the size of a Volkswagen!”

“Uh, no.” Her voice came through the end of the line. “It’s already 11:15. Call Tilden’s.”

Dive Masters Justin Raper and Billy Deliver greet us. Located at MM 49.5 Tillden’s Scuba Center is adjacent to the Blackfin Resort and wildly popular Hurricane restaurant and bar. We take off on the boat chock full of tourists from the mainland looking to SNUBA, and a couple waiting to dive. Captain Nelson Grier is at the helm and we beg him to go to a sweet spot, which hasn’t been hit as often as the reef.

“The Ivory Wreck,” Captain Nelson pulls at our heartstrings while telling us the history of what we’re about to view underwater. “A slave ship, carrying men and women was headed for the coast when it sank in 1853. It was very sad because of the loss of men and women. They found cuffs and chains indicating they drown chained together. Elephant tusks were discovered, too. That’s why the wreck is called the Ivory Wreck. There isn’t much left of her today, but a monument has been erected to mark the loss of life.”

  How horribly sad, I think.

Denise and I are huddled at the front of the boat next to Captain Nelson. A storm is over the Gulf side. The wreck: in the Atlantic. Still the weather and the heart-wrenching story don’t break our spirits.

“You have one hour,” Deliver instructs. If you need help, or are in distress, come to the surface and put your hand on top of your head. When I say distress, I mean you cannot swim, or make it back to the boat. Not, ‘my mascara is running.’”

Denise laugh, gear up, and submerge. We start chasing fish and following the coral. I keep checking my gauges and am surprised we never go below 21’- relaxing and yet, ironic. Hundreds of men and women died in this spot, but because of the shallow water, there isn’t fear of dying during this dive. I find the Parrotfish comforting and as playful as a puppy! We chase them around with the camera. Some of you have seen the latest and greatest new gadget of mine: the Olympus 8010! You can take this camera in the water up to 33’ without the housing! I was intimidated initially by the instructions, but played with the set-up in the house and at the hotel pool before taking the plunge, and found the contraption worth challenging my colleagues for possession over!

Denise locates the monument after we swim to the surface to see where we were. I am surprised at how small the structure is, only about 2’ tall. We pose around the cement block snapping pictures before following the coral back towards the boat. Denise points and I expect to see a Lionfish, only to be greeted by a lobster. Forget the butter; this baby crustacean’s carapace isn’t regulation size!

We used up every allotted minute to explore. There are two reasons to make this trip with Tilden’s. 1.) You can snorkel or Snuba the Ivory Coast Wreck and 2.) The history sunk in our area waters, some as in this case, for over a century and a half, is worth taking the time to digest!

Ivory Wreck
Although not much remains of this ship, she is in shallow water and snorkeling as well as diving can be done here.



The 2’ monument marking the loss of lives.


Only one dive today. Caught in the weather. Tillden’s (left to right) Captain Nelson Grier, and dive masters Justin Raper and Billy Deliver wait to help us ditch the gear and put on a poncho!



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