Following the Florida Keys Wreck Trek with Josie Koler
“It’s a wreck…of a wreck,” Dive Key West dive master Jeremy Hansberger told the group of underwater explorers as we headed towards the old shrimp boat. “She’s been torn apart over the years by hurricanes, and the wreck is scattered over a 35-yard diameter on the reef. A bunch of rum soaked pirates sunk her to keep her from heading to Miami!”
There’s nothing like a Tim Dorsey-esque story involving boozing, boats and bandits that gets a girl’s blood pumping before plunging into a “kinda” deep dive. Joe’s Tug lies in 65’-68’ of water 500 yards away from the beast, the 530’ USS Vandenberg.
We tied up the mooring ball, and Hansberger led the way. A sea of Moon Jellyfish met us in the water on a full moon Saturday – local superstition dictates that their presence means hurricane season is over.
There was definitely a current, and we followed the line system down to the wreck. My dive buddy for the day was an Italian gent, Luca Antoni originally from Belleria-Igea Marina.
“I’m getting my PhD from the University of Southern Mississippi in genetics and work on coastal science,” he told us. “I’m doing a study on Trigger fish! We dive in 7 mm suits in Italy. I came to Key West to enjoy the warm water and see some sharks!”
In less than five minutes of swimming through the Medusa, we were eyeballing her bow.
Joe’s Tug isn’t a tug. She’s an old 75’ steel-hulled shrimper that accidentally sank at the Key West pier in 1986. She was raised, cleaned and destined for the seas off South Beach. But, a group of locals, throwin’ back shots, decided they were going to call the shots, and this shrimper wasn’t making waves in Miami!
They towed her out of Key West Harbor and, coincidentally, Joe’s Tug took on water – in 65’ of water right on the reef! Call her an “artificial reef,” or call her an adventure gone awry! Whichever way you explore her; she is a must-submerse spot on the Florida Keys Wreck Trek.
The wreck we witnessed this week is one you’ll yearn to see again. She’s unformidable, and easily explored in the water. Her size makes her way less wicked than the Bibb, Duane, Eagle and Vandy.
In 1998, Hurricane Georges picked up the wreck and tore her in half.
Hansberger described, “The rest of the wreck sight is a supplemental debris field draping out to the west. There are mostly shards of steel and different scrap metal on the bottom. Please do not take anything from the ocean. It doesn’t make good mantle pieces! And she smells really bad if you use her for home decor!”
Antoni and I swam around her and checked out a stingray lying in the sand at the bottom while the rest of the divers swam around taking their photos. The wheelhouse has mainly disintegrated over the years, but the hull is easily accessible and filled with yellowtail and grunts. Because she sank back in the 80s, there’s plenty of growth to make you think you’ve submersed into your own aquarium.
“She hosts a plethora of marine life. We have all the Reef fish that come out here on a regular basis. We have grouper out here on a regular basis. Loggerhead turtles are out here on a regular basis; and, we have Green Morays out here on a regular basis,” Hansberger clued us in on the creatures we could see, and then warned, “The carpet corals that roll along the bottom don’t have any distinctive navigation features. So, if we think we were going to remember something and be able to make our way back to the boat. Think again, and use a compass.”
We took off swimming along the corals until we hit the 30-minute mark, and made our way back to the line, sticking our gloved hands out to touch the magnificent Moon Jellyfish. I spin one around in my hand while I held the line, and then gazed down at the tug – already tugging at the adventurer inside me to come back. This is one dive adventure to share over a bottle of Cruzan, Kraaken or Kon-Tiki – or a float of Sailor Jerry to make your ocean memories unforgettable!
There are only three wrecks left until The Weekly Newspapers completes the Florida Keys Wreck Trek. Coming this month, the Vandenberg, Cayman Salvager and Alexander’s Wreck! Which one is your favorite? Which one are you dying to dive again? Let us know. Shoot over an email or comment on Facebook.
Maximum Depth: 68’
Bottom Time: 30 minutes
Safety Stop: 3 Minutes at 15’