Image courtesy of MyFWC.com
'The Mighty O' as she is called, is the largest artificial reef in the world. Formerly a US Navy Aircraft Carrier, the Oriskany was sunk 22.5 nautical miles Southeast of Pensacola Pass in May of 2006. The ship is 157 feet wide and approximately 800 feet long. The top of the ship is at about 68 feet with the top of the gun platform at 95 feet, the bridge at 106 feet and the flight deck at 135 feet. She sits in approximately 212 feet of water. Of course, reaching the flight deck actually exceeds recreational diving limits.
Our friends at Team Chunky Love invited us up for a weekend of Gulf Coast diving and we jumped at the chance. Randy Docks, Ann Scutti, Armando 'The Mad Cuban', Dr. Jay, and I reached the Oriskany courtesy of Captain Dalton Kennedy of Due South Custom Charters (850-565-7247). The trip out took just over an hour, but the sun was bright and the comfy bean bag chairs that Captain Dalton provided made the time fly by. Clay-Doh and other members of the team arrived about a half-hour behind us on Clay's catamaran.
We reached the ship and there were already several boats tied to the wreck. Some Tech Divers had already descended to dive the propeller area, which spooked the grouper up to the flight deck. As we descended to the flight deck, amberjack, red snapper, and grouper were everywhere. Unaccustomed to grouper that allow you to actually swim toward them here on the right coast of Florida, Randy, Ann, and I were all a little taken aback. Unfortunately, my pause would cost me a nice gag as my shot grazed the top of its head. Fortunately, Randy put a well-placed shot in the fish and boated it - a 26-inch gag. Ann also landed a very nice 29-inch gag. Armando lost another grouper and an amberjack, which Dr. Jay caught on film. Once the spearing began, the fish became a bit wary and I couldn't get another decent shot and I returned to the boat empty-handed.
We were all amazed at the sheer numbers of red snapper cruising on and around the wreck. Snapper season in Federal waters doesn't begin until June, so even though the temptation was HUGE, we didn't shoot any red snapper. The Federal red snapper season will also be cut short this year as a conservation measure and will end in August not to reopen until June of 2009. However, red snapper season in Florida state waters opened on April 15th and will continue through October 31st.
The sea life on the Oriskany is absolutely amazing. Large barracuda, swarms of amberjack, scamp, grouper, and numerous species of snapper all make their homes here. There are also plenty of photo opportunities, including a resident octopus in one of the pipe structures on the ship.
Special Thanks to Captain Dalton for a perfect trip to the Oriskany!