“At first I was mad,” Xerxes Herrington says of the moment he learned the Kittiwake would become an artificial reef in January 2011, two years ago this month. “I knew I couldn’t get off work to see the sinking in person.”
From 1993 to 1994, Herrington served as the submarine rescue ship’s executive officer, aiding in dive training and oceanography research operations. He hadn’t seen the vessel since its 1994 decommission.
This past June, he arrived on Grand Cayman, ready to dive his former vessel.
What was running through your mind just before your first dive on Kittiwake?
I feared I wouldn’t recognize her. In my stateroom, I was surprised they didn’t leave my rack — I wasn’t able to take a nap. Later, I learned that the force of the incoming water ripped out all the remaining bed frames.
Find any other surprises?
I was shocked to see the hyperbaric chamber. Those things are extremely expensive. Maybe it had gone past its life? Mostly, I was amazed: Whoever designed this gave a lot of thought to allow divers the ability to go inside safely.
Were you flooded with memories?
She looks just as I remembered her. I was recalling a Thanksgiving in the mess hall, early-morning walks on deck, and especially one Halifax-to-Connecticut run. There was so much fog. I could see as far through this water as I could that night. It was very familiar.
So are 12 dives enough?
No way. I’m coming back soon, hopefully with my kids. They are all certified divers. I would love to share this with them.
Should more ships be reefed?
Kittiwake is the only ship I served on that I can go see. I worked on five submarines before I ever went to this ship. They’ve all been decommissioned and cut up into scrap metal. This fate is much more fitting. Kittiwake sailed the seas her whole life. Now, divers will learn her story and her life continues.
Image courtesy of Xerxes Herrington