A closer look at what is probably the best wreck diving in the Caribbean The island of Aruba has been known for its high-speed windsurfing venues, its casinos, its nightlife and its honeymoon hotels. But over the past several years, Aruba's reputation as a premier wreck dive destination has increased as more and more divers discovered that you didn't always have to be down deep, dirty and cold to visit some quality shipwrecks. Following is but a brief look at the island that provides some of the most prolific wreck diving in the entire Caribbean Sea.Although most of the Pedernales was salvaged after a German U-boat torpedoed it in 1942, chunks of it are scattered about in 20 to 30 feet of water. Divers swim into an open-ended pilot house, where more than 50 years of coral growth attracts almost every tropical fish listed in the Fish Watchers Guide. Only five minutes from the Pedernales lies the massive Antilla. One of the best dives in the Caribbean, it earns more notoriety when divers learn that it's one of the few places in the world where they can get almost an hour's bottom time on a 398-foot ship.The Antilla contains a veritable cornucopia of corals so thick they resemble a reef, not the hull of a ship. Resting on its port side only 500 yards offshore, the Antilla is a diver's haven. As snorkelers survey the superstructure that breaks the surface at low tide, divers explore the bow at 40 feet, the split in midship at 45 feet and the stern at 50 feet. Tube sponges protrude from the starboard side like miniature cannons on a ship that never went to war. The captain scuttled the vessel to prevent Dutch marines from seizing it as Germany was about to invade Holland in 1940.Hosts of hamlet, wrasse, angelfish, chromis and grunt pick their way along the hull that's overgrown with coral, crinoid, algae and anemone. Explorers find penetrable cargo holds, boiler rooms, tiled floors and the captain's bathtub. Radiators are scattered about, the bent crow's nest hangs off the side in the rubble, and the ship's two anchors remain untouched.Emmit Kimble, owner of Unique Sports of Aruba, who has explored the Antilla 400 times in nine years, never tires of it. Dark crannies hide fuse boxes, light fixtures, gauges and coils of rope, he says, not to mention lots of denizens.The Antilla is close to the California Lighthouse, named after the cargo and passenger vessel of the same name that sank off the northeast coast in 1891. Most of the local dive brochures mistakenly list this wreck as the Californian, the ship that failed to respond to the Titanic's distress signals. If it were the 447-foot Leyland Liner that was torpedoed off southern Greece in 1915, divers would be lined up from Cuba to Aruba to dive it. There's barely anything left of the 1891 wreck scattered in shallow water amid rough seas, a location dive boats eschew.Capt. Tilo Wanga and instructor Norbert Araujo of Pelican Water Sports gun the 42-foot twin engine Reef Diver, heading north from the Holiday Inn. Destination: Blue Reef and the wreck of the Debbie II. West of the Antilla, about 3 miles off Malmock Beach, the 120-foot fuel barge sits upright 70 feet deep. Barracuda and blue runner greet divers who weave their way to the wreck through orange barrel sponges and purple gorgonians.While the Debbie II and the Antilla anchor the north shore, the Jane Sea is well-grounded in 90 feet of water off the south shore. It's a 30-minute jaunt from Red Sail Sports' dock at the Allegro Hotel to Ploncas Reef and the 220-foot former cement carrier. The ship sits upright, its prop intact. Two areas are penetrable, a wheelhouse at the stern and crew's quarters at the bow.Aruba trumpets its exciting reefs, wrecks and airplanes, so it was apropos that a Convair-400, sunk in 50 feet off Sonesta Island, fit our profile. In single file, the divers lined up at the rear exit and swam through the fuselage, exiting behind the cockpit.Two airplanes, both sunk off Arashi Beach, and a pilot boat abandoned on Harbor Reef, provide more wreck sites in waters 30 to 90 feet deep. Three slopes, Kantil, Skalahein and DePalm, ranging in depths from 20 to 120 feet, typify the south shore, where the sparkling Caribbean teems with a wide variety of marine life.There are at least six other major reef sites buoyed in the south, in addition to shore dives off Palm Island, Pos Chiquito and Baby Beach, the latter one of the best kept secrets in the Caribbean. A coral-fringed lagoon notched into the southern tip of Aruba, this favorite snorkeling area attracts more locals than tourists and isn't even listed on some of the tour maps. Baby Beach lagoon is a showplace for throngs of tropical fish. Visitors join locals in waist-deep water at a narrow entrance where the Caribbean pours into the lagoon, counting dozens of different tropical fish as they gobble crumbs of bread served by the onlookers.The drift dive at Baby Beach, about 35 feet deep outside the fringing coral barrier, is diverse but should be arranged through a guide. There are no easy re-entries to the lagoon, forcing divers to drift several hundred yards farther around the rocky perimeter and enter at Rogers Beach to the west.Only a few years ago, divers who ventured to Aruba returned home hailing it as a dark horse in a blue-green sea. The sea is still blue-green - with visibility in the 50- to 90-foot range - but the dark horse has finally surged to the forefront, out-distancing the field in the tight race for dive - and otherwise tourist - dollars. For more information about Aruba diving and Aruba diving vacations, click onto the Red Sail Sports home page below.
Find exclusive opportunities and packages offered to Society members on the member benefits site.