An island that has built its reputation on sunken ships For a small island nestled along the Caribbean's southernmost edge, Aruba boasts a big and conspicuous collection of diveable wrecks. This is good because Aruba doesn't have the dramatic walls and extensive reefs that its sister ABC islands do. While the reef system fringing its shorelines does share some physical similarities, it descends far less dramatically. Thus, the wrecks draw most divers' attention. The plane wreck off Sonesta Beach Hotel's private island on Aruba's southern coast is one of my favorites. Unfortunately, Hurricane Lenny made some dramatic changes to it. Although Lenny never came near Aruba, the storm surge it generated pummeled the plane. Where it once sat intact, provocatively atop the reef at 50 feet, it now lies scattered in several pieces at a depth of 70 feet. Another of my favorite wrecks, the 250-foot freighter Jane Sea, was virtually untouched by Lenny. It still sits fully intact and upright, towering 50 feet above the seabed. Since her placement a decade ago, the freighter's ample profile has undergone extravagant development, gaining orange cup corals, small gorgonians and encrusting sponges. From the top of her mast to her massive six-foot propeller, the Jane Sea appears to burst at the seams with hues of red, orange, yellow and pink. The wreck is energized by scores of cigar-size bogas, Creole wrasse and brown chromis flitting around the wheel house and forward deck crane. Just as alluring is the wreck of the Antilla. From the surface, this giant freighter more resembles a tormented beast than a shipwreck. Lying on her port side in 60 feet of water, several shards of the ship's metal hull jut above the surface, resembling clasping claws and teeth. Measuring 400 feet in length, the Antilla is not only the largest wreck in Aruba; she is by far the most intriguing. Sometimes referred to as the ''Ghost Ship Wreck,'' her story reads as if extracted from a Jack Higgins novel. The Antilla began her career as a supply ship for Germany's submarine fleet during World War II. She was anchored in Aruba's harbor when, unbeknownst to the captain, Germany invaded Holland. Aruba was still a Dutch territory at the time, and its regional law enforcement immediately demanded Antilla's surrender. As a riposte, the ship's captain deliberately super-heated the boilers then ordered the engineering compartment flooded, detonating a huge explosion. This Goliath of a wreck is a relatively easy dive, but visibility on the western coast can fluctuate wildly between 20 and 80 feet. Virtually every part of her massive hulk bristles with vigorous corals, hydroids and sponges with bundles of small tunicates that form a living skin. Silversides arrive on the wreck during late spring and have a profound effect on the wreck's demeanor. Often numbering into the millions, they take on the appearance of huge billowing and swirling clouds. Watching them pulse and sparkle in the sun seems surreal against the wreck's tangled and heavily overgrown cargo holds, booms and cables. Red Sail Sports Red Sail Sports is the largest water-sports operation on Aruba, working with several resorts. Locations include their main facility between the Hyatt Regency and Allegro Hotel on the beach, and branch shops at the Marriott, Sonesta Beach Hotel's private island and in downtown Oranjestad. Their custom 42-foot deck boat and a Rob Shirley Pro-48 split two-tank morning and single-tank afternoon itineraries that focus predominantly on the wrecks along the island's southern and western boundaries.
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