The Secret Sinking | Sport Diver

The Secret Sinking

St. Thomas' premier wreck dive When someone pulls the plug on a boat and sends it to the bottom intentionally, it is usually done for the benefit of recreational divers.This was not the case with the W.I.T. Shoal, a 400-foot cargo ship that lies just south of the St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands. But even though the sinking of this vessel was originally surrounded in mystery and controversy, it has now become one of the Caribbean's best ''man-made'' wreck dives. Built in the 1930s as a Navy landing ship, this vessel carried tanks and troops in the Pacific arena during World War II. After the war, it was refitted as a cargo ship and purchased by the West Indian Trading Co., which renamed it the W.I.T. Shoal II. The W.I.T. Shoal sank in a St. Thomas harbor during Tropical Storm Klaus in 1984. Its owner ordered her raised and patched so she could be towed out to sea and scuttled. She was set to rest in May 1985. The whereabouts of the W.I.T. Shoal were kept secret for a few years. But St. Thomas dive operators, eager to add another wreck to their menu of dives, eventually began searching for the missing cargo ship. They found it two miles south of the island, a lone oasis of steel sitting upright on a featureless sand plane, 90 feet below the surface. Towering 70 feet out of the sand from keel to wheelhouse, the ship's mighty profile now attracts divers from near and far. They come to dive a wreck that extends five decks from engine room to wheelhouse, and offers details such as intact winches, deck hardware and railings, a ship's safe frozen closed with rust and a large cargo crane that is now collapsed and covered in gorgonians.Visitors are treated not only to one of the largest intact shipwrecks in the Caribbean, but also to a variety of marine life that has taken up residence in this steel reef. Bathed by currents, and coated in a rich, colorful layer of growth, the ship is a virtual magnet for schools of horse-eyed jack, creole wrasse and blue and brown chromis that often surround the superstructure. Large Southern stingrays occasionally rest on the deck and can be seen in the sand surrounding the shell of the ship. The shadowed recesses of the hold are home to Goliath grouper. Barracuda frequently hang in the blue water and reef sharks make occasional patrols of the area. After visiting the W.I.T. Shoal, most divers will agree that it is not only one of the region's best wrecks, it is also a secret worth sharing. For more information about visiting St. Thomas, click on the home page below.

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