Text and Photography by: Curt Bowen
Key West is a busy and active vacation spot for tourists and divers alike. Crowded bars and restaurants, shops, and plenty of leisure-time pursuits keep the surface town bustling. The Keys also have plenty to offer divers who don’t wish to stay on the surface—at least, not all the time! There are numerous wrecks and dive sites to interest all skill levels.
Some are well known, and are visited almost as often as any favorite topside bar or dive shop; however, there are some wrecks still off the beaten path, hidden or just difficult enough to keep the majority of tourists away. One such seldom-visited wreck is the USS Curb. An incredible wreck full of color, abundant marine life such as jewfish, snapper, grouper, and many others, the Curb is just a short boat trip from Key West. But with the sea floor at 185 feet, and the main decks between 130 and 160 feet, the tourist dive charter boats tend to keep far away.


The USS Curb was built in Napa, California, by the Basalt Rock Company, and was commissioned as a Diver Class salvage boat for towing and salvage work in the Atlantic during World War II. After the war, she was decommissioned and loaned to a commercial salvage firm belonging to the Merritt-Chapman & Scott Corporation. For more than 30 years, she would continue her primary job as a cable layer and salvage vessel.

On November 23, 1983, the 214-foot long Curb was purposely sunk off of Key West to serve as an artificial reef. She was placed in deeper water, and originally intended as a haven for fish as well as a structure for sport fishermen. Since the introduction of technical diving practices, the Curb has been considered one of the best technical dives that Key West has to offer.

Diving the wreck from bow to stern

No mooring buoys mark the wreckage, so using a typical bottom finder, GPS, and then a grappling anchor hook into the wreckage works well. Currents can vary greatly on this wreck, from undiveable to none at all, depending on the Gulf Stream and the tides. Once on the wreck, a dozen or more very large and inquisitive Jewfish act as greeters and pre-boarding inspection teams. Sitting upright on the Curb’s bow (left page photo) is a winch lover’s dream. Three massive winches from the ship’s former work as a cable layer are now heavily encrusted with colorful marine life. Schools of Cigar Minnows and small baitfish dance along the winches, and the inquisitive giant Jewfish circle just out of reach, maintaining their careful consideration of the boarding party.
If they ever figure out that they could easily chase away these strange intruders, then wreck diving would come to a screeching halt!

Penetration into the ship’s quarters is easy, but most interiors are covered with a buildup of nasty fine silt because the Curb lies close to a shipping channel that carries a tremendous sediment load from Key West Harbor. The visibility is reduced considerably by exhaled bubbles and each misplaced fin kick. Just aft of the bow is the lower crew quarters, and the upper pilothouse. All of the artifacts in the pilothouse, such as the ship’s wheel, telegraph, and compass, have long since been removed.

Beyond the main cabins is an upper work deck that supports another enormous winch and hoisting structure. At some point, some poor fisherman lost his net, and now it is stretched across the winch and upper structure.

Just past the upper work deck, there is a large lower working platform that was once used as the main salvage deck. Large towing bitts on the stern deck give clear evidence of her use as a tow and salvage ship.

Since the Curb was sunk initially to serve as an artificial fishing reef, thousands of feet of monofilament line and fishing lures snag on every exposed inch of the wreckage. Caution must be taken in order to avoid becoming hooked or entwined in this invisible weave of fishing debris. It is advisable to have a sharp cutting tool handy…it will probably be needed.

The USS Curb offers both the apprentice and seasoned veteran technical diver an awesome and easily accessible wreck dive. Due to the somewhat shallow technical depths of 150 to 185 feet, the Curb also makes a perfect technical wreck-training dive.