By Curt Bowen
December 7, 1987, a tropical storm pounded the southeast coast of Florida. One mile off shore, the 300-foot dredger Hydro Atlantic was being towed to Brownsville, Texas where it was to be decommissioned and salvaged.

As the storm grew stronger, its huge waves worked on the 82-year old hull. She began taking on water and was listing heavily. The crew of the tug knew she was going to sink. They dropped the towlines and watched as the Hydro Atlantic slipped beneath the waves.

Exceprt from ADM issue 2, 1999

Resting upright on the sandy bottom at 172 feet, the Hydro Atlantic points into the nutrient rich waters of the Gulf Stream. Her deck is still crowded with equipment. Pipes that traverse the old hull from one pump to another. Cranes and giant winches still laden with cable. Barely recognizable, they are all covered with a thick blanket of coral and sponge. Thousands of tropical fish dart in and out of every pipe and porthole seeking shelter from predators, while barracuda and shark lurk in the distant shadows. Rope, cable and fishing line cover almost every inch of the wreck.

Captain Jim Mims took the ADM dive staff to the wreck on board his 34-foot catamaran “Reef Cat”. Jim, a technical instructor and owner of Ocean Diving, Inc. in Deerfield Beach, has years of experience providing advanced and technical charters in the Pompano – Ft. Lauderdale area. The first team entered the water and attached a grappling hook with an up-line and float ball to the pilothouse rail. With the slack current, the remaining divers went down the line. In a strong current, we would have been dropped well up stream and made our descent directly to the wreck.

Our plan called for decompression to be done on the up-line. Dive times were planned so the last team to begin their ascent pulled the hook from the wreck, and we would all drift in comfort. But the Gulf Stream can be unpredictable. Even when using an up-line, divers should always bring a reel and lift bag and be prepared for drift decompression. Once the hook was free, some of us shot our bags to finish out our deco away from the crowded 10-foot stop.

Years of strong currents, the effects of saltwater erosion and the immense growth of corals have all taken their toll on the ship’s structure. Some walls of the superstructure have collapsed and the hull has started to crush under the weight of its deck and machinery providing new access to inner passages.

As a true wreck, equipment intact, with such an abundance of growth and so many opportunities for penetration, the Hydro Atlantic is one of the best wrecks in Florida and is a must for the serious wreck diver.

ADM Dive Staff:
Curt Bowen, Rusty Farst, Louis Powell, Leroy McNeal, Janet Sitchin, Alan Barefoot and Ed Pellar.

A multitude of other wrecks scatter the Miami, Ft. Lauderdale and Pompano Beach sea floor (see list below) along with many outstanding coral reefs.