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20 Years of the Spiegel Grove

Just below the helicopter landing deck, near the back section of the Spiegel Grove, swims a 5-foot grey reef shark. For the past two years, a pair of small reef sharks have called the Spiegel their home, much to the delight of the divers who frequent this monstrous wreck every day. For many years it was rare to find the toothy pelagic predators in or around the Spiegel Grove; however, spotting the larger Goliath Groupers hanging out beneath the crane arms on the foredeck is always a welcome sight. The Spiegel Grove serves as a great reminder that the ocean, and everything in it, is in a constant state of flux, always changing.

An Artificial Reef in the Making

Since its intentional sinking on May 17, 2002, the Spiegel Grove has become one of the top wreck dives in the world.  Today, as you descend on the Spiegel Grove, you reach the wreck at just over seventy feet of depth at the top of the superstructure or one of the two cranes. From my own experience, I can say that your first time diving this wreck likely won’t be your last. At over 500 feet long and over 80 feet wide, there is so much to see. The Spiegel Grove calls you in to explore, not just her exterior with all the soft corals and marine life, but inside as well.  From the top of her superstructure to the base of her hull, you can spend a hundred dives exploring this wreck. The galley, machine shop, officers' quarters, and control decks of the Spiegel beckon recreational wreck divers with an abundance of ambient light penetrating the numerous cut outs. Tens of thousands of divers have visited the Spiegel Grove since she was sunk in 2002 returning with pictures of the flag that still flies on the Flight Ops box or their Titanic pose on the nose of the bow.

Why We Dive the Spiegel Grove

The more adventurous technical divers venture below the main decks of the Spiegel. Down the dark hallways and access ladders into the engine rooms, rudder drive room, and ammunition holds they delve. Exploring beyond the limits of recreational diving to the places fewer divers are equipped and trained to go. Below 100 feet the Spiegel has no cut out exits for a quick escape so planning, proper gear, skills, and training become crucial. The deeper depths require more gas, so double tanks or rebreathers are the rigs of choice for the prepared explorer. 

Inside the engine rooms, you’ll see massive machines, boilers, and a maze of pipes and wires. Beyond the relative simplicity of the shallower levels, the deeper decks offer adventure to the laundry room, which still has dryers and ironing boards. Many recreational divers are inspired  to become a technical diver because of The Grove.

Note that the deeper penetrations of this wreck are not for recreational divers. Without the proper skills, planning, training, and gear even the most avid recreational diver can get in trouble. And the more recreational penetrations in the superstructure should be given the respect and attention any overhead environment demands. Regardless of the dangers, the Spiegel is one amazing dive site with marine life from frog fish to whale sharks, there’s always something breathtaking to witness. After Hurricane Irma moved the Spiegel Grove, I gained new respect for Mother Nature and how quickly things can be moved and adjusted.

An Ever Changing Dive Site

Over the past 20 years, the Spiegel Grove has shifted and changed so much, and in the next 20 years, we can expect that to continue. She’s sure to  shift in the sand, get pushed around by storm currents and surge, and eventually  break apart piece by piece as the ocean claims her. Starting its underwater life as an artificial reef, the Spiegel will become more and more of a wreck as the years pass. It's this living, ever changing dynamic lifespan that brings divers back to the Grove. Every year the metal moves, flexes, and alters a bit, creating a new experience and dive site, even for the most avid Spiegel Grove diver.

Still Exploring

Having logged close to 900 dives on the Spiegel Grove, I teach all levels of divers the ins and outs of deep-water wreck diving.  Even with all my dives, there are still a few places inside the Spiegel that I have yet to explore. Given the opportunity, I’d dive this wreck every day. It’s important to note that The Spiegel can be a perfect first wreck dive if conditions are favorable; however, it can also be an extremely formidable dive if conditions are not.

Thoughts as I Ascend from the Spiegel Grove

I missed the first ten years of the Spiegel’s life underwater; however, once I saw her for the first time, I knew I would be called back to dive and explore this magnificent wreck many more times. Every time I dive the Spiegel Grove, I find new things and changes in the structure that weren’t there last week. I still love to dive the Vandenberg, the wrecks in Ft. Lauderdale, and one day the weather will cooperate so I can dive the Oriskany. 

And yet, for me, the Spiegel Grove is the perfect dive site, the perfect wreck, and I’m happy to dive and explore this wreck for a long time. Hopefully I’ll see you out there diving and exploring. 

Written by Jeff Knapp, PADI and TDI Advanced Trimix and Rebreather Instructor

Divers Direct's Involvement:

We at Divers Direct have a special connection to the Spiegel Grove. If you get a chance to dive this wreck, look for the plaque on the port side of the bow's superstructure and you will see the name of Divers Direct's late founder, Kevin Senecal. 

Kevin was instrumental in helping to get this project funded. He worked closely with other Keys community members and the Chamber of Commerce, together they created the medallion program to provide divers with a keepsake for diving the Spiegel Grove while at the same time providing revenue to repay the financial commitment made to get this project finished. Kevin was passionate about bringing the Spiegel Grove to the Key Largo dive community as he had been diving Key Largo waters since he was a teenager. Kevin believed the SPiegel Grove was an excellent addition to the already existing wreck dives, providing something new for avid divers to explore.

As his wife Shelley (the current CEO of our company) explains, "It was ironic that a hurricane, of all things, righted this ship. As a business owner in the keys, we hold our breath every time a hurricane comes through, fearing our business and our employees will be adversely affected. Kevin laughed when he received the phone call from Steve Frink that a hurricane corrected the resting place of the ship. For once, a hurricane actually helped us." 

So if you get a chance to dive the Spiegel Grove, tuck a toothbrush in your BC pocket and clean off the growth around Kevin's name for us.

Kevin Senecal scuba diving

Divers installing the plaque of donors on the 15th Anniversary of the Spiegel Grove

Kevin Senecal's name as #3 on the list of donors

Spiegel Grove FAQ

Where is the Spiegel Grove Dive Site?

The Spiegel Grove rests on Dixie Shoal which is about 6 miles off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. 

How deep is the Spiegel Grove?

The upper portions of the Spiegel Grove are at about 65 feet down while the lower portions of this magnificent wreck rest at about 135 feet below the surface.

What happened when they sank the Spiegel Grove?

As planned, the volunteer work crews began with dropping the Spiegel Grove’s anchors and then began filling her ballast tanks with water. Unfortunately, the ship decided to go down quicker than anticipated, rolled to one side, and wound up upside down with her bow sticking out of the water. 

Not ideal, there was another project about a month later that turned the Spiegel Grove to a more favorable, stable position with much effort including tug boats and air bags. 

Did a hurricane really move the Spiegel Grove?

Actually, yes. In July 2005, Hurricane Dennis assisted in setting the Spiegel Grove in her originally intended position: right side up resting on her keel. Which is how she still sits today.