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South Florida Divers, Inc. presents:
the sinking of
The Spiegel Grove 
Monday, May 27, 2002 update
Miami Herald's Curtis Morgan: Salvage firm formulates intricate plan to right ship
Rodale's Scuba Diving:  Efforts to Finish Sinking Spiegel Grove Resume After 3-Day Delay
Keys News' Jack London's Column: Loose lips, assisted by high-priced experts, sink ships
Miami Herald Editorial: TO RIGHT A BAD SINKING
Salvage firm formulates intricate plan to right ship


Roll the Spiegel Grove!

It might not sound as stirring as Raise the Titanic! -- a Clive Cussler bestseller made into a dreadful 1980 movie -- but the real-life operation to right an upside-down ship in the Florida Keys boasts a comparably intricate plot.

Can aging steel bulkheads withstand tons of air pressure without bursting? Can tugboats, each churning 5,000-horse diesels, really roll an underwater hulk that is nearly as long as the Washington Monument is tall? Can ace salvor Joe Farrell Jr. and his crew pull off yet another daunting job?

All those questions should be answered as early as this week in the climactic chapter of the effort to convert the Spiegel Grove, a mothballed 510-foot, Cold War-era U.S. Navy transport, into a diving dreamscape six miles off Key Largo.

That's when Farrell, president of Resolve Towing and Salvage of Fort Lauderdale, hopes to be ready to try phase one of the plan: buoying one side of the sunken ship with pumped-in air and, with a powerful pull of tugs, spinning the entire vessel on its axis. All under water.

Visualize something akin to turning a suckling pig on a spit.

Farrell, still crunching an array of engineering and physics calculations, is cautious but confident, at least about rolling the ship on one side.

''We may get there and it doesn't budge at all,'' said Farrell, poring over diagrams in his Port Everglades office. ``I suspect it's going to be one minute and then, holy smoke, we hope it's going where we want it.''

The carefully crafted plan to sink the Spiegel Grove, the largest ship ever scuttled as an artificial reef, went awry a week ago. The ship slipped under ahead of schedule, for still undetermined reasons, and ''turned turtle.'' Bottom up. The stern sits in white sand 130 feet down. The bow juts four stories above blue water like a gray, rust-fringed sail. Most critical, the massive upper decks are now inaccessible to most divers, snorkelers and glass-bottom tour boats the ship had been intended to lure.


Righting the turtle will demand a delicate balance of brawn and brains.

''We also could use some luck,'' said Farrell, whose company secured a contract worth up to a quarter-million dollars from the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce.

''It's a hell of a job, and it's a massive undertaking,'' said Stephen Frink, a member of the chamber's Artificial Reef Committee, which hired Resolve based on the company's 20-year record. ``When they do it, because we don't have a moment's doubt, these guys will be heroes. They'll never have to buy a drink in our town again.''

While Farrell said Resolve haven't failed yet, he isn't ready to start ordering rum runners yet.

He rates the Spiegel Grove, named for the Ohio home of President Rutherford B. Hayes, as one of the company's toughest tasks. That's saying something. Resolve helped recover the remains from the horrific 1996 Valujet crash in the Everglades. The company also has raised and rolled big ships before, including a freighter at a wharf in Barinquilla, Colombia, under the watch of machine-gun-toting drug runners.

The Spiegel Grove poses plenty of its own challenges.

Much of it rests in deep water, limiting diving time. The sharp angle and topsy-turvy hull makes working inside laborious. Rough weather halted most work at least through Saturday. When it resumes, a half-dozen divers, armed with Broco torches -- 16-inch steel rods filled with magnesium and ignited by oxygen -- will continue sealing dozens of holes cut into the ship to make it safer and help it sink and cutting new openings to attach lift bags.

But in a marine operation of this size and complexity, the most critical heavy lifting is mental.

With the stern of the ship at 130 feet deep and its bow above, air and water pressure changes along virtually every foot of the ship and will constantly vary as the expected roll begins.

Though the basic plan is set, the salvage team continues to rerun sophisticated computer models, recalculate figures and sketch out diagrams.

They're pinpointing the precise places to affix 60 to 70 Subsalve lift bags -- specially designed inflatable bags that, when filled, can expand to the height of a two-story home and float a 25-ton load.

Without original blueprints, Resolve is working from schematics created for the botched sinking, and Farrell says he is concerned about just how much pushing, pulling and pressure a hull launched in 1956 can take. But, so far, he says, he's encouraged by structural reports from divers and the Navy.

The keys to the operation are rows of ballast tanks built into lower decks. Most ships don't have them, but the Spiegel Grove was built to transport amphibious vehicles. The tanks were designed to be filled with water to lower the ship and flood a cavernous central hold, allowing landing craft to rapidly motor out.

Now, the water tanks will hold air, pumped in by high-volume diesel compressors aboard the Lana Rose, Resolve's work ship.

''A lot of the success of this job depends on the strength of those bulkheads,'' Farrell said. ``The danger is blowing them out.''

Farrell aims to fill the tanks along the ship's port, or left, side with about 2,000 tons of air. Another 500 tons will come from lift bags divers will lash along the aft main deck and superstructure. The buoyancy should create an imbalance, forcing the ship's port side to bob up toward the surface.


But anyone expecting the Spiegel Grove to pull a Free Willy and dramatically soar up through the waves will be disappointed. If all goes as planned, the ship will never see the surface again. The action should take place just above the ocean floor and just beneath the surface.

Divers will ease air out of the bow, lowering it beneath the surface, but not so deep that the superstructure, which rises 36 feet, drags the bottom as the ship turns. With a kick from the tugs, the massive Spiegel Grove -- which originally displaced about 6,500 tons before it was gutted for sinking -- should roll to one side. Maybe slowly. Maybe in seconds.

The ship could even keep going, coming to rest where divers want it -- on its fat bottom.

More realistically, however, Farrell says that he expects to mount phase two. That would entail more air bags, aided by a barge fitted with a 300-ton hydraulic jack lift. After securing heavy chains -- each link weighs 70 pounds -- to the Spiegel Grove's deck cranes, the barge would slowly ratchet the ship upright.

That's the plan.

But Farrell admits there are ''a lot of unknowns.'' Here are a few:

If the bow sinks faster than the ship rotates, increasing water pressure, which jumps 4.45 pounds per square inch for every foot of depth, could shrink the lift bags, sinking the plan and maybe the ship.

As the ship starts its roll, all the air and millions of gallons of water inside also will move, ''God knows where,'' creating shifting structural stresses that, in the worst case, could rupture the hull.

And while four anchors weighing 30 tons now fix the Spiegel Grove in place, Farrell says he worries about the swift Gulf Stream current. Running from one to three knots, if the salvage team allows the stern to float up from the bottom, the current may grab the ship.

More serious, is the concern of potential damage to reefs, some fewer than a mile away.

The Coast Guard, which is maintaining a 500-yard no-entry zone around the ship, approved Resolve's safety plans on Friday, but Farrell said weather and the pace of the underwater work will dictate the timing. It could happen as early as this week.

Captain Spencer Slate, operator of Atlantis Dive Center in Key Largo and long a champion of the eight-year, $1.1 million effort to acquire and sink the Spiegel Grove, dove the wreck last week, consulted with the salvage team and came away feeling upbeat.

''I'm confident it's doable on its side,'' he said. ``We went to the moon. Surely, they can roll this ship.''
© 2002 miami and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

Miami Herald Graphic

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Efforts to Finish Sinking Spiegel Grove Resume After Three-Day Delay 

Key Largo, Fla.--Efforts to reorient and fully sink a retired Navy ship in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary resumed Monday, May 27, after a three-day delay due to high winds and seas that made salvage operations untenable for divers. 
The 510-foot Spiegel Grove sank upside-down Friday, May, 17, hours before crews had planned to scuttle it to create an artificial reef. The ship is in about 130 feet of water, its bow protruding above the sea, six miles off Key Largo. 

Six divers aboard the Lana Rose, a 100-foot-long salvage vessel owned by Resolve Towing and Salvage, worked Monday to identify locations to attach giant inflatable lift bags, said Joe Farrell, president of the firm that has been contracted by the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce to finish the project. 

Farrell said in all that he was expecting to employ enough lift bags, including four that are 24 feet high, to surface about 600 tons of dead weight. These are to add to the buoyancy that is to be achieved when air is injected into port (left) ballast tanks. 

Farrell plans to lighten the port side of the vessel, and using at least two tug boats, roll the vessel on her starboard side. Cost to the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce, whose board of directors approved the contract with Resolve, is estimated to add another $250,000 to the $1 million already expended. 

"We know we have a very valuable resource and that the Spiegel Grove will be the best artificial reef," said Stephen Frink, a project organizer and a board member of the Key Largo Chamber. "We're going to invest what we have to, to make this ship right." Frink added. 

Frink said several local groups, including the Ocean Reef Community Association on North Key Largo, have pledged additional financial support. He said the chamber is also counting on additional revenue from the sale of Spiegel Grove commemorative medallions. 


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Loose lips, assisted by high-priced experts, sink ships

Jack London's Column

A little over a week ago, on May 17, a day that will live in infamy in Key Largo to paraphrase FDR's famous declaration, the ill-fated Spiegel Grove suddenly found herself in illustrious company when she joined the fleet of countless sunken ships that involuntarily ended up on the oceans floor. That list of legendary vessels is indeed a long one, including renowned names such as the Titanic, the Lusitania, and now the immortal Spiegel Grove. All suffered similar fates, though in the case of the 540-foot Spiegel Grove the inevitable question arises: Will the incredibly resilient Key Largo Chamber of Commerce once again snatch victory from defeat? 

A bit of history: At a county commission meeting in Key Largo last year, a parade of visionary speakers representing the Key Largo Chamber of Commerce invited commissioners to walk the gangplank and come aboard the Spiegel Grove by ponying up $300,000 to assist in completing the cleaning of the former naval vessel. The chamber had already invested $260,000 in the project, but work was halted when those funds ran out. Ocean Reefs, the firm contracted to perform the work, had informed the chamber that they had unexpectedly discovered an additional 34 diesel fuel tanks aboard the vessel that they had no idea existed. 

Apparently, the diesel tanks had managed to successfully conceal themselves during an earlier inspection by Ocean Reefs, which had a contract with the chamber to clean and prepare the vessel for sinking. Meanwhile, with work at a standstill the dockage fees of $1,500 a day continued to accrue, a sum that amounted to a paltry $45,000 for each month the Spiegel Grove sat in a Virginia shipyard. 

Thankfully, constituents can always rely on their commissioners to pounce on inviting financial opportunities when such promising deals suddenly present themselves. No doubt commissioners took considerable comfort as well as inspiration from the statements of chamber member and underwater photographer Stephen Frink who confidently declared, The county is making a valid assumption that once the Spiegel Grove is on the bottom, that $300,000 will be repaid in the form of increased tax revenues, probably in the first year. 

Of course as most everyone in the county knows, the Spiegel Grove is now on the bottom, sunk prematurely when its ballast tanks were inadvertently filled with too much water. Unfortunately, she lays belly up and sticking 50 feet out of the water, leading Coast Guard officials to describe her as a hazard to navigation. All is not lost, however, and a salvage vessel is now on the scene. In fact, George Garrett, the county's authority on practically everything and a marine salvage expert in his own right, informed the press that two large tugs with a combined horsepower of 7,200 could be enough to turn the ship on its side. Garrett further added, I would say that the ship went down in the place and attitude it was supposed to. Really, George? Then why are they forking out an additional quarter of a million dollars to move it? 

Experts estimate that it will cost more than $250,000 to re-sink the Spiegel Grove, though some believe that raising the sunken ship may prove impossible. Joe Farrell, president of the Fort Lauderdale based Resolve Towing and Salvage, the firm hired by the chamber to lift the sunken vessel, won the coveted Annual Self-serving Statement Award for his comments to the media. "I don't see anything they did wrong," observed Farrell in defense of the botched sinking. "My gut feeling is that something tore loose inside the ship." Perhaps those concealed diesel tanks finally came out of hiding, Joe, while attempting to abandon ship. 

Before the premature sinking, which former chamber chairman Spencer Slate characterized as a predictable and preventable disaster, a consequence of absolute blatant arrogance and egos, the chamber had previously sunk over a $1 million in the project. The cost associated with the re-sinking efforts will give yet new meaning to the expression, "Throwing good money after bad." Dive operator Slate, who following the botched sinking resigned from the group sponsoring the project, angrily declared to the press, "We look like idiots." No, Spencer! Say it isn't so. 

County commissioners and Key Largo residents will no doubt take great comfort in the reassuring words offered by Stephen Frink, a member of the chamber's Artificial Reef Committee. Voicing yet another expert opinion on the untimely sinking, Frink characterized the unexpected event as a mere hiccup, a burp, paraphrasing what some historians suspect was General Custer's assessment of the situation during his last stand at the Little Big Horn. 
This story published on Sun, May 26, 2002

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Posted on Mon, May. 27, 2002

After years of clawing through reams of red tape, scrounging for money and donating untold hours of volunteer labor by practically the entire community of Key Largo, the planners and boosters behind turning the USS Spiegel Grove into a huge artificial reef could only watch in horror as the last step in this long process went terribly awry a week ago.

Instead of sinking to an upright position in a controlled scuttling process, the 510-foot-long retired Navy transport ship took on water too fast and flipped over. People handling the sinking had to scramble, leaving behind costly equipment as well as their long-held hopes for this project. Now, however, a salvage operation is under way to right the ship so that it can become a safe diving attraction for Keys residents and visitors and a welcome new home for marine life.

Whether the costly salvage job will work is hard to say. Meanwhile, Key Largo residents are continuing to give of their time and resources. Volunteers are diving to recover the equipment lost in the sinking. Residents volunteered to help the professional salvagers, and everyone from food servers to Boy Scouts is pitching in for the recovery effort.

This volunteer spirit is nothing new in the Keys. Although residents of the island communities are well known for their ability to disagree, they also have a remarkable capacity to put aside differences and work together on local projects.

So while there's sure to be plenty of disagreement over the mounting cost of the Spiegel Grove project (estimated at $1.2 million and counting), no one wants to see the dream of creating an environmentally friendly marine attraction fail. We wish all those volunteers and the salvagers good luck.

© 2002 miami and wire service sources. All Rights Reserved.

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Go to Spiegel Grove Starting Page

Spiegel Grove Chronology

May 14: History, photos, & Key Largo arrival 
May 17: Breaking news & photos of the sinking
May 18: More stories & sinking sequence photos
May 19: Early plans to right her are forming
May 20: Underwater photos & interactive graphic
May 21: Exclusive eyewitness story
May 22: Crew heads south to begin work
May 23: The Lana Rose is on the scene
May 24: Efforts delayed due to weather
May 25: Project Chairman resigns, then talks
May 26: Spiegel Grove is not the first...
May 27: Salvor reveals righting plans
May 31:  Rolling date set.  Graphics & map
June 1:   Volunteers help salvor
June 2:   Work nearing completion
June 4:  A Friday flip?
June 5:  Use your mouse to right the ship!
June 6:  Sinking moved to Monday
June 7:  Attaching the lift bags
June 8:  Weather changes plans
June 9:  Tugboats arrive for final preparation
June 10: She's on the roll...and goes down
June 11:  Salvors are done...she's on her 
               starboard side...and she is 
               WORLD FAMOUS!

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Thank you for visiting our Spiegel Grove update pages.  Much of the information here is copyrighted by other news agencies, as noted.  This information is presented for the convenience of the members of South Florida Divers, by their newsletter editor, in order to bring all of the news to one central location.  DO NOT use these images or stories for newsletters, web pages, or any other publications.  You may print one copy for your own personal use only. Thank you. 

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