Join experienced guides from Sunset Divers on a small-group dive to the wreck of the Kittiwake.
This 251-foot long, five-deck, decommissioned US Navy submarine rescue ship is one of Grand Cayman’s most famous and most spectacular dive sites.
On this USS Kittiwake diving experience, you will explore the decks for up to 60 minutes with a computer profile, reaching a maximum depth of 72 feet.
And if you have friends or family interested in USS Kittiwake snorkelling opportunities, they are welcome aboard the dive boat.
While the certified divers descend to the wreck itself, the snorkelers can look down from the surface!
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The Kittiwake is 251 feet long, 44 feet on her beam, and drafted 19 feet fully loaded. Her light displacement was 1704 tons and her full displacement was 2193 tons.
After the removal of much of the equipment and steel on board, her displacement is around 1800 tons of steel for sinking.
She is a very solid steel hull/steel superstructure that had 18 bulkheads, a single screw propeller made of solid brass that is still on board, and, while on active duty, had a complement of 10 Officers and 98 enlisted service personnel.
Her armament was removed before export from the USA.
The Kittiwake is at the northern end of Seven Mile Beach, on the West or lee side of Grand Cayman, at latitude 19 21.714’N and Longitude 081 24.073’W for her bow.
The wreck is around half a mile offshore, near the Sand Chute dive site.
The bottom is flat and sandy. The Kittiwake rests at 72 feet deep at the bottom and is around 35 feet from the surface.
There are five decks on the 47-foot-tall Kittiwake.
Externally, the crow’s nest, mast, and large stern A-frame have been cut down and remounted to make her height suitable for Cayman waters.
The upper decks accommodate the two bridges (both an external and internal bridge to allow operations in heavy seas) along with the radio and navigation room.
On the main deck, from bow to stern, you will find the rec room, mess hall, ironing room, small tool workshop, and recompression chambers, all of which are internal.
You will note the large A-frame structure on the stern that supported submarines and hard hat divers, as well as the diving bell.
Divers would enter the diving bell on return to the ship from the ocean before heading to the chambers for decompression.
There are two decks below the main deck. On these decks, you will find the crew quarters, medic/hospital station, engine and propulsion rooms, air bank storage, and compressors, as well as the steering gear, shaft, gyro, ammunition lockers, cold storage, and barber shop to name a few areas.
While the Kittiwake has been opened up with large access holes both vertically and horizontally, every space on the ship was used while in service.
In September 2016, the wreck of the Kittiwake moved onto her side, allowing divers to see a whole different layout of the ship.
For anyone interested in USS Kittiwake snorkelling experience, you can still swim overhead and take in the stunning view, but the wreck is now deeper than its original resting place.
There is no end of rooms to explore on this wreck. This has become an artificial reef, enhancing the marine environment with new fishery stock and habitats for marine life.
The Kittiwake is situated in a Marine Park that is protected under law in Cayman. You must not touch or take anything, you cannot wear gloves, and fishing is not allowed on the wreck/Kittiwake site.
All operators that visit the wreck are licensed and the Marine Park fee is included in the cost of the trip.
The fees go towards the ongoing maintenance and protection of this artificial reef. An exception to taking fish is made for culling lionfish, an invasive species in Cayman waters.
The Kittiwake’s primary mission was to rescue sailors from downed submarines. She was very much a diving vessel. Many of her stories are still locked away as ‘classified’.
Over 50 years, she has many stories to tell, from submarine rescues to salvage operations like recovering the black box from the Challenger disaster.
The Kittiwake rescued a Haitian boat running P-250s non-stop, and served in the Caribbean and western Atlantic, including stops in Bermuda, St. Thomas, St. Croix, Puerto Rico, and Havana, Cuba, to name a few.
She made Atlantic crossings to the North Sea, assisting the USS Orion, testing ballistic missiles, recovering dummy missiles from Polaris subs, and helping divers.
She ran interference for a Trident Submarine missile test (DASO) and almost sank her from time to time… USS Kittiwake saw the world.
From the stories of the crew, there was great comradery and both rewarding and challenging voyages.
All in all, the ex-crew are fond of her and say, “to know her was to love her, and God bless the USS Kittiwake and those who served aboard her”.