09 May 2019
KEY WEST, Florida Keys — Scuba divers looking to log a world-class bucket-list dive experience are gearing up for the 10-year “on-the-bottom” anniversary of the USNS Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg. Since its sinking May 27, 2009, it remains the world’s second-largest vessel intentionally sunk as an artificial reef.
The former military ship, which monitored Soviet missile launches during the Cold War, reached the ocean bottom in an upright position in 1 minute, 45 seconds — preserving a bit of U.S. history off the Florida Keys. The “Vandy” lies approximately 7 miles south of Key West International Airport in nearly 150 feet of water in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.
Divers are encouraged to join Key West professional dive operators during the Memorial Day weekend celebration May 23-27, 2019. Commemorative highlights include:
Thursday, May 23
6-9 p.m.: Public preview of Austrian artist Andreas Franke’s ‘Plastic Ocean’ is to take place on the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum at Key West’s Truman Waterfront. Enjoy this above-water, open-to-the-public preview of the fantastical photographic artistry of Andreas Franke, whose newest 24-piece iteration of his world-renowned “Sinking World” exhibit is themed "Plastic Ocean." The exhibit embodies a resonant message of a worldwide shift to remove and prevent further plastics and micro-plastics from entering life-giving ocean waters. In lieu of an entry fee, a donation to the Ingham Maritime Museum is appreciated. Visit uscgcingham.org or plasticocean.gallery.
Friday, May 24
8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Join a morning dive trip with a professional Key West dive operator. Dive the Vandenberg and get a peek as specialty divers install the art pieces of "Plastic Ocean" along both sides of the shipwreck’s hull. Bring an underwater video or still camera to capture this unique opportunity. The “Plastic Ocean” exhibition is to be displayed underwater from May 25 to August 25, 2019. Visit fla-keys.com/key-west/listings/diving/.
6:30-8:30 p.m.: Attend a social mixer aboard the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Ingham Maritime Museum. Swap “Vandy” stories and mingle with diving aficionados, art enthusiasts and fellow conservationists. A slide show of the project is to be shown.
Saturday, May 25
8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Join a morning dive trip with a professional dive operator for a memorable and moving dive experience. Placement of a dedicated POW/MIA table setting is planned, continuing a tradition started during the Vietnam War era in military messes as a gesture to honor service members that are prisoners of war and/or missing in action. The semi-permanent table setting is to be placed at a to-be-determined location on the Vandenberg by former military members and local diving professionals. Bring an underwater video or still camera to capture this unique opportunity. Wreck specialty-certified divers can view it during summer 2019. Visit fla-keys.com/key-west/listings/diving/.
6:30 p.m.: Captains Meeting for Sunday Lionfish Derby. Mandatory for the team captains, the meeting is to be held at Turtle Kraals, 231 Margaret St. in the Key West Historic Seaport. All team members are encouraged to attend; derby rules and safe lionfish collecting and handling techniques are to be reviewed. The team captain must be one of the team’s four participants in the derby, but does not need to be the captain of the boat. The tournament is sanctioned by Key Largo’s Reef Environmental Education Foundation (REEF).
7-9 p.m. Ten-Year Anniversary Happy Hour at Turtle Kraals is to feature a slide show of the Vandenberg sinking project. Drink specials will be available and the public is welcome to attend.
Sunday, May 26
Sunrise to 5 p.m.: Inaugural Key West Lionfish Derby. Divers can book trips with professional dive operators or use personal vessels as they capture invasive lionfish.  Teams of four can register for $125, with $25 benefiting Islamorada’s History of Diving Museum. Prizes for Most Fish and Largest Fish are to be awarded the top three teams in each category. From 5-7 p.m., fish are to be weighed in at Turtle Kraals, with awards and an after-party to follow. Visit reef.org/events or call Tyler Mahler at 305-457-3519.
Monday, May 27
8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.: Join a Memorial Day morning dive with a professional Key West dive operator. Watch as both a Conch Republic and American flag are unfurled aboard Vandenberg to commemorate the sinking date 10 years ago and the Memorial Day holiday. Bring an underwater video or still camera to capture this unique opportunity. Visit fla-keys.com/key-west/listings/diving/.
Vandenberg is the southernmost asset of the Florida Keys Wreck Trek, a string of nine vessels from Key Largo to Key West that recreational divers can explore.
The story of the former U.S. Air Force missile-tracking ship’s journey from ship to shipwreck to artificial reef, and a listing of 10-year anniversary events, can be found at fla-keys.com/diving/vandenberg/.
Key West visitor information: fla-keys.com/keywest or 1-800-LAST-KEY
Florida Keys diving information: fla-keys.com/diving
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