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About the artificial reef

Pictures of the ship




click here for news release from FL Fish & Wildlife


After more than 10 years of alternating heartbreak and hope, the Vandenberg team and our loyal supporters are beginning to feel the sweet breezes of success filling our sails at last. An 11th hour rescue from the auction block by local businessman and prominent citizen, Jack Spottswood, freed the ship from seizure by the shipyard. On Easter Sunday, April 12, 2009, she departed from Norfolk, Virginia, arriving in Key West on April 22. Preparations for deployment are taking placedockside in the Southernmost City. Visitors and locals can view the ship before she undertakes her final mission as a permanent marine habitat.

We have stuck with this project because of our dedication, as divers, to the underwater environment; because of our commitment to our friends and neighbors in this community who work as captains, mates, divemasters, fishermen, charterboat operators and all those in the hospitality industry; and because of the veterans, sailors, technicians, immigrants and refugees who want to see this history honored and for the ship to have a meaningful ultimate purpose.

Vandenberg was successfully deployed as an artificial reef on MAY 27, 2009

Thank you for your continued support

Vandenberg Fact summary

How big is it?

Displacement: 17,250 tons
Length: 522' 10"
Beam: 71' 6"
Draft: 26' 6"

Height: 100 feet from keel to the highest point. We have trimmed the stacks and antennas to allow the required 40 feet of clearance from the surface when the ship is deployed at 140 feet. Much of the superstructure will be just 40-50 feet below the surface. The keel and the four 8-ton anchors will rest at 140 feet.

Where will it be sunk?

At 24.27 N, 81.44 W, between Western Sambo and Sand Key, and south of Hawks Channel marker #32

It is about 7 miles offshore.

The site was carefully chosen ten years ago, with input from many interested parties. Permits from eighteen different agencies define the location.

Over 130 dives were conducted to survey the site. It is on hard barren bottom with no coral and no submerged cultural resources (historic wrecks).

How will they sink it?

Cutting charges will open holes in the lower deck. Water pressure will push the cut-out plates inward, water will flow in at the bottom and air will vent out the top.

The ship has tons of ballast near the keel, which was placed there to create a stable platform for the big tracking antennas.

It will sink straight down in less than three minutes.

What is its history?

1943: built by Kaiser shipyard in Richmond, California

1944-46: USS Gen. Harry Taylor commissioned as a troop transport carrying personnel to Atlantic and Pacific Ports. After the surrender of Japan, she was the first ship to return to New York Harbor

1946-50: USAT General Harry Taylor served Army Transport Service, bringing home the troops.

1950-57: USNS General Harry Taylor served the Military Sealift Command, carrying refugees and displaced persons from Europe to America and Australia.

1958: Decommissioned and placed in reserve.

1961: Acquired by the Air force and completely refitted to serve a missile tracking ship.

1963: Re-commissioned as USAFS Gen Hoyt S Vandenberg.

!964-1983: USNS General Hoyt S. Vandenberg re-acquired by the Navy and continued her mission tracking US and Russian missile launches, and launches of the early space program.

1983: retired and transferred to the Maritime Administration Reserve “Ghost Fleet” on the James River in Virginia.

1996: Used in the Universal Pictures movie, “Virus” (released 1999) starring Donald Sutherland and Jamie Lee Curtis.

1999: Artificial Reefs of the Keys was incorporated, having identified Vandenberg as an ideal candidate for an Artificial Reef.

March 31, 2007: towed from the reserve fleet to a shipyard in Norfolk Virginia to begin the extensive cleaning process.

April 12, 2009: towed from Norfolk, bound for Key West.

April 22, 2009: Vandenberg arrived at the Truman annex dock in Key West for the final preparations for sinking.

Why are you doing this?

The artificial reef will:

• boost the local economy, encouraging tourism and creating jobs

• create marine habitat and increase marine life population,

• relieve pressure from the surrounding natural reef,

• provide an opportunity to scientifically document the effects of artificial reefs with an ongoing monitoring program,

• provide a platform for education and research,

• preserve the history and honor the memory of those who served and traveled on the ship

When will it sink?

Many factors are involved in setting the date, including completion of the work, weather, sea conditions, and harbor traffic.

We are aiming for a date between May 20 and June 1.

More about Artificial Reefs, worldwide

Key West Citizen

Vandenberg funding has nothing to do with county's general fund - 01/16/2007

Guest Editorial by Key West City Commissioner, Bill Verge

One of the earliest things you learn when you enter public life is the few avenues you have to reach the public to explain the decisions you make when you vote. The electorate has to feel, or at least hope, that you have done your homework when you cast a vote. Such is the decision to bring the USS Vandenberg to Key West and the Florida Keys as an artificial reef. ...(read more)

See images of Vandenberg while it was still in the MARAD James River Reserve Fleet

click to enlarge this image showing scale drawing of the ship and cutting plan for reefing preparation

At over 520 feet and 13,000 tons, this will be among the largest ships ever intentionally sunk for this purpose. It will be the largest wreck in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. This ship will become a world-class diving destination, but it will also offer many other benefits to the environment and to education and research. Meticulously cleaned and prepared, the vessel will become a habitat and breeding site for countless marine species. The Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary strongly supports this purpose. Our local Florida Keys Community College has built curriculum and is conducting classes around the monitoring of reef development at the site. Distance learning projects are planned to bring live lessons from the Vandenberg into classrooms nationwide via the internet.

All Material on this site copyright Artificial Reefs of the Keys

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