Expedition Team: Holly Miller, Matt Miller, Dave Miller
Dive Date: December 2015
The second morning dive was the wreck of the Oro Verde, a wreck both tragic yet with a funny side to the story. More on that in a moment. What made this dive unique was someone we met underwater. The dive master briefed us before diving and stated their was a large grouper that hung around the reef and wreck. Supposedly you could swim up to the fish and scratch or rub under its chin. So in we dove and descended to 50 feet in 82 degree water with 80 feet visibility. Within a minute I saw a large five pound grouper. I slowly swam towards him. Now if I had a spear gun a grouper that size would have made for a couple of nice dinner meals but in the wild once you interact with the creature you don’t have the heart to want to hurt it. I slowly swam toward the grouper, eased my hand forward and rubbed under the gills of his chin. I turned and swam off over the wreck. Holly got my attention and I looked back and the grouper was following me so I turned and scratched under its chin again. The grouper ended up following me for over 35 minutes of the dive like a puppy followings its master. If I entered the cabin of the wreck, the grouper would follow me in and out. When I shined my underwater light in the porthole, the grouper went in and then swam back out. The photo’s show him following me around the reef and the wreck.
The Oro Verde was a US World War II Liberty Ship built in 1942 (supposedly a sister ship to the infamous USS Pueblo) which carried supplies across the Atlantic for our USA war effort. It was a 131 foot long, 692 ton freighter. It sunk only 100 yards off the famous seven mile beach on the west side of the island. After the war the ship was sold by the Navy and began operations as a merchant cargo ship sailing in the Caribbean, South & Central America carrying fruit or other cargo. It ran aground in 1976. It has deteriorated significantly due to three hurricanes (see the photos) which has scattered the shipwreck over a wide debris field which draws an abundance of fish life. Local divers call the site the “Wreck of the Wreck of the Wreck of the Oro Verde” as the decks are pancaked, the boiler, props and deck plates scattered all over on the sand flats with just a few rooms intact. We saw patches of coral, sponges, butterfly fish, grunts, yellow tail snappers, angelfish, parrot fish, barricuda, porkfish and a large sea turtle thriving on the wreck.
Now the story of the wreck. The boat was carrying bananas from Jamaica to Grand Cayman. However, the captain smuggled on a load of green gold, marijuana. The captain was nearing retirement and in an effort to retire more comfortably planned to make a few extra dollars on the trip. He kept it a secret. As the story goes the crew discovered the marijuana under the bananas and demanded a cut of the profit. The captain refused saying “my boat, I’m not sharing it”. The crew beat him, tied him to a chair and tossed him overboard. However, none of the crew knew how to navigate the boat around the dangerous reefs into harbor and the boat ran aground and started to sink. The crew swam to shore and tried to hire local thugs to grab the sinking cargo. The police boats arrived first and seized the marijuana.
The police took the marijuana to the east end of the island to burn. Forgetting that the prevailing wind blows from east to west the large marijuana smoke cloud blew across the island to the populated side and rumor has it there were many traffic accidents and a large run on dorritos and potato chips at the local food stores that evening.