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New Perspectives on the Kittiwake Shipwreck at Grand Cayman
By Chase Darnell, November 7, 2017 @ 05:00 AM (EST)

Editor’s Note: The author would like to thank Fantasea Line for the use of their equipment, including the Fantasea FA6500 housing for the Sony a6500, Fantasea-AOI UWL-09F wide-angle attachment, and Fantasea Radiant Pro 2500 lights, and Cayman Turtle Divers for supporting this article.

The new resting position of the Kittiwake provides a whole new view on the massive shipwreck

The 251-feet-long Kittiwake was purposely sank on the west side of Grand Cayman in January 2011. Almost immediately, the wreck gave the island a special new attraction for snorkelers, scuba divers and freedivers. With a resting depth of just 65 feet, this ex-USS Navy submarine maintenance vessel became not only an easily navigable wreck for all levels of divers, but also gave underwater photographers an extremely cool backdrop for still and moving images alike.

With its impressive upright resting position, the Kittiwake was initially a one-of-a-kind wreck due to its shallow depth and extremely accessible passageways

However, when Tropical Storm, and soon-to-be Hurricane, Nate began churning a few hundred miles southwest of Grand Cayman, large swells and high winds arrived at the west side of the island where the Kittiwake sits. Mother Nature would soon decide on a new resting position for the famed wreck.

The ship is now lying on its port side, with the outer walkway of the main deck resting in the sand. During its first six years underwater, this wreck has drawn underwater shooters and divers alike to Grand Cayman to experience such a large wreck in shallow water and with an extremely accessible layout. Now the time has come time to explore the wreck once again with a whole new perspective—a perspective, I believe, that will give photographers a chance to further extend their wreck portfolio.

The wreck remains fully intact and still offers many penetration options throughout the ship’s five decks

The image on the left shows the initial position of the wreck. As you can see, capturing the shear height of the wreck made for a nice composition, especially with a model for size comparison. The image on the right shows the new position of the wreck. With the same shooting angle, you are able to include lots of features from the main deck while still capturing sunshine and the water’s surface

While the initial resting place provided an incredible display of the height of the wreck, the new position, in my opinion, now shows us the impressive beam, or width, of the ship. This enables a photographer to capture more of the main deck features while still being able to shoot with an upward angle to utilize the sun.

The new position gives a whole multi-layer feel to images. From the sand, you are able to capture the dimensions, towers and machinery of the main deck, and finish off with a nice textured water surface. I think this will provide unique wreck images with a renewed sense of depth. The towers now also provide an excellent opportunity for framing models.

To capture the main deck features in the wreck’s initial position, you had to shoot at a downward angle, but with the new position, the main deck can be captured while still having the upward shooting angle that underwater photographers love


Wildlife on the Wreck

The Kittiwake quickly became a home to many types of wildlife. The most noticeable were the big schools of horse-eyed jacks that could almost always be found on a portion of the wreck. Although I have only done a couple of dives on the wreck since it changed position, it seems the jacks have not returned in full force. All the other fish life has remained in abundance though—creole wrasses, groupers, parrotfish, and sergeant majors.

With the Kittiwake’s new resting place, I also believe there will be a greater potential for seeing more critter life infiltrating the hallways and compartments of the wreck. Now that the wreck has shifted, multiple entry points to the wreck now lie directly on the sand.

I was very surprised to see this large octopus swimming towards me as I made a pass through the wreck. I believe the newly accessible entry points will start to bring an array of life, such as eels and octopuses

The portholes along the sides of the ship used to be the first available point of entry for divers and animals alike, but these portholes were approximately 20 feet above the sand, making it an exposed and difficult entry. With the new position of the wreck, there is a multitude of easy entry points for new life to start exploring the wreck.

Over the years, I have come to know and photograph many interesting macro subjects on the wreck. For some reason, a lot of this macro life was generally found on the port side walkway and port holes, which are now buried in the sand. I have had a little look at other portholes on the starboard side of the wreck but saw no sign of the skeleton shrimps or Flabellina nudibranchs yet. I’m sure, with time, these rare and interesting critters will return to the repositioned wreck. Until then, underwater shooters will just have to focus on the new wide-angle perspectives of the wreck.

A great view of the port side of the wreck dug into the sand. Previously, the portholes were nice spots to find macro life


Final Thoughts

With the new resting position of the Kittiwake, underwater photographers have the opportunity to add a whole new array of images to their portfolios. For me, the wreck now has a more “realistic” feel—the sense of a true eerie wreck will surely enter every diver’s mind as they descend onto the wreck. While the shipwreck was visually impressive before, its perfect upright position was a little unnatural. With its new position, the Kittiwake is sure to entice divers and photographers alike to return—and discover completely new perspectives on this famous shipwreck.

New perspectives and experiences await divers rediscovering this world-renowned wreck dive


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