Step 5: Sink it, carefully
Sinking a ship is not as simple as waterlogging it and letting it crash to the bottom. Many an artificial reef has been listing as it sank, and while that might not ruin the project, it throws much of the engineering off-kilter. So planning the actual sinking is intensive.
First, engineers look at the weight of the ship and the direction they want it to drop, factoring in current. Using that info, they calculate how many gallons of water it will take to sink the ship, and at what speed that water will need to be pumped in. Then they begin pumping it with water some distance from the final wreck site.
In the case of the Lady Luck (renamed after a sponsorship from the Isle Casino in Pompano Beach), the ship was half-filled with water below deck in port on the Miami River. It then traveled to Port Everglades in Ft. Lauderdale, where the tanker was pumped with more water -- as much as it could hold and still be towed to the final site.
The day before the sinking, Broward County placed four buoys around the dive site, with a large orange buoy in the middle to mark where the ship was to go. At 3am, the ship was towed from Port Everglades to the dive site for a scheduled 2pm sinking. Engineers surveyed the wind, waves, and current, and adjusted their sinking plan accordingly. They then began to pump water into the ship from bow to stern, slowly, balancing so the boat didn't get overloaded.
It takes about six to eight hours to get a ship the size of the Lady Luck (324ft) to sink. Once it actually begins to fall, it only takes a minute for it to hit its final resting place 130ft below the surface. Once scuttled, the wreck is open for certified divers to come and explore, as marine life takes over and begins to transform the ship into a functional part of the ocean's ecosystem.
Pompano Beach plans to sink several more wrecks as a part of its planned Shipwreck Park, and will be repeating this process again in the coming years. Most divers won't give much thought to how the boat got there as they swim among the little flourishes that went down with it: card-playing sharks and mermaids. But shipwrecks are more complicated than simply dropping a whole boat like an anchor.
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