The USS Wilkes-Barre shipwreck offers one of the most remarkable deep dives in the Florida Keys for highly skilled decompression divers. The 608-foot long Cleveland Class cruiser was a U.S. Navy vessel commissioned during the last year of World War II. Named after the town of Wilkes-Barre in Pennsylvania, the ship received four battle stars for its role in the war before being placed in reserve. During the early 1970s, the ship sank after being exposed to the underwater testing of explosives. Today it serves as an enormous artificial reef for the adventurous diver.
The USS Wilkes-Barre wreck was split into two sections as a result of the undersea explosions, creating two separate dive sites. The naval ship’s stern sank right away and is currently resting in an upright position. The front part of the boat required scuttling to make it sink. The bow of the ship is now lying on the starboard side, offering a challenging opportunity for experienced divers. The two sections lie in measured ocean depths of 140 to 250 feet.
In the stern section of the ship, divers can enter the hangar and travel through several rooms. A variety of military remnants and operating equipment can be seen along the decks and within the rooms of the superstructure, including gun turrets, anti-aircraft gun stations, radar monitors and gun emplacements. Within the battered wreckage, divers will find that some of the portholes still have the glass intact. At these deep depths, divers also are treated to an assortment of sharks, sperm whales, snapper, barracuda, manta rays, sailfish, grouper, mahi mahi, amberjack, and many other species of ocean life.
The USS Wilkes-Barre was nicknamed the Willie Bee during the war, when the 10,000-ton ship assisted in battle campaigns at Okinawa and Iwo Jima. The shipwreck carries another more ominous handle today andndash; the Lethal Lady andndash; so named because it is the type of treacherous deep dive that only certified technical divers should attempt. Divers may encounter strong currents, and the ship is located below the allowable depths for recreational diving.
For those who want to undertake this popular diving adventure, the USS Wilkes-Barre is located off Cudjoe Key about 13.5 miles southwest of Summerland Key at N 24 28 28 and W 081 32 60.