National Geographic : 2011 Feb
• veil of black smoke began to rise, but for a long moment the ship didn't seem to register the shock. She just hung there level in the water, 523 feet long, a rusting, decommissioned hulk with two useless radar dishes that towered above the ocean surface. Then, as news helicopters circled above and thousands of onlookers watched from boats idling beyond the blast zone, the Van- denberg slowly hitched downward into the Atlantic, remaining perfectly horizontal until finally the bow dropped and the stern rose, leaving nothing but a roiling tract of white water. "There'll be fish living on that wreck this afternoon!" declared Joe Weatherby, the man who had spearheaded the massive project to sink the Vandenberg and turn it, over time, into an arti cial reef that would lure divers and shermen to Key West. e Vandenberg is certainly not the rst ship to be deliberately sunk to create an arti cial reef. e waters o the Florida Keys have become the grave site of the Coast Guard cutters Duane and Bibb and the U.S. Navy landing ship Spiegel BY STEPHEN HARRIGAN PHOTOGRAPHS BY DAVID DOUBILET It took just over two minutes for the missile-tracking ship General Hoyt S. Vandenberg to sink to the bottom of the ocean. On a clear morning in May 2009, seven miles o Key West, a series of hollow booms erupted from inside the vessel's hull, where 46 explosive charges had been buried deep below the waterline. e sharp smell of gunpowder dri ed on the breeze, and an obscuring The muzzle of an M60 tank makes a cozy home for a whitespotted soapfish off Alabama. Reefs provide small fish protection from predators.