Volume 3 - US Virgin Islands: St. Thomas

The 327-foot WIT Shoal, owned by West Indies Transport, was well past her prime. Many versions of what was going to happen to her abound. She was going to be sunk in very deep water south of the Virgin Islands; she was going to Puerto Rico to be scrapped. Either way, her hull was roughly patched to survive the trip and she was towed out of Charlotte Amalie.

One of the patches broke free a couple of miles into the trip, so the towline was cut, and she sank gracefully to sit upright in 75 feet of water, on sand.

Jim McManus of Sea Trade was one of the first to find and dive on her. Over time he removed all the cabling and hatches to make the wreck safe to penetrate, sealing up any remaining dangerous areas.

The wreck is now well encrusted, having been down since 1984. There are five levels of deck to explore, from the pilothouse down to the bottom of the hold, with many routes in and out, making it easy and safe.

One problem hangs over the future of the wreck. The top of the pilothouse is at 30 feet, and many ships, especially cruise ships, have a 40 foot draft. In case the Coastguard decide it is a danger to navigation and want to blow off the top 20 feet, the location of the wreck is kept rather vague.

Dive Profile

The dive is recognised to sometimes have strong currents, and today is no exception—1 to 2 knots of current is running. The dive boat’s anchor is accurately sunk just behind the stern and the divers use it to drag themselves down to the wreck. This is no easy task, as more than 300 feet of line is out, and it is stretched taught from the anchor. Clinging to a camera with one hand does not make it any easier.

Finally, we reach the anchor, and the stern of the WIT Shoal looms over us. We are out of the current and able to recover our breathing while we coast gently up to the poop deck. There is an area around the stern that is railed off and covered completely by the aft deck. The underside of the aft deck is totally encrusted with clumps of cup coral, like a vast flower garden. Schools of grunts swim slowly by and we decide to join them, swimming in through a gap in the railings.

Moving out into an open area, and looking up, we can see the bridge and other superstructure. Presumably this was originally clad in wood, which has now decayed to the supporting metal—we really are looking at the bones of the ship. The funnel, still standing behind the wheelhouse, is obviously made of sturdier stuff.

Moving forward, we find the first hold with the deck crane towering above it. During Hurricane Marilyn in 1995, the last section snapped off and now lies alongside the hull. As we peer up at the crane, a turtle decides it is time to break for the surface, and glides past us.

Dropping down into the hold we swim aft through a dark section into the engine room; a boarding hatch to starboard provides an exit through the hull. All we find here are piles of machinery and a parrotfish looks at us as if to say "am I missing something here?" The inside of the superstructure and hold does not have much growth because of the lack of light. Further in though, light streams down from the deck level. Not enough to allow for growth, it nevertheless creates a fantastic effect, like spotlights on a smoky stage.

As we swim up and over the central bulkhead between the holds, the current snags us again until we drop once more into the wreck. Between the bow and us is a cloud of very large horse-eye jacks, perhaps 50 to 100. Unafraid, they mill around.

The remains of the forward hold and the bow do not seem worth the effort of pushing against the current, so we zoom back to the deckhouse, letting the current do the work for us. If you dive the WIT Shoal at slack water there is time to check this area out.

As we drift back up the anchor line, we look backwards as the stern of the WIT Shoal disappears into the gloom. As we are drifting away, it is difficult to determine who is leaving whom.

Thanks to Bob of Low Key Watersports.
USVI sample dive site map
WIT Shoal
30' - 75'

dive site rating