USS Oriskany becomes the Largest Intentional Manmade Reef!

55 gallons of gas = $165.00

Drinks and food for 3 = $25.00

1 Wrench accidently dropped overboard = $5.00

Watching an aircraft carrier sink = Priceless!

Please enjoy our story and when you’re done, check out our Oriskany Videos, and see the full set of pictures at


A Great Way to Spend a Wednesday Morning

It’s a rare day indeed you can run your own boat offshore to watch an aircraft carrier sink. For me, it was the farthest I’d been offshore by about 32 of the 37 mile distance out of Destin Pass. We took the kids to see the Oriskany in Pennsacola last year and thought it’d be quite a treat to see it sunk. At the time, our 20′ boat was up to the task. Since then, we upgraded to our 27′ Regal which was more than adequate for the trip.

Getting there is 1/2 the Fun

Finding coordinates for the sinking site was pretty easy. Of course, all the news organizations parrotted the Navy press release and stated the coordinates in Degree – Minutes – Seconds, so out came my trusty conversion tools to put things into the more intuitive Decimal Degree format for my GPS (30.04398, -87.0069 if you’re wondering). Also typical, none of the media seem to have loaded the coordinates into a mapping program, such as Google Earth or they would have reported the sinking site 28 miles (statute) from Pensacola Pass, not the 22-24 miles they invariably quoted direct from government press releases (which were reported in nautical miles). They would have also noted that the reef site was southeast of Pensacola Pass not south.
Since we hail out of Fort Walton Beach, our journey involved a 5 mile run to Destin Pass followed by a 37 mile run southwest to the sinking site. Our best intel, from a friend of a friend, was that the Oriskany’s explosive charges would be lit at 10:00 AM so we planned accordingly. We pushed off at 7:20 for an uneventful, if sporty cruise to the site. Sea conditions were choppy, but with little in the way of waves we were able to maintain 25-30mph without getting pounded too bad. We passed a number of larger cruisers on the way and got passed ourselves by a cigarette boat.

The Great Fleet

We probably set some type of record for most pleasure craft at least 30 miles offshore in one location. Based on bearing of approach and departure, I’d estimate that Pensacola boats outnumbered Ft Walton boats at least 6 to 1 and there were likely 150 – 200 boats on hand. Sizes ranged from 100′ class mega yachts to 22′ center consoles and small sailboats. The Coast Guard, Florida, and Alabama marine vessels were out in force. Sea Tow and TowBoat US had plenty of boats out also and were getting calls throughout the morning. We also heard calls from the ‘Resolve’ which hosted the History Channel film crew.

Top cover was provied by the Coast Guard Sabreliner regularly seen along the FL Panhandle and a Navy helicopter. Based on watching all the newsreal video and press release pictures today – most of these appear to have been taken from the Navy helo.


The Main Event

Yet another humorous aspect of nautical miles vs. satutue miles occurred all morning with the ’1 mile safety zone’ promulgated primarily via the media (I’m sure its also in a Notice to Mariners but when’s the last time anyone you know actually saw/read one). As can be expected, most of the pleasure craft assumed that a ’1 mile safety zone’ was a 1 statue mile zone, while in fact it was a 1nm zone – 6000ft vs. 5280ft. Credit goes to the CG for being polite to a fault this morning as they continuously had to nudge boats back a few hundreds yards to clear the safety zone.

The 10 minute warning for explosives was given ~10:15. A suggestion to the CG if you’re reading – in the future give more than a 10 minute and 10 second warning! I think everyone involved would have prefered say a 10, 5, 2, and 1 minute warning to get cameras ready. As it was, the lack of intermediate radio broadcasts led to unnecesary radio chatter as people asked how much longer until the bang.

We were in a good position for the blast and captured it pretty well with our digital camera. The video didn’t fair so well in the rolling seas. You can see the explosion sequence at where we’ve posted our full set of Oriskany pictures. The main dust cleared in a few minutes and was followed by a secondary dust cloud from the island. This led to some on-air radio banter about fire suppression. The secondary dust cload is pictured below.

The Sinking Process

We were told to expect a 2 – 7 hour ‘gradual’ sinking – and I’m sure an adequate beverage supply was on hand by all for such an eventuality. For the first 30 minutes this seemed reasonable as the only visible change to the Oriskany was a settling of the stern.

Sometime around the 25 minute mark things started to move a bit faster. As shown below, the Oriskany developed a significant port list which quickly put the flight deck awash.



Once it got ot the point above, she settled quickly by the stern. Unfortunately, about this time we got out of position and didn’t capture the impressive venting as the stern and island went under (think final Titanic sinking scene and you’ll be pretty close).

Things slowed down a touch once the island was under – probably because the stern had hit bottom and the bow anchors forced the ship to somewhat maintain position. As you can see below, we still got quite a show with venting dust and seawater.

The small boat (relatively speaking) atop the Oriskany housed the control circuitry and no-doubt encrypted communications gear to remotely detonate the 22 charges used to sink the Oriskany. It floated free by design and picked up later.

36 minutes after charges where fired, the bow of the Oriskany slipped beneath the waves with a final vent of water. About this time an open radio call was made to effect of ‘May God Bless all the brave souls who served aboard the Oriskany’ to which the crowd of onlookers replied with horns and ‘Amens’.

The area above the ship continued to bubble while the fleet of onlookers started for home. We lingered a bit and then set out for Destin Pass ourselves. We were supprised how few were headed in our direction vs Pensacola.


Rumors are still flying at this point on whether the Oriskany ‘landed on her feet’ so to speak. The dive charters are especially concerned. Word should be out tomorrow once Navy divers inspect the wreck and clear any unexploded charges. That’s got to be quite a job!

We hope you’ve enjoyed our narritive! Credits go to Brad, Austin, and Virgil for sharing in the photo, video, and ship management tasks today to make this possible. Photographs are copyright McIntosh Studio.

You can enjoy many of these Oriskany photos all year with our oversize wall calendar!

Feel free to post your own comments or questions!

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17 thoughts on “USS Oriskany becomes the Largest Intentional Manmade Reef!

  1. Wow! Very nice coverage of the big O. Thanks Virgil, Brad and Austin for the first hand blow. Should have know anyone that is both pyro and boat fanatic would be there. When are we going diving? Everyone is excited about her landing right side up and they say its a matter of hours before the fish take hold. I ordered an underwater dive bag/case for my Nikon D-50 :)


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  3. DestinSharks indeed! Thanks for the great photos and commentary. It’s like we were there. Ordinary and matter-of-fact, but all the more amazing for that. I’m sure the Oriskany will make a fine home for fish and their friends, the sharks. Must be a strange thought for the brave men who served on board CV-34 during her years afloat.

  4. Goodby old friend. Sleep well my friend you can never be recalled to battle. You served this nation for many years. Now you serve the Earth. Job well done girl.

  5. I spent age 17-21 aboard the USS Oriskany (CVA 34) when I volunteered for the Navy a month after I rolled 17. Before my Minnesota High School class graduated I was strolling Hong Kong, Hawaii and Japan.

    V-4 Division was aviation fuels, and I spent most of my time on the flight deck pumping fuel into A-4 Skyhawks, F-3 Demons, F-8 Crusaders, A-3 Skywarriors [Navy nuke bomber] and the great A-1 Skyraiders along with a Helo or two. The Oriskany was the first attack aircraft carrier in Vietnam, we were steaming to Australia then a change of orders sent us to the Gulf of Tonkin. President JFK visited us and I stood about 12 feet from him in dress uniform on the flightdeck when he boarded. We were in Yokosuka, Japan when it was announced he was assassinated.

    I have been following “The Mighty O” on-line since 2003, and was saddened that she did not rate Museum Class like the USS Midway at San Diego. The Oriskany was first constructed in the early 1940′s for WW-2 but the first to wear that name ended up the USS Wasp. CVA 34 Oriskany hull was laid in 1944 then set on the back burner when the war ended, only to be finished for Korea. It was later converted to angle deck modernization in the fifties.

    I was aboard October 26, 1966 when the major Magnesium Flare fire killed about 40 mostly officers and fighter pilots. Over the years I constructed many scale models of those great jet fighters under a magnifier. I rode a Hobie Skateboard on her flat decks and shipmates used to line up for a chance to ride it at sea as the Oriskany rocked us to sleep port to starboard. I rode out my first hurricane between Hawaii-Japan and had to go outside on the ‘island structure’ to witness it, I can still taste the salt-water!

    Vietnam was the toughest part as the Oriskany was short on air-conditioning systems for enlisted men. She launched the very first jet ‘sortie’ in what would become ‘the war of a million sorties’, and the Oriskany set records that toppled bigger aircraft carriers by numbers.

    I felt a unique experience when she hit bottom the Oriskany became property of the state of Florida, where I live! I must admit the series of Navy Photos on May 17 of her sinking made her look smaller than I remember her to be, somehow she was helpless but cooperative, in empathy with the sea. A burial at sea is appropriate for a fine warship, where she will rest in grand company.

    Being on her in my teen years made her part of my consciousness for life, and a part I will always remember with great respect, and never regret! She was a fine ship and a true sea classic! Looking back my time aboard her was timeless, that ‘short-timers calender’ meant far less after we parted company as I grew to miss her.

    It is believed it will take over 200 years for her to return to the earth, may she rust in peace! Thank you for sharing.

  6. good job guys.. after serving the nation where she belongs, she continues now doing her duty.. serving the marine life.. Oriskany you will serve as the kingdom of marine animals.. save the earth. If by chance im gonna dive there to see u! may the rust in peace!

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  9. Ken Beamis:

    Did you know Ronald Woods? My dad, Ron Woods spent many years on the Oriskany and we still have some of his pics from those days.

    I am currently looking for artwork to add to my current small collection, but I want the Oriskany, CV-34 on my wall. I damn neared cried when I came across the show on tv that documented the demo and ‘reefing’ of this ship. My brother and I watchd the show while talking to each other on the phone for about 1/4 of the show.

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  11. I saw the streaming video of the sinking of the proud ship USS Oriskany. It was a sad thing to watch. It was as though she had been stripped of her dignity, her pride of service. The following is a toast I wrote to honor the once proud USS Oriskany:

    A Toast to the Grey Lady Oriskany

    To the Grey Lady Oriskany, 888′ of steel and a half century and more of sacrifice, you have served your country well and with pride, courage and honor. You have given your all and then some to keeping America safe and free. As you were called to the purpose of protecting the safe haven that is America, you have now been called to an even higher purpose, to provide a safe haven for God’s creatures. And as any diver who has done it can attest with pride and satisfaction, “I dived the Oriskany.” With a tear in my eye and a glass in my hand, I salute you Grey Lady Oriskany. You were a proud ship. You were a fast ship. You were a good ship. May you serve the Maker as proudly and honorably as you served your country and may you rest in peace.

    (A tribute to the aircraft carrier USS Oriskany – CV 34, recently sunk in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Pensacola, FL.)

    /s/ DeEtta L. Agan-Leaton
    November 24, 2006

  12. Giuness Book of World Records used to claim the largest man made reef was made when about thirty thousand military Jeeps were dumped into the Indian Ocean after WW2 to save shipping expenses.

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  15. I was one of the fortunate who watched the sinking on a boat filled with vets sharing stories of their service time on the Oriskany. It was an event of a lifetime, and an honor to have shared it with such great men.


  16. I was 19 years old and straight out of boot camp at Quonset Point, RI when I went aboard the Oriskany. Even though several sailors took her from the Brooklyn Navy Yard, I always considered myself original crew. There were two shakedown cruises to Quantanamo Bay, a cruise in the Mediterranean and a stay again in the Brooklyn Navy Yard preparatory to joining the Seventh Fleet. There were many firsts for her; one of them was the first aircraft carrier to round Cape Horn. The Navy in its infinite wisdom had us round the Horn June 29, 1952, our summer and their winter. A storm bent the bow plates and gun tubs, our destroyer escorts had to turn back and go through the Panama Canal, but the old girl made it through. She became the Flagship in the Pacific and made many successful airstrikes. She was so fast she escaped being chased by 100 MIGS. The Oriskany was a gallant ship run by gallant men. Maybe that’s why we can’t forget her. Rest well sweet girl!!


    R. L. ESTES
    RHONE NO 662 871 3517

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