On Sunday Aug 17, 2014, I ventured back out to visit the USS Mohawk aboard El Gavilan, a nice six-pack dive dive boat run by Hawk Charters of Fantasea Scuba. It had been nearly a year since my last dive on the Mohawk, so I was more than eager to document how the site had changed since my last visit and the Mohawk’s reefing in July of 2012.
Meeting at El Gavilan’s dock in Placida at 7am, we loaded tanks and gear and were on our way out of Charlotte Harbor for the 33 mile trip out. Seas were just a little choppy with a SW wind at the start, but no issue for this well-built boat. Making use of the radar, Capt Jim navigated us around some isolated pop-up thunderstorms on the way out. By the time we reached our destination on Lee County’s Charlies Reef site,we were clear of any storms with sun and nearly flat seas.
Arriving as the first boat on the Mohawk’s reef site, we had our choice of the two moorings. We took the bow mooring which is the east one. Divers were thoroughly briefed by Capt Jim. The open water divers would be doing two dives on nitrox with an hour surface interval. I would be doing a single long dive on my closed circuit rebreather.
We all entered the water giant-stride style off El Gavilan’s handy aft dive platform. The visibility was decent at about 40-50 feet. I descended on the bow mooring line down where it meets the end of one of Mohawk’s bow anchor chains resting in the sand at 87 feet. From that point, I just followed the chain about 50 feet over the sand to where it meets the starboard bow of the Mohawk. Simple if you do it that way.
“WOW!” was my first reaction as I approached the Mohawk’s towering bow from a low angle. The marine life had continued to compound on and around the Mohawk. Massive swarming schools of bait fish and grunts are everywhere. More & larger Goliath grouper have moved onto the wreck. Even the sand near the bow hosted a large crowd of yellowhead jawfish. The surface of the Mohawk is becoming heavily encrusted with sponges, soft corals, hydroids, light bulb anemones, and crustaceans.
I worked my way aft outside the starboard hull just above the sand, passing the Mohawk’s lifeboat which rests in the sand mid-ship. It too hosts a large amount of life. Don’t miss it when you visit.
At the stern, I was amazed at the size of the growth of life on the aft anchor chain. There is now about a 2ft diameter of growth on this chain after two years.
The most remarkable part of my dive was when I moved up starboard deck towards the bow. About a dozen goliath grouper were aggregating there above the deck. This image shows nine of them in one frame. This is the most Goliath grouper I have ever seen on the Mohawk. This is of special significance to me personally as I shot the first images of a Goliath grouper on the bow of the Mohawk 12 days after it sunk in July of 2012.
Goliath grouper spawning season is just starting to approach the peak in Florida waters from late August through September. Witnessing these growing numbers in mid August, I’m hopeful Mohawk can eventually become a favorite aggregation site for Goliath spawning.
The Goliath can get annoyed if you get too close and will often take refuge inside the wreck’s superstructure and below deck in the engine room. Keep that in mind if you decide to penetrate the wreck. You may turn a corner and come face to face with one. If they get overly annoyed, they may drum their gills to make a loud deep booming sound to scare you off.
Next, I dropped down through blowouts in the wooden deck and paid a visit to the engine room. It’s hard to pass up the photo ops presented there. Most reefed vessels don’t have engines in them that can be easily photographed like this.
Getting back on the main deck, I leisurely worked my way back and forth between mid-ship and bow mostly on the starboard side. I prefer the starboard side for photography as it faces south and gets the best sunlight angle.
I ended my single Mohawk dive with 147 minutes of bottom time. I certainly could have gone longer in the 86F degree water, but the open circuit divers were already waiting back on El Gavilan after completing their second dive. It would have been a long swim back to Placida. I thank them for their kind patience while I finished my 18 minutes of deco.
A word of caution: The Mohawk’s aft deck has become loaded with stinging hydroids that rise as high as one foot up off the deck. While kneeling on the deck shooting jellyfish with my camera, I noticed some burning on my ankles. I found just a one inch gap between the leg ends of my dive skin and top of my fin sock was exposing the skin on my ankles. I was brushing over these hydroids and getting mildly stung on this small area of exposed skin. Didn’t seem like a big deal, but 3 days later I had developed an itching rash at the point of contact that resembled that of poison oak. Take my advice and be sure you are *fully* covered when you visit the Mohawk. Then, you may not experience this the week following your dive: