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Divers explore sunken ships off San Diego coast

SAN DIEGO – Just off the coast of San Diego sit a handful of actual sunken ships, all accessible to the general public if they have a basic dive certification.

The area is called “Wreck Alley.” There are four wrecks off the coast of Mission Bay and two just a few miles off Coronado, but those dives require an advanced certification.

The HMCS Yukon is the most popular sunken ship. It is 366′ long and completely still intact, making one of the world’s most sought-after dives. The ship was commissioned by the Canadian Navy and launched in 1961. She was purposely sunk in 2000 for reef diving.

Waterhorse Charters is one of the dive boats that run trips to Wreck Alley. Co-captain Anita Damato said she and other dive enthusiasts would like to get more wrecks in the area.

“When you go into the water, all the chaos and everything happening in your life stops. When you drop below the surface, that’s all gone and you have no choice but to focus on the one thing you are doing right now.”

To dive Wreck Alley you need at least one other person, preferably someone who is familiar with the area and is a master diver.

Local dive shops like Ocean Enterprises in Kearny Mesa have several qualified divers and often run trips with Waterhorse Charters out to the area.

“It’s exciting and thrilling when you get to penetrate the wreck and swim through it. We have a lot of marine life that swims along including sea lions, mola mola, rays and sometimes even the odd shark. It’s pretty cool,” said Rick Last, an Ocean Enterprises dive master and instructor.

There is a lot of history sitting in the Pacific Ocean too. The other popular dive in Wreck Alley is the Ruby-E.

She was designed during prohibition to help stop “rum runners” or alcohol running. The ship however wasn’t built until prohibition ended, so she ended up working off the coast of Alaska until being decommissioned in 1950.

“In a case of irony, she ended up running alcohol and drugs years later,” said Last. Law enforcement said the vessel was impounded for smuggling in South America.

Last said when the Guard tried to sink the Ruby-E in 1989 in San Diego, the initial blasts didn’t do the trick. It was later realized secret drug compartment were keeping the boat afloat.

The Coast Guard cutter is much smaller than the Yukon and in colder water, but still accessible to the open water certified diver. Both ships are in about 80 feet of water.

Reid Moehn is also a dive master with Ocean Enterprises.

“I would say overall, I don’t think many people realize, unless they really love the water, what great diving we have here in San Diego,” he said. “As soon as you get over the water temperature change, there’s nothing better. The best day for me is being out on the ocean and diving.”

Getting a basic dive certification requires a couple classroom learning sessions, two days in the pool and two days in the ocean practicing the dives, according to Ocean Enterprises.

“A lot of the best diving in California, and the country, is here and we’re fortunate that the Yukon is one of the hidden gems,” said Moehn.

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