Miami Wreck Exploration Project

Technical diving in Miami since 1990

Pioneer One (215ft) finally identified

Posted by Joel Svendsen on August 9, 2018 at 5:55 PM

Last month one of the longest standing mysteries regarding the World War II landing ships sunk off of Miami was solved.

Between 1981 and 1985, a large number of derelict ships, mostly from the Miami River, were sized by Miami Dade County and sunk as artificial reefs, many of them below 130FT.

Those that were sunk below 130ft were quickly forgotten about—they were meant as fishing reefs and as they were too deep to scuba dive on, there was little interest in their history.

Ten years later, the technical diving revolution began, and these wrecks started to become accessible to divers. The Miami Wreck exploration project was born, and visited many of them, starting with those just below 130ft, such as the Lakeland (135ft), and ending with the Star Trek (210ft), all of which proved straightforward to dive.

The next deepest wreck was the Pioneer one (215ft official depth). And that is where things went wrong. The Pioneer One proved almost impossible to dive on with early 90’s technology. She sits in a spot where the current is nearly always strong; it’s rare to see less than 2 knots of current at the wreck location

Many times, we headed out to wreck site, anchored the boat, and decided there was no way we could reach the wreck in the current. Once we thought the current looked a bit less, but we barely made it ten feet down the anchor line before the current proved too strong to fight.

Finally, one day, the current was clearly a bit less than normal, and I, along with Ron DeMarco, made it down to the wreck. It took us a full 13 minutes to reach her, and we were breathing hard and close to minimum gas when we got there. We looked around for two minutes right where we anchored in. The wreck was almost completely upside down, and her props and rudders looked a lot like those of the Lakeland and the Star Trek. At that point we were at minimum gas and returned to the boat. We were intrigued to know if the Pioneer One really was a sister ship of the Lakeland and Star Trek, but we felt this dive was beyond our abilities, and we focused our attention on the wrecks shallower than the Pioneer One for the next 20 years.

Fast forward to 2012 and diving technology had moved on. DPV’s, or scooters, allowed divers to travel at about two knots—enough to hold their own against the current. We decided to return, eager to identify the Pionner One.

Our first attempt was a free descent--we dropped up current of the wreck and hoped to find her on the bottom. That attempt ended in failure—there is a combination of tide and gulf stream current at this location, so it is hard to judge where to drop the divers up current and we didn’t get it right.

We decided to return and drop an anchor attached to a large float ball on the site. The first couple times we tried the current was too strong, and the float ball was pulled almost completely under water or the anchor pulled off the wreck. On the third day we tried, the current was less and the divers were finally able to make a successful dive on the site.

We were so excited, until we discovered that the video failed just seconds after reaching the wreck. Her identity remained a mystery. 

Six years later, in 2018, we decided to make another attempt. Not wanting to make several trips to the dive site in the hopes of getting acceptable current, we decided to go for a free descent.

The first attempt ended once again in failure—the divers hit the debris field near the wreck, but never managed to reach the wreck itself. What a cursed wreck site this is!

Thankfully, the following weekend a successful attempt was made. The current on the surface was the usual 2 knots or so, but below a thermocline at around 130ft the current was minimal and the divers (Rick Thomas and Jim Veach) were able to locate and finally take a comprehensive video of the wreck.

The video proves conclusively that the Pioneer One is a “Landing Ship Medium”, making her the sister ship of the Lakeland and Star Trek, both famous and interesting dive sites in Miami which are much, much, easier to dive on.

Mystery solved, it will probably be quite a few years before we try to dive this cursed wreck again :) 

- Joel Svendsen, Project Director

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