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Sink it and They Will Come

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Sink It and The Will Come

Sinking ships for divers has long brought money to the city of Pompano Beach. Creating the most accessible, warm-water, year-round  world-class scuba diving park with major underwater art installations . . .  could bring in much more.
 
          “Sink it, and they will come.” Hours of conversation with Tommy DiGiorgio, Jr., chairman of Pompano Beach’s Economic Development Council and Jeff Torode, President of South Florida Diving Headquarters will lead you to this humorous but succinct conclusion.
Ships have been deliberately sunk in local waters as scuba diving attractions for decades, but the creation of “Shipwreck Park” with a world-class vessel and art installation at its center is a new vision for this economic development and environmentally
conscious process.
“The Lady Luck will become the centerpiece of Shipwreck Park Pompano Beach, which already boasts great wrecks like the Captain Dan and the Rodeo 25,” said Torode describing the addition of a 300-foot tanker, rechristened as Lady Luck after spending her life in New York City as the Newtown Creek.
But this workhorse of a ship, with her stately lines and massive heft, will house an underwater art gallery of whimsy, and perhaps a bit of awe.  “With an underwater casino on the deck, rotating art exhibits on the bridge and her shear size, Lady Luck will become a premiere wreck dive attracting divers from all over the world.”
“We’re close to fully-funding the Lady Luck project, but the Shipwreck Park organization will continue to secure and fund new ships to add to the park over time,” said DiGiorgio speaking of the ongoing nature of the organization.
“The Shipwreck Park team will continue to add artificial structures to the park to create marine habitat and take pressure off natural reefs,” boasts Torode about the environmentally-friendly nature of these wrecks. Underwater structures become marine habitats that add more fish to the local reef ecosystem. As more South Florida fisherman seek dinner from the ocean, adding additional structures is important, if not necessary.
Artist Dennis MacDonald was commissioned to create a whimsical, underwater casino, complete with a mermaid serving drinks, an octopus dealing cards (of course!) and a few card sharks to keep you on your toes. MacDonald is well-known for creating the Rapa Nui sculptures that were sunk last year near the Deerfield Beach pier.
The ship, once called Newtown Creek, is a decommissioned New York tanker built in 1967 by Wiley Manufacturing Company. Until recently, the ship was used to move sludge from plants in New York to plants with dewatering facilities in to convert the sludge into fertilizer pellets. Due to the population growth of New York City and the difficulty of finding parts for the vessel, Newtown Creek was decommissioned and put up for auction in 2014. That’s when The City of Pompano Beach and Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park teamed up to help purchase the craft for Shipwreck Park Inc., a non-profit organization in Pompano Beach that caters to divers.
The idea came about three years ago during a meeting with the members of the Economic Development Council’s tourism subcommittee. Jeff Torode, a board member on the council, suggested investing in a craft to sink. Shipwreck Park, Inc. also looked at other options: some were very grandiose, but would have cost millions, while others were far less interesting, but much cheaper. The decision to acquire the Newton Creek and convert it into Lady Luck seems to be a perfect balance between expense and attraction. The newly christened Lady Luck has already been towed about 930 miles south to its new home in
Pompano Beach.
The idea behind the park is to allow divers to visit multiple wrecks in just one day by boat. However, the city hopes to eventually sink enough wrecks to allow divers to swim from wreck to wreck. It is a unique experience that can’t be found off every coast and Lady Luck will be at the center of it all. In a way, turning Newtown Creek into Lady Luck is poetic justice for a ship like her. After a life of moving unmentionables around the waterways of New York, she finally gets to rest as a piece of art, forever admired by both people and nature alike.
Lady Luck is getting a $624,000 makeover provided by the project’s two leading sponsors, The City of Pompano Beach and The Isle Casino Racing Pompano Park. The city will strip the ship of dangerous equipment, clean her of pollutants and drain her of oil and fuel. The Lady Luck project still requires about $75,000 to cover all associated costs. While the vessel has already been towed from New York City to a salvage yard, it still needs a final haul to its resting place. The Shipwreck Park team has contracted experts to ensure the Lady Luck and it’s final cargo of new art projects, goes down properly. “The ship will be three-quarters full of water when we tow it out,” according to DiGiorgio who expounded at length about the steps taken to ensure the ship’s keel will rest on the sand at the bottom of the ocean, not the newly-created artwork at the top of the ship.
The ship has 18 staterooms, a captains deck, an engine room and several holding tanks that divers are expected to explore. The ship is 2,557 tons, a little longer than a football field at around 324 ft., 50 feet wide and just shy of 75 feet from top to bottom which provides divers with a multitude of experiences all on one reef.
Underwater art exhibits are not necessarily a new idea. The world’s first underwater art gallery was put on display near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia in 2014. For that exhibition, art by BJ Price was printed on aluminum, which allowed it to survive underwater. In Key West, the world’s second-largest artificial reef, the 523-foot Gen. Hoyt S. Vandenberg, is currently home to the famous exhibition, The Sinking World of Andreas Franke, an underwater, traveling art gallery.
Not only will Lady Luck be a permanent underwater art exhibit, but the featured art will change every five weeks or so. This will also encourage divers to  revisit the reef. That means there will be plenty of opportunities to take pictures with the boat and the art, giving a new definition to the word “selfie.”
Nowadays, artificial wrecks create opportunities above the surface as well by boosting jobs and dive charters. According to DiGiorgio, for every 85 new tourists, one new full-time job is created.
“The ship promotes growth. It attracts fish and that, in turn, attracts people,”  said Jim Mathie, the author of two books on scuba diving.
Lady Luck has been gaining attention from local, national and international media. Scuba Nation, the first television show about recreational adventure diving, plans to broadcast a live video stream as Lady Luck sinks.
“It’s like I have a second job just talking to the media,” said DiGiorgio about his many recent conversations with media from as far away as Alberta, Canada.
Weather-permitting, the Lady Luck will go down on July 23. Safety personnel will immediately review the wreck and issue an all-clear signal to alert divers that it’s safe to dive the new spectacle. “Divers will be on the wreck in just a few hours after it goes down,” predicted DiGiorgio.
From its humble beginnings as a “Honey Tanker” in New York, to its larger-than-life resting place in Pompano Beach, Lady Luck will be a welcomed addition to Shipwreck Park and  exciting new spectacle for the diving community in Florida.
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