Twin Capes Sinking A Sight For Sea Eyes

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By Shauna McVey

Girl Goes Local

I was one of the lucky few who got to witness the sinking of the Twin Capes, a decommissioned ferry that ran from Lewes, Del., to Cape May, N.J., as it became part of the Atlantic Ocean’s Del-Jersey-Land Reef June 15. The opportunity to watch such a rare occurrence was, for this photographer, absolutely incredible.

MV Twin Cpaes, delaware, new jersey, maryland, lewes, cape may, ocean city, deljerseyland reef, artificial reef
MV Twin Capes ready to sink at the Del-Jersey-Land reef

This vessel went to her final resting place about 120 feet below the surface to create a reef where marine life will flourish. The Delaware Department of Natural resources states “placement of durable, stable reef materials can result in a 400-fold increase in the amount of small sea life and fish. The materials provide refuge or shelter for small fish, and they are the prey that attracts larger fish.” 

The sinking combined several of my favorite things: photography, decaying man-made structures, the repurposing of old objects, sea life and boats. As the daughter of a U.S. Navy vet, boats are in my blood. I grew up boating by my grandparents’ cottage on the North East River in Maryland, and until recently I spent just about every weekend for a few years on the Sassafras. I only got out on the water once last summer, though, and I’ve been going through severe boat withdrawal. To regain my sea legs in the Atlantic and watch a ship go down? Priceless.

DSF’s Rich King told me last month the sinking would come soon and with little notice. Weather and water conditions played a big factor in when it would happen. I got word just three days prior. I still had to work Friday and the only two options I had to tag along would have interfered. But then I got word Thursday evening that Terry Jester, president of Memorial Fire Company of Slaughter Beach, gave the go ahead to Assistant Fire Chief Keith Bennett to take me out on their Marine 89 fire rescue boat. I couldn’t believe my luck.

artificial reef, mv twin capes, delaware, new jersey, maryland
MV Twin Capes rolls towards the media boat. photo by Shauna McVey

I am grateful I have a wealth of vacation time and a boss who understands sometimes a girl has to follow her heart with her camera in tow. With the words “Sounds cool! Have fun.” I was granted time off from my day job to head to sea.

Marine 89 had been out of water for winter maintenance and painting, and needed a sea trial before being placed back in service. In exchange for photos of the sinking, I was allowed to serve as first mate and ride along the 26 miles out to the reef. (Del-Jersey-Land Reef)

There were lighthouses. And dolphins. And teal water I didn’t know existed off our coast. I’d heard rumors, but spending three decades looking at the brownness off the banks of our rivers and coasts of our beaches, it was hard to believe water this far north could rival that off Islamorada, Fla., the most beautiful waters I’ve ever seen.

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It took 2.5 hours to get from Cedar Creek east of Milford to the reef site, and upon arrival I was surprised to see only a handful of boats. My guess is many couldn’t get the time off work or find a boat for the occasion. A few boats were full of fishermen with lines in the water, either unaware they were about to witness something so cool or killing two birds with one stone.

I felt safer than safe on a boat equipped for rescue, and got to listen to the chatter of those who coordinated the sink via radio. I sat in the sun on the stern of Marine 89, a camera body with telephoto lens glued to my face, as the stern of the Twin Capes began to slowly dip into the ocean. Then things escalated quickly.

MV Twin Capes sinking

Her stern started to disappear, then she rolled and went down with her deck facing my lens, a prime composition of her green floor against the blue waters. It was a handful of minutes before just her bow was left sticking out of the water, like a final farewell. The words “Twin Capes” stuck in the air as she took her last breaths above water.

Then she was gone. Nothing but a red tanker in the distance and the light teal of disturbed waters from her departure remained.

Our fellow boats took off right after she was out of sight. But I asked to stay a few more minutes. A five-hour round trip for five minutes of amazingness. It was one of those days and sights that made me thank the sun, repeatedly, for this downstate life I get to live. Now I just need to get certified as a diver and acquire underwater camera housing so I can visit and photograph the Twin Capes in reef form.

Feast on, fishies.

Girl Goes Local,

Shauna McVey

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