Coastal Alabama gained its newest shipwreck this month, which the sinking of the Capt. Shirley Brown Memorial Reef.
Originally named the H.H. Hardin -- but commonly known as the Tenneco -- the Capt. Shirley Brown is a 128-foot long Ferro-cement vessel built in St. Marks, Florida, in the 1940s for the Tennessee Gas & Transmission Company (later “Tenneco”).
Capt. Brown purchased the vessel from Tenneco in the 1980s and towed it to Brown’s Marina (now known as Pelican’s Perch Marina) in Pensacola, Florida, where he hosted numerous birthday parties, community breakfasts, and industry trade forums on board the vessel in its large salon area on the main deck.
Upon the passing of Capt. Brown, his family sought a suitable home for his beloved vessel and eventually reached an agreement to donate it to the Alabama Gulf Coast Reef & Restoration Foundation for deployment as an artificial reef – especially fitting as Capt. Brown was instrumental in the development of the artificial reef program in Northwest Florida. Renamed in Capt. Brown’s honor, the Capt. Shirley Brown Memorial Reef will provide many years of enjoyment by both SCUBA divers and anglers, in addition to the numerous species of marine life who will call the vessel their home.
Most of the vessel’s structure, including the salon and staterooms on the top deck, had to be removed to meet the requirements for deployment as an artificial reef and the vessel was stripped to its bare bones. Due to its age and the uncertainty of the vessel’s seaworthiness, calm seas were needed to ease the Capt. Shirley Brown from her home in Pensacola to the permitted site in the Don Kelley North reef zone off the coast of Alabama.
Once the vessel arrived on site, water was pumped into the vessel on the stern end to cause her to sink stern first. As the vessel became lower in the water, the Gulf waters eventually began pouring in and hastened the journey to the bottom, with the bow being the last to slip beneath the surface. Upon reaching the bottom, the vessel broke about 20 feet from the stern and the stern section collapsed. Other parts of the ship broke under the stress of the sinking as well, all of which add character to the wreck.
My first dive on the Capt. Shirley Brown Memorial Reef took place a few days later, and the wreck was visible as soon as I slipped beneath the surface. Several fish were already inspecting their new home, including a nice red snapper which followed me around, and I look forward to watching her develop over the next several months.
The Capt. Shirley Brown Memorial Reef may be found at 30*03.192N, 87*34.049W, approximately 13 nautical miles south of Perdido Pass. The wreck sits in at a depth of 85 feet and the top deck is approximately 75 feet from the surface. The second vessel deployed by the Alabama Gulf Coast Reef & Restoration Foundation, the Capt. Shirley Brown joins the LuLu and Poseidon’s Playground and the foundation plans additional reef deployments in the future.