Scuba Diving Photos
Alabama's First Artificial Reef Ready for Divers
LuLu becomes Alabama's first artificial reef sunk purposely for recreational diving.
The helicopter containing the film crew kept circling: David Walter and his Reefmaker team just pulled out the last sheets of plywood — the only dams keeping the sea out of LuLu, the 271-foot freighter about to become a reef 17 miles off the coast of Gulf Shores, Alabama. Most of the team got off the sinking vessel to safety on the nearby tugboat, but one remained on board. He was new and wanted to snap a few more photos before the sea claimed the ship.
LuLu started with a Facebook post announcing that the then-called Yokamu — the largest vessel traveling that stretch of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway — would soon be towed to Gulf Shores. Local residents showed up in record numbers to cheer.
What they didn’t realize was this support spoke to local legislation. The city had been a top destination for fishing thanks to a successful artificial-reef program. However, with Yokamu, the Alabama Gulf Coast Chamber of Commerce saw an opportunity to strengthen a new industry: recreational diving. A chamber member approached Walter, owner of the ship, asking what it would take to sink Yokamu in their waters.
Walter — owner of Reefmaker, a company that creates artificial underwater habitats — bought the ship in Miami and planned to down it in Florida, Texas or Mississippi.
“It took on a life of its own,” says Walter of the six-month process by which the state, cities of Orange Beach and Gulf Shores, Baldwin County Commissioners and private investor Mac McAleer — who owns Homeport Marina — donated the necessary funds.
Renamed LuLu as requested by McAleer, the ship became Alabama’s first artificial reef sunk purposely for diving on May 26. The sinking was nearly perfect — happening faster than anticipated. Walter predicted the sea would swallow the ship in 20 to 60 minutes; it took only 16. Luckily, the newbie on the Reefmaker team got photos and a chance to hop to safety before LuLu went down.
“It was flawless,” says Walter of the sinking. Because the community was an integral part of the process, Walter wanted to ensure it had front-row seats to the action, so he made the ship’s coordinates public.
McAleer chartered the helicopter to film the flotilla party. The businessman intends to show footage of the sinking in his restaurant, LuLu’s.
The LuLu videos are designed to entertain but could be the impetus that sparks the next wreck project. After all, Walter sunk Lulu using considerably less money than was raised for the project.
Says Walter: “I have another ship and tug on the way here. They’re both for sale.”
Editor's note: Scuba Diving will publish a "Drive & Dive" article on the diving off Gulf Shores, Alabama, in 2014, and will present a first-hand account of diving on the LuLu.