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The Spiegel Grove: A crown jewel of the Florida Keys Wreck Trek

In Key Largo, experienced divers gravitate toward this former Navy landing ship that’s absolutely emblazoned with life.
By Scuba Diving Partner | Created On December 29, 2022
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The Spiegel Grove: A crown jewel of the Florida Keys Wreck Trek

Pink coral on a wreck underwater

The Spiegel Grove shipwreck is home to thousands of different fish and sea creatures.

David Benz

Stretching the length of nearly two football fields in the crystal-blue waters of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary off Key Largo, the wreck of the Spiegel Grove is a daunting and exhilarating underwater sight. And for rust-lovers looking to tick off the nine crown-jewel wrecks that make up the Florida Keys Wreck Trek on a road trip through the Florida Keys, this epic hunk of metal is always a runaway highlight.

As you giant-stride into the water from the dive boat and begin descending toward the 510-foot-long Spiegel Grove, the hulking structure comes into view like something with a million stories to whisper and endless coral-covered nooks and crannies to explore.

Tropical reef fish flit in the water column like colorful tossed confetti, converging on the starboard cranes to aft, and within the wheelhouse and all over the bow gun turrets. Around the wreck, larger pelagic species make regular passes.

One of the largest wrecks to be reborn as an artificial reef, this former Navy landing ship last saw active duty in 1974. In 2002, it was scuttled roughly 6 miles offshore from Key Largo, where it proceeded to sink prematurely and eventually ended up on its side upon the seabed. In 2005, Hurricane Dennis’ punishing swells coaxed the Spiegel Grove into its current ideal upright position on the sand, where it beckons divers of different experience levels to drop in and explore one of the best wreck dives that exists.

Most mooring lines are set on the wreck at about 70 feet, with the ship’s bow accessible in roughly 95 feet of water and the stern slightly shallower in 80 feet of water. While the bulk of the best diving on the Spiegel Grove takes place between depths of 70 and 90 feet, an advanced open-water certification is recommended to dive all the sights here to their fullest. You’ll want time to explore all the various sections of the ship, each offering their own highlights. It goes without saying that for experienced divers, one dive on the Spiegel Grove is hardly enough to get the full feel for all this wreck serves up.

“The Spiegel Grove is such a large wreck that you can dive it over multiple days and multiple dives and still find things you haven’t seen,” says Dan Dawson of Horizon Divers, a Key Largo dive shop that double-dips the wreck on a regular basis year-round. Dawson, who has logged more than 1,200 dives on the Spiegel Grove, says he still finds things that are “just as interesting as on day one” each time he heads down.

Diver with a flashlight looking at coral

A diver explores the Spiegel Grove wreck

David Benz

The wreck’s superstructure has been prepared with divers in mind, with a series of swim-throughs to tempt you inside for a look throughout the ship’s length. “About every 30 feet, there’s a cutout into the wreck so you can peek your head in and do a short swim-through down a hallway where you’re not going to find yourself in a complete dark-out zone,” Dawson says. The wreck’s crane arms—completely encrusted in pink, green and purple sponges and corals, and frantic with tropical fish—are a favorite subject for underwater photographers, who light up the scene and make the colors pop with their strobes. Blacktip and reef sharks make common appearances, too.

“For the very experienced tech diver, you can go underneath the Spiegel Grove, by the props at 135 feet, and swim under the wreck a bit,” Dawson says. “The propellers are pretty well buried, but you can see the rudders.”

Bottoming out at around 130 feet on a sandy bottom, the Spiegel Grove attracts experienced divers for the variety of marine life that can be seen.

“The ship attracts a variety of large fish, including barracudas, jacks, spadefish and sharks,” says Jeff Gneiser of Amoray Dive Resort, another favorite Key Largo dive resort shop that makes frequent forays to the Spiegel Grove. Goliath grouper, queen angelfish and nurse sharks are among the other common denizens that gravitate to the site.

The fact that you can either stick to recreational limits on the Spiegel Grove or proceed into more technical training territory for advanced diving gives the wreck endless appeal for divers with varied experience levels, says Jessica Nieusma of Amoray Dive Center.

And whether you’re diving with an underwater camera setup or not, she says to keep an eye out for iconic sights on the Spiegel Grove, such as the ship’s waving American flag that billows in the current and the iconic Snoopy mascot made from ceramic tile.

“Snoopy is a fan favorite that most divers attempt to go find on the floor of the wreck,” Nieusma says. “The Spiegel Grove has something for every diver.”

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