This weekend the first of a proposed four ships from Powell River’s famous breakwater at Catalyst Paper Corporation’s mill, known as the Hulks, will be sunk and become an artificial reef attracting wildlife and divers.
YOGN-82 will sink between 11 am and 12 noon on Saturday, June 23, with spectator viewing possible at Willingdon Beach. Those watching from the water will be kept 1,500 feet back from the vessel as the sinking will involve blasting holes into its concrete hull.
Although some in the community will miss the ship’s familiar sight, others see it as an opportunity to finally explore one of the Hulks.
“I know some people are sad to see them go,” said local dive shop owner Gary Lambeth. “But they’re not really going. Right now nobody can go on them or look at them except from a distance, but in a week if you want to go to her, I can take you there.”
YOGN-82 has had a few career changes in its 74-year life. Steel shortages during the second world war led the US military to order the construction of small fleets of oceangoing concrete ships and barges.
YOGN-82 was constructed in National City, California, in 1944. “YO” stands for yard oiler, “G” for gasoline and “N” for no power, as the barge did not have any engines. It was one of 10 wartime ships purchased by the Powell River Company to serve as the pulp and paper mill’s breakwater.
As mill production decreased, so did the need for so many Hulks.
The idea of creating a local artificial reef has been discussed in the community for decades. It finally became a reality when Catalyst began working with the Artificial Reef Society of BC (ARSBC) three years ago.
“In terms of looking for something that’s environmentally responsible and allows the legacy of the Hulks to endure, we thought this was the most appropriate action,” said Catalyst environmental manager Phil Lum. “We’re quite proud and happy that the Artificial Reef Society partnered with us and led the way for us to be able to make this happen.”
This will be the ninth reef project the reef society has been involved in provincially.
After performing a number of survey dives a barren spot of seafloor large enough to accommodate all four wrecks, and desert-like enough to meet government requirements, was found about halfway between Willingdon Beach and the mill.
“This will be the most unique and creative marine habitat project ever undertaken by our society,” stated ARSBC president Howie Robins in a media release. “This will be a dive back into maritime history for adventure divers worldwide.”
According to ARSBC, concrete is one of the best materials for artificial reefs as it quickly becomes an oasis and habitat for marine life.
“Unlike some of the steel boats they’ve sunk, these boats are going to get covered in no time and it’s going to be absolutely beautiful,” said Lambeth.
The ship will be submerged about 2,000 feet from Willingdon Beach breakwater at depths easily reached by novice divers.
“She’ll be sitting in water that's between about 80 and 100 feet at the bottom and she’s about 35 or 40 feet tall so new divers can get to her,” said Lambeth.
Divers will also be able to explore inside the ship.
“It’ll be a nice training boat for wreck-penetration diving because it’s quite simple and there are lots of entrances and exits,” he added.
The ultimate goal of sinking four ships will make the reef unique in the world.
“If that should happen, Powell River would be on the world dive map simply because there are only a couple places on earth that have clusters of boats like this,” said Lambeth. “It’s kind of more amazing than people realize. One boat is great but to have a cluster of four makes it spectacular.”
For now, however, Lambeth is excited people will finally be able to dive to YOGN-82.
“It’ll be fabulous for business and tourism, but for me personally I just can’t wait to dive on it,” he said. “It’s such a neat boat.”