Sinking of the MV Twin Capes — a memorable experience

Submitted video/Rich King


Friday June 15th was the end of the final journey of the MV Twin Capes.

We met the Delaware Bay Launch boats at Slaughter Beach around 5 that morning. We loaded onto one of the launches with the crew of the Coleen Marine company, headed by Tim Mullane. My buddy Dallas Nagle came along for the ride so he could dive the MV Twin Capes when she was finally down to recover some equipment we were adding. So we loaded up our gear and the crew’s gear and headed to the Del-Jersey-Land Reef site. That is located 26 nautical miles from Cape May, Lewes, and Ocean City. Hence the name, Del-Jersey-Land Reef that is shared by all three states.

The MV Twin Capes gradually sinks to its final resting place. Submitted photos/Rich King

The ride out was smooth and highly entertaining. The Coleen Marine crew is a tight-knit group of people with some great stories. Tim Mullane also has his family working with him, but the whole crew is like a family. We had a great time on the ride out trading stories and probably a few lies. Captain Pete Hesson was driving the launch and Captain Stuart was along to help out.

After a two-hour trip we could see the MV Twin Capes in the distance, 6 miles out; soon we would be the last people boarding her above water, ever.

The Coleen Marine crew loaded up their gear and immediately got to work, first opening valves to fill the hull with water. Then they got to work cutting more holes in the sides of the hull just above the water line. Dallas and I helped place equipment he would recover afterwards.

There is something surreal about working on a ship that is literally sinking. It is right up there with jumping out of a perfectly good airplane on purpose. Because we willingly went onto a sinking ship. When she started to rock sluggishly, you could feel the water in her holds below. The she started to tilt backwards a bit. That was about the time we were done and ready to leave. There was still plenty of time before she sank.

The crews cut holes for two more hours, and then we hauled all of the gear off the MV Twin Capes Ferry. We were the last people to walk her decks. Tim Mullane was the last human to set foot on her decks, above water. She would be sinking very soon.

I walked the entire ship and took video of all the areas so we would have some reference points for future dives. It was an experience. To see this ferry stripped down to her bare bones was pretty wild. It is something you don’t see every day.

“She was stripped of anything and everything that could float. There was insulation on top of insulation, it took a long time to strip her down,” said im Mullane.

In fact it took about 11 months to prep this ferry to be sunk. The pilot house still has the console in place but all of the electronics were gone. The kitchen was stripped down, the bathrooms, the bars, everything was gone. You could see the original writing on the walls telling workers where items would be installed when it was first built. It was like looking back in time.

The Coleen Marine Crew … from left, Henry Houck, Joseph Mullane, Grady Newhall, Captain Time Mullane, Max Wysack, and Kimberly Mullane (taking picture).

I was walking around down below in the engine room to watch the open valves fill up the baffles in the floor of the hull. I have never been in the lower areas of any of the ferries so this was a treat, and frightening at the same time. I mean the boat is sinking and we are walking around taking pictures and video.

Not to worry, we knew when we had to get off, it takes a lot to sink one of these ferries. They are built more solid than most ships due to the nature of their purpose. I told Tim Mullane we should have welded a few cars to the deck just for the “look” for divers, not to mention the added structure for fish. Oh well, maybe next time. We did have some company out there.

Henry Houck and Max Wysack cutting a hole in the hull below decks.

The media launch showed up not long after we got to work. There were a few charter and work boats in the area that dropped by to watch this historic event. DNREC enforcement came out and we saw one of the fire boats. Other than that the spectators were a lot less than expected. Mostly due to the fact the MV Twin Capes was scheduled to be sunk with little time for anyone to make plans. When the Tamaroa was sunk last year, there was a huge audience out there, but that had been scheduled for months with a special audience.

Once she was ready to go the crew removed the tow line for the tug Justin and replaced it with a line they could easily slip off to release the ferry. The Justin pulled her to the right spot so the MV Twin Capes could sink in her final resting place. Everyone gathered on the decks of the boats and the launch captains circled the ferry and tug. Surprisingly this did not take as long as I thought. The small holes in the stern and the sides were to the water line real fast. We kept circling getting set up for that perfect view.
When these ships sink not only is the rushing water a loud sound, but things start to shift and move in the ferry. You can hear a very loud metal-on-metal sound, which adds to the excitement. It is actually a rather frightening sound, when you apply it to what is happening. The ship is sinking and it sounds like it is screaming. Within a half-hour of getting the crews off the ferry, her rear deck met the water line. Once that water moved onto the deck and into the holes cut in that area, we knew she didn’t have long.

That entire process from the deck getting wet to finally sinking took less than six minutes. The captains on the boats all shuddered, even though they know this ship is being made into an artificial reef. Seeing a ship sink is a stern reminder of the dangers of a mariner’s lifestyle.

Once the MV Twin Capes was down, we waited for the bubbles to disperse and Dallas suited up to dive her. He would be the first human to reach her decks underwater. The current was tough and diving was difficult.

“I made it to the bottom near the hull. I was at 121 feet. Visibility was about a foot, if that, so I came back up so we can dive her another day. She was resting mostly on her port side but it was hard to tell just how she was oriented underwater.” Dallas Nagle said.
When the MV Twin Capes sank the stern hit the bottom and the current twisted her around, as you can see in the video. The ship is over 300 feet long and she was sunk in a 120-plus feet of water.

“A storm will easily change her orientation, it happens all of the time.” Tim Mullane said. “Today we had a successful sinking and enhanced the Del-Jersey-Land Reef, I am very happy with the results.”

I figure we will see fish on this structure by next week at the earliest. She is in the proximity of other ships, barges, and subway cars. The fish will find this new structure in no time. Marine life will start to grow and turn her surface into a reef.

Huge thanks to Tim Mullane and the Coleen Marine crew for allowing us to accompany them, it was a great day. I am very grateful for the opportunity to see this process up close and personal.

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