PONCE INLET — Volusia County’s open house for two ships it hopes to sink offshore this week drew huge crowds over the weekend. Sightseers of all ages clambered up and down ladders and peered into engine rooms and cabins of the vessels destined to become artificial reefs.
“This is genius,” Don Bouer, a Daytona Beach Shores dive instructor, said of the county’s event for the public tours. “It gives people an idea of their tax money at work.”
The county, with the help of partners and sponsors, including the Coastal Conservation Association, spent about $250,000 to have the vessels thoroughly cleaned and readied for their trip to the bottom of the sea. They’ll rest about 80 to 85 feet deep, nine miles east of Daytona Beach.
Using colorful permanent markers provided by the county, visitors left their names all over the walls of both the 90-foot tugboat Everglades and the 150-foot steel cargo ship the Lady Philomena. Soon the walls of the ships will be covered with microscopic organisms, corals and other marine life, but for this weekend they’re filled with messages, some clever and some cute. Some promised a repeat visit once the vessel was resting on the bottom of the sea.
“I’m coming back when this is underwater — Bailey.”
Others made note that Saturday was Veteran’s Day. Several paid tribute to Disney’s movie, “Little Mermaid,” with greetings for Ariel the mermaid or Ursula the sea witch. One message stated simply: “Rust in Peace.”
The boats will join 148 other artificial reef sites the county has developed since 1980, a mixture of vessels, aircraft and piles of concrete culverts and other materials.
On Saturday, county officials estimated at least 1,000 people toured the pair of vessels. After hearing about the county’s growing artificial reef system, this was the first time many have had a chance to get a close look.
John Stewart, visiting with his wife, Donna, was impressed. “This is recycling the right way,” he said, “and you get fish.”
On the Lady Philomena, visitors were peered into rooms that once held such oddities as voodoo dolls, bottles of rum and more than 40 kilograms of cocaine. The ship was seized by the U.S. Customs Service in Miami in March during a drug bust and donated to the county to become a reef.
Diver Red Sullivan took a “selfie” photo with a friend. “So when we go down there we can take the same selfie,” he said.
Brittnie Hoyt, manager of…