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History in the Making: Palm Beach County Welcomes the USS Clamagore as an Artificial Reef


By Selene Muldowney and John Tapley

The boat sped through the ocean like a bullet ripping through the air, the sailor’s heartbeat thumping rhythmically as he held his position. The sounds deafening his ears, he imagined he was outside looking in. He saw the boat soaring through the water; the intricacies of hull, every curve, became visible to him. His thoughts wandered briefly as he realized he was standing inside a metal bullet below the crushing weight of the ocean waves; his fears, his dreams, his thoughts abruptly halted as the sirens blared.

One moment the dark stillness of the ocean lay before the world, the next, amid the foam of the waves cascading gently on their mistress, plowing through the sea toward the jetty, the water cascading down her long and sleek body and making no sound, the submarine emerged. Three hundred twenty-two feet long and completely windowless, this massive structure filled with people and technology, fully armed and ready for battle, was born from the sea with the speed and agility of impossibility, almost an illusion.

The boat (a submarine is never a “ship”) was commissioned on June 28, 1945 and given her name, USS Clamagore (SS-343).  Built for the US Navy, she was still in training when World War II ended in 1945. Clamagore was decommissioned on June 12, 1975 and was struck on June 27, 1975 after having served in the Navy for 30 years. She was donated as a museum on August 6, 1979 to the Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, located near Charleston, South Carolina and has served in her role since then. 

Commissioned in 1945, the U.S.S. Clamagore was one of 120 Balao-class diesel electric submarines built during WWII. She went on to serve the United States for 30 more years as a shadow hunter and training vessel during the Cold War, earning the moniker “The Gray Ghost of the Florida Coast.”  She was modified twice during her tenure and may be the sole surviving example as a GUPPY type submarine. Her years of combined service from active duty to serving as a museum have taken a toll on her, the salt water has degraded the metal used on her hull exposing her to further erosion and the possibility of hazardous materials leaching into the water or worse yet – hull failure and sinking. 

On January 10, 2017, the Palm Beach County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to approve funding to the tune of $1 million for coordinating the sinking of the USS Clamagore. Funds were garnered from a country trust fund, which was generated from vessel registration fees. The funds will go to a private, Miami-based firm: Artificial Reefs International-USS Clamagore (ARI), which will deploy the 320-foot vessel at a proposed site about three miles from the Juno Beach Pier in about 95 feet of water. The project is currently slated for summer of 2018, and fundraising is reportedly halfway completed. Joe Weatherby leads ARI, has worked in deploying artificial reefs for more than 25 years. He is working with ARI –USS Clamagore CEO Fred Baddour, an experienced ship sinker and owner of a successful privately held environmental cleanup company, CRB Geological and Environmental Services (CRB), in Miami.

ARI team members have been responsible for some of the most successful reefs in the world, including the USNS Vandenberg and USS Mohawk in Florida. In addition, ARI will also fund the remaining balance of the project – through sponsorship programs and other sources – which is estimated around $2 million. 

The project is a joint effort between Palm Beach County and Palm Beach County’s Environmental Resource Management to enhance the county’s already robust artificial reef offerings, which have served as crucial tourism opportunities since the ’60s. To date the County has over 157 artificial reefs, 56 of those being ships and barges.  As a result, Palm Beach County has enjoyed a vast array of artificial structures for fish to inhabit and for divers to enjoy.

Julie Bishop, Environmental Program Supervisor at Palm Beach County/Project Coordinator for the Clamagore project shares her thoughts on this unique mission:

“The USS Clamagore will be a one of a kind diving opportunity that provides valuable habitat for our marine species while serving as a memorial for those submarine veterans who served for our country and those lost at sea. Palm Beach County is excited to create this unique underwater memorial and hopes to add an upland museum for everyone to enjoy.”

Besides the reefing, Palm Beach County is looking to establish a land-based component to shed light on the Clamagore’s past and present.

“The submarine is a historic vessel and her Florida history is an important one. This is an opportunity to save this vessel from the scrap yard and preserve her legacy in several ways, by honoring her historical past as a US Naval boat and honoring the sailors who served on her. Placing her underwater will give her an enduring role to play in conservation, recreation and commerce, continuing to contribute to Floridians – that is a much better end to this fine boat,” states Weatherby.

Media will also play a large role in getting visitors and locals electrified for the new site. The Palm Beach County Film & Television Commission is sponsoring a 30-minute documentary, which will be distributed on TV.

“The Film Commission is sending out a RFP (request for proposals) to create a high-quality video to showcase not only the history of the vessel, but also its journey to The Palm Beaches,” explains Palm Beach County Film Commissioner Chuck Elderd. “The film would eventually be part of the shore side museum component being planned as way of preserving the history and legacy of the submarine.”

On October 16, 2017, lifestyle brand Salt Life announced they are partnering on this project. Beginning in early 2018 the USS Clamagore will undergo intensive cleaning processes, Under the supervision of CRB, to ensure she is environmentally sound. She will need to be demilitarized and have any potentially hazardous materials removed and cleaned. The plans include removal of portions of the hull in order to create an underwater museum. Once established, the Clamagore will serve as an artificial reef providing food, shelter, and protection for marine life, as well as provide recreational opportunities for scuba divers and anglers.

In order to assist in the funding as well as commemorate Clamagore’s final mission, Salt Life has announced the sale of limited edition commemorative tees with net proceeds supporting the USS Clamagore Artificial Reef Project. 

Salt Life President Jeff Stillwell believes the project is beneficial not only as a positive environmental opportunity but also a tribute to honor the boat’s history:

“Salt Life is proud to be part of such a historic and important project, not only do artificial reefs allow an entire ecosystem to flourish on the ocean floor, but they also offer endless opportunities for divers, anglers, and all who enjoy the ‘Salt Life.’ The Clamagore project is going to have a tremendous positive impact on the local economy by bringing more eco-tourism to The Palm Beaches. We hope the Clamagore reef will become a pilgrimage for divers for years to come.”

About Artificial Reefs International-USS Clamagore:

ARI team members bring more than 25 years of experience in artificial reefing. ARI also has experience in marine conservation, scuba diving, angling, and boating. ARI reefs are carefully designed to provide long-term benefits for marine conservation and economic interests.  ARI deploys only reefs that are cleaned to exacting standards for compliance with state and federal environmental guidelines. Learn more at www.arireefs.com

About Salt Life:

Salt Life is an authentic, aspirational and lifestyle brand that embraces those who love the ocean and everything associated with living the “Salt Life”. Founded in 2003 by four avid watermen from Jacksonville Beach, Florida, the Salt Life brand has widespread appeal with ocean enthusiasts worldwide. From fishing, diving and surfing, to beach fun and sun-soaked relaxation, the Salt Life brand says, “I live the Salt Life”. From its first merchandise offerings in 2006, Salt Life has grown to more than $30 million in annual sales, with distribution in surf shops, specialty stores, department stores and sporting goods retailers. 

Find your Salt Life at www.saltlife.com.

Project details can be found at www.clamagorereef.com.

Want to help make history? Purchase your Clamagore T-Shirt and find your Salt Life!