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USCG Bibb Is A Challenging
Key Largo Diving Site
A borderline advanced - technical Key Largo diving site, the USCG Bibb (WPG 31) has a particularly interesting story that is worth learning about.
The Florida Keys water is filled with wrecks of various sizes and ages, and each of the Florida shipwrecks have their own special story to tell.
When scuba diving Florida Keys, there's one principle you should understand.
Any dive trip will take on a whole new dimension IF you take the time to understand the history behind your diving trip.
History Of The USCG Bibb
Often referred to as the USS Bibb, she was built in 1937 and was part of the United States Coast Guard's Treasure Class, or Secretary Class.
These steel hulled cutters were 327 feet in length, with a 41 foot beam, and were capable of cruising at 20 knots. They carried a normal compliment of 200 men plus one seaplane.
During non-war times, they also carried an arsenal of 3 five inch 51 caliber guns, 2 quadruple machine gun anti-aircraft batteries, 2 six pounders, and 10 three inch anti-aircraft guns. During war, their armor and guns were substantially increased.
USCG Bibb's Forward 5-Inch 51-Caliber Main Battery
www.uscg.mil, Photo provided by J. D. Hooper, USCG
In 1939 the Bibb began to multi-task as she was called in to perform a variety of duties. She served a 3 month stint with the Navy, she also patrolled the Grand Banks, and then she joined a destroyer squadron to help protect ships traveling through the Atlantic.
In 1940 she lead the way with the Atlantic Weather Patrol and served in this capacity until September 11, 1941.
Under Executive Order, she was transferred to the Navy in an agreement between the Chief of Naval Operations and the Commandant of the Coast Guard. On this date, she, the USCG Duane, the USCG Spencer and the USCG Hamilton joined three other sister ships already serving in this new capacity.
One of her many notable events revolved around a U-boat attack on the eastbound slow convoy SC-118. These convoys were merchants ships traveling under armed escort. Both the Bibb and her sister ship the USCG Ingham
were traveling with a British escort force to protect the SC-118 slow convoy as they crossed the Atlantic.
Part of the group was the SS Henry Mallory, who was transporting American military to Iceland. On board, she carried 77 crew members, 34 Navy gunners, 136 American soldiers, 172 American sailors and 72 American marines.
For several days of the crossing, the Mallory had been lagging behind, and each day her distance from the rest of the convoy grew. Not only did she fail to maintain speed with the rest of the convoy, she wasn't employing the normal criss-cross pattern used to avoid detection by the U-boats.
Noticing their opportunity, a German U-boat torpedoed the vessel, severely damaging it. In the resulting chaos, the soldiers and crew jumped overboard in an attempt to avoid death. However, they were now in the frigid waters of the North Atlantic where hypothermia soon over powered those not in lifeboats.
With no distress signals or alerts issued, none of the convoy ahead knew of the Mallory's fate. Fortunately several crew aboard the Bibb sighted a lifeboat from the crippled Mallory, and immediately alerted Captain Raney.
USCG Bibb On Patrol
Disregarding orders to stay with the rest of the ships, Captain Raney turned his cutter back and came upon the scene of the disaster. The carnage was incredible. Bodies and body parts were everywhere. Wood, empty life jackets, clothes, packages, upside down life boats, and all sorts of debris floated on the water.
Realizing that hypothermia was a serious factor facing those still alive in the water, many of the Bibb's crew took action. With disregard to personal safety, these brave crew members entered the water in an effort to accelerate the recovery process.
Due to their courage, and dedication, they managed to save 202 of the 498 personnel on board the Mallory. The Bibb's sister ship, the Ingham, arrived later and was able to retrieve an additional 33.
The rescue efforts of the USCG Bibb didn't end here however. While en route back to the convoy, she came across another freighter that had been torpedoed. The SS Kalliopi had just been attacked, and the Bibb was again instrumental in saving another 33 lives from the frigid Atlantic waters.
By 1944 the U-boats were no longer a dangerous threat in the Atlantic, so the Navy moved her fleet of 327's to a new arena. Converted for amphibious landings, the 327's were now considered AGC's or command and control vessels.
This meant their heavy armaments were removed, and more anti-aircraft weapons were installed. The ships were also refitted with enclosed rooms to house 35 radio receivers and 25 radio transmitters.
The USCG George M. Bibb underwent her conversion from October 17, 1944 through January 29, 1945. After leaving Charleston Navy Yard, she was assigned to the Pacific theater where she participated in the assault on Okinawa.
During the Pacific war, numerous attacks were made upon her without consequence. On the other hand, she received credit for her successful shooting of a Japanese aircraft.
After WW II, she and her sister 327's were refitted for peace time. The majority of her heavy armaments were removed, except for the addition of a 40 mm anti-aircraft battery, a 5 inch 38 caliber main battery, and a mousetrap anti-submarine armament.
USCG Bibb Refitted For Peace Time Duties
It was during this time of peace, while stationed out of Boston, that another notable life saving event occurred. It was October 13, 1947 and the Boeing 314 Flying Clipper Boat, the Bermuda Sky Queen was traveling from Ireland to Newfoundland.
As the winds increased, Captain Martin realized he would not be able to reach land. His next goal was to land his craft as close to a Coast Guard vessel as possible to facilitate rescue.
The USCG Bibb, serving as a weather ship, was the vessel that came to the plane's aid. With high seas, it took several days before the 62 passengers plus crew were eventually pulled to safety.
Over the years she continued her various duties in the Atlantic. Then on July 4, 1968 she was sent to patrol the waters off Vietnam, where she served with Coast Guard Squadron One. She remained in these waters until February 28, 1969 when she returned to her home port of Boston.
On September 30, 1985, after a 50 year illustrious career, the USCG Bibb was decommissioned. Two years later, both her and USCG Duane were purchased by Monroe County, to be included as part of their Florida Keys Artificial Reef program.
To ready her for her final mission, the prepping process began. She was cleaned, and her mast, armaments and hatches were removed.
Wreck Diving Conditions Of The USCG Bibb
After the Army Corps of Engineers authorized the final resting place, the USCG Bibb was scuttled November 28, 1987, one day after the Duane.
Today, the two sister 327's rest off Key Largo, Florida
near Molasses Reef. They're positioned about half a mile apart, with the USCG Duane lying in shallower water.
The USCG Bibb now rests on her side at 130 feet in depth, and is in relatively good condition. Diving her however presents a certain number of challenges, so she's restricted to a minimum of advanced diving certification.
Due to the complexiity of the nature of this Florida Keys dive site, you'll want to make sure you're fully prepared. Make sure you've studied and are carrying a Bibb dive map
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There are several reasons this wreck diving site is particularly difficult. First, her depth at 130 feet is beyond the limit that novices and even intermediates should consider.
She also resides where the current is extremely strong. Often when Key Largo diving this site, it's been reported that during the descent on her stern or bow lines, divers felt like flags blowing in the wind.
Third, there are numerous wires and cables that are still on the vessel and these, in conjunction with the force of the current, can easily cause a scuba diver to become entangled. These entanglements, plus her side position, are the main reasons why this site is not recommended for diving into the wreck.
Bordering on a technical diving site which typically starts at the 140 foot and deeper range, this vessel sits very close to the margin that removes her from a recreational divers list.
When you factor in the challenges this wreck diving site poses, only experienced
scuba divers with adequate scuba diving certification should consider diving trips out to the Bibb.
Due to these conditions, and the fact that an exact duplicate of her is less than half a mile away, most divers opt to go wreck diving on the Duane and carry a Duane dive map
with them. Plus the
is in an upright position, making her more accessible and diving into the wreck is possible.
The lack of traffic on the USCG Bibb has helped her retain a relatively pristine condition. Despite the strong currents, her Florida marine life is also quite good.
As you drift dive along her still form, you'll encounter a considerable assortment of fish, and you'll also notice that her hull is becoming encrusted with numerous species of coral.
At-A-Glance Wreck Diving Description
And GPS Coordinates
USCG Bibb - 327' Coast Guard Cutter
Off Key Largo - Near Molasses Reef
24 59.710 N 080 22.770 W
Large yellow marker. 1 mooring buoy on bow and 1 mooring buoy on stern are for tying off
If you're diving Key Largo, this is one of the more advanced Florida Keys diving sites due to depth and current. Diving into the wreck is not recommended due to possible obstructions, loss of way, and entanglement
Port gunnel railing is at 95', bow and stern at 130'
200' with 30' - 80' being most common
Dive Site Description
Strong currents. Sits half a mile from USCG Duane. Bibb is in good condition and lies on her side
goliath grouper, amberjack,
rays, sea turtles,
coral, whale shark
Serving with the Coast Guard, a vessel's primary objective overall is to provide safety to the vessels in the area, and to perform search and rescue operations when required. The USCG Bibb had an exemplary record, being credited with saving over 600 lives during her illustrious career.
When you're in the Florida Keys scuba diving and take a dive trip out to her remains, remember this is a vessel who brought hope and life to many.
She's carried that honored Coast Guard tradition to the grave, as her large form provides refuge for the fish and other marine life that now find protection in and around her.
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