The Duane wreck lies on a flat sandy bottom about 1 mile south of Molasses Reef outside the Sanctuary boundary (Cohen and Cohen 1991:72). The site consists of the ship in its entirety, a 327-foot long Treasury Class U.S. Coast Guard Cutter. She is 41 feet abreast and her bow anchors are deployed at a 45 degree angle. She was sunk November 27, 1987 by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as an artificial reef. Because she was sunk intentionally, she is found to be intact without an extensive debris field surrounding the wreck itself.
Situated in a large, flat area covered mostly by sand and occasional coral patches, the Duane lies outside the protection of coral reef formations and is subject to strong Gulf stream currents. The site can offer exceptionally clear water. Days with 200 foot visibility are reported, and the usual range is from 30 to 80 feet (Berg and Berg 1991:110).
The Duane's depth ranges from 65 feet at the crow's nest to 120 feet at the bottom of the hull. The navigating bridge (70 feet) contains a chart room, radar transmission area and the wheel chamber. The superstructure deck, where the Commanding Officer's cabin and various storerooms are found, lies at 90 feet. The main deck, at 100 feet, contains the crew's quarters, carpenter shop and ships office.
Originally named the William J. Duane after the eleventh Secretary of Treasury, she was built in 1936 by the Philadelphia Navy Yard in Pennsylvania and commissioned on August 1 of the same year. From her commission until 1939, she patrolled the Bering Sea, off the coast of Alaska. In 1939 she was reassigned to Destroyer Division 18, Neutrality Patrol, in the North Atlantic. This division's mission was to ensure the safety of commercial vessels hailing from non-belligerent nations.
In 1941, the Duane was the first vessel to initiate the opening of an ocean station in the Atlantic Ocean, east of Bermuda. These ocean stations were primarily emergency landing sites for aircraft crossing the Atlantic, but were also used to monitor the weather and collect oceanographic data. Later in 1941, in preparation for the war, the Duane was transferred to the United States Naval Neutrality Patrol (later named the United States Atlantic Fleet). The Duane, along with many other Cutters, established her role in the World War II as an anti-submarine vessel.
On June 14, 1941 the German U-boat, U-77, torpedoed the British vessel Tresillian. The Duane rushed to aid the British merchant ship and rescued 46 survivors. In August, she was reassigned to Greenland's west coast to search for possible German airfield sites that might threaten North America. She was then transferred to the North Atlantic and equipped with specialized armament to track and destroy submarines.
In February, 1942, the Duane rescued 250 survivors of a 600-man crew from the U.S. Army transport Dorchester. In April 1943 she became a member of the eight-vessel Task Unit 24.1.3. This Task Unit was assigned to protect 54 merchant ships headed for Firth of Clyde, Scotland. On April 17, the merchant ship Fort Rampart was attacked by torpedoes presumably from the submarine U-175. The Duane aided in the sinking of the U-175 and picked up 22 German survivors.
In 1944, the Duane became the first Coast Guard Cutter to be declared an Amphibious Task Group Flagship. This new flagship was part of the Operation Dragoon which aided in the August 9 invasion of Southern France. This invasion was the turning point which led to the end of the World War II.
After the war, the Duane was reconstructed and returned to peacetime service as an ocean station vessel. On May 4, 1957, the Finnish freighter Bornholm suffered a cracked hull after a storm. The Duane came to the Bornholm rescue, saving the entire 28-man crew. Later that year, she was transferred to Southern Vietnam, Coast Guard Squadron 3 Operation Market Time, as a patrol vessel. Back at war between 1957 and 1968, she successfully patrolled the southern coast of Vietnam and destroyed 29 enemy formations. In 1968, she again resumed duties as an ocean station vessel. After the closure of the ocean stations in 1975, the Duane began a five-year routine patrol which included drug enforcement. In 1978, during one of her many drug raids, the Duane seized the Southern Belle for possession of marijuana.
In 1980, the Duane, along with other Cutters, was an escort vessel during the Mariel Boat Lift. During this boat lift she escorted thousands of Cuban refugees into the United States. On August 1, 1985 after 49 years of service, the Duane was decommissioned.
Following her decommission, the Duane was donated to the Keys Association of Dive Operators (KADO) by the U.S. Coast Guard to aid in the rebuilding of the Florida Keys coral reefs.
Because no explosives were employed in the sinking, the vessel sits upright, intact and in excellent condition (see Appendix D). Her bow faces north. From above, the outline of the ship can be clearly seen on a calm day. The ship's forward mast was removed before sinking, but the aft crow's nest is intact and upright. It is reached at a depth of 60 feet. The bridge deck is at a depth of 92 feet and the main deck is about 100 feet deep. The vessel lies on the bottom at a depth of 120 feet.
In preparation for diver exploration and artificial reef habitat, some modifications were made. First, all contaminants were removed. Second, some hull plates were cut through to allow easier diver entry into some areas and lessen the possibility of entrapment. Finally, her main gun batteries were removed.
The Duane was originally powered by two Westinghouse double reduction geared turbines. The visible remains of this propulsion system are her two massive triple-blade propellers. Other important features of the wreck can be seen in exploring the Duane's exterior (see Appendix D). Beginning from the surface, the mast and crow's nest can be seen at about 60 feet. They protrude high above the body of the hulk, and are subjected to strong currents. Descending to 80 feet just forward of amidships, the navigating bridge is open for inspection. The wheelhouse, chart room and operations room are found here. One deck below, at about 90 feet, is the superstructure deck. Here are the imprints of fifty caliber machine guns and heavy mortar batteries. Also at this level is the Commanding Officer's cabin. Individual features such as the Captain's rack, head and lockers are visible.
A further descent to the deepest open deck is possible at 100 feet. Here, the bow and cutwater area are intact. The five-inch gun emplacement on her bow deck has been removed with an open entry into a vertical compartment as a result. This portion of the main deck also contains the galley, mailroom and armory. The stern section holds lockers, machinery mounts and the ship's sick bay.
These features are in excellent condition and all decks have their original railings, ladders and ports. The setting, character and feeling of the site is extraordinary. Even though the site has begun to grow a healthy community of marine life, and attracts many fishes, its shape and complete outline conveys a strong sense of history.
Due to the depth of the Duane and the available time for research, concise biological data has not been collected thus far. However, six monitoring stations have been organized consisting of various types of hard and soft corals. At total of 33 hard coral and 14 soft corals have been identified. Table one provides an account of this inventory.
The depth of the wreck does not allow for as much light penetration to the Duane as might be found on other more shallow wrecks as the Benwood or City of Washington. This may be one reason why the biological levels of the shipwreck remains relatively low. Also, the steel-hulled Duane has only been available as substrate for less than 10 years, while the Benwood and the City of Washington have been available substrate for ecological succession since 1942 and 1917, respectively. The Duane can be said to be in its infancy as an artificial reef, and the relatively low stage of biological growth found there may be a reflection of that youth.
Numerous amounts of fauna do reside on the Duane, however. Several forms of coral and algae have formed on the ship's exterior, providing additional habitats for the succession of biological life. Various types of fish, including barracuda and yellow tail snappers, also dwell within and around the ship. Large pelagic fishes are also frequently encountered at the crow's nest and below. On occasion, lone sea turtles or sting rays can be spotted.