Sunken Ship Provides New Fishing and Diving Destination

Later this month, a 271-foot Dutch cargo ship will find second life at the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.

The M.V. YOKAMU, rechristened “THE LULU,” will be sunk on Memorial Day to become a premier diving destination off Alabama’s coast.

“The reason we’re doing it is to develop the diving industry and our economy,” said Ed Rodriguez, president and CEO of the Alabama Gulf Coast Area Chamber of Commerce. “It helps not just diving, but also fishing and tourism.”

The project — which cost around $500,000 to transport, clean and sink THE LULU — was paid for by a newly formed nonprofit organization, the Alabama Gulf Coast Reef and Restoration Foundation. About a fifth of the money came from the Marine Resources Division of the state of Alabama, Rodriquez said. Other amounts came from local governments, private companies and individuals.

The main donor is Mac McAleer, owner of Homeport Marina in Gulf Shores. The boat’s new name comes from the iconic Gulf Shores restaurant LuLu’s, founded more than a decade ago by McAleer’s wife Lucy Buffett – who also happens to be a sister to singer Jimmy Buffett.

In December, MacAleer told Gulf Coast News Today that a dictionary defines the word lulu as a “remarkable person, place or thing.” MacAleer donated $250,000 for the role of title sponsor.

“I thought I’ve been associated with and lived with or worked with for a dozen years a very remarkable person,” he said. “And we together have built this very remarkable place. So this is going to be a very remarkable adventure, and we’re calling it THE LULU. Simply put.”

Originally located in Miami, M.V. YOKAMU was pulled to Orange Beach last year by the Alabama-based business Reefmaker. The company is owned and operated by David Walter and was recently the subject of a Weather Channel television show, “Reef Wranglers.” Since 1986, Walter and his sons have deployed more than 35,000 artificial reefs in waters around the U.S.

The project is part of a $1.5 million endeavor this spring and summer to place a variety of artificial reefs in regions across Alabama’s coastal waters. The structures – ranging from old bridge spans to ships to underwater pyramids – help conserve, manage and develop fisheries resources while also creating an economic impact.

This isn’t the first ship to be sunk in Alabama waters. Chris Blankenship, director of the Alabama Marine Resource Division and program administrator for the Alabama Seafood Marketing Commission, said a 70-foot crew boat was sunk a few weeks ago. However, THE LULU will be the first intact ship deployed in the Alabama reef zone.

“Sinking this vessel will show what can be accomplished when multiple entities collaborate for the common good,” Blankenship said.

The LULU will be towed from Orange Beach to the reef site – located about 19.5 miles south of Perdido Pass at the coordinates of 29 59.5363N and 087 33.0022W — before a covering over several prepositioned holes will be removed to allow water to enter. Over the course of a couple hours, the ship will sink.

The economic impact of diving is impressive. According to a study cited by the University of Florida, there was a $131-dollar return on investment for every dollar spent on artificial reefs in northwest Florida. That impact comes from tourism’s economic impact on retail sales, lodging, charter boats and restaurants.

Located in 105 feet of water about 19 miles offshore from Gulf Shores and Orange Beach, THE LULU will allow for easy access for fishermen and more bottom time for recreational and technical divers. Divers will be able to easily explore the ship, thanks to removed doors, windows and hatches. The expansive and diverse interior will also benefit colonizing fish, according to the foundation.

“We are thrilled to have met our goal for funding this reef,” Alabama Gulf Coast Reef and Restoration Foundation president Vince Lucido said last year. “We are thankful to all of our major sponsors who have jumped on board. Having Mac as the title sponsor and LuLu’s as a partner in this effort is great for everyone. We are grateful that they are so supportive of our efforts and know that they will be right beside us promoting the diving opportunities it will bring to our area.”

Blankenship said many spectators are planned to view the sinking on site, with the possibility of a band on a nearby boat. LuLu’s also plans to host a pre-sinking party on May 24.