FLORIDA KEYS – Among the dozens of shipwreck and artificial reef sites strewn along the Florida Keys is a Lower Keys gem, the 210-foot Adolphus Busch, Sr. wreck that later this year marks 25 years since being intentionally sunk in 112 feet of water on Dec. 5, 1998.
Considered a main attraction in the Lower Keys for experienced divers, the wreck is an interesting deep site that lies between world-famous Looe Key and American Shoal southwest of Big Pine Key.
For an extraordinary wreck-reef dive day, underwater enthusiasts combine exploration of Looe Key Reef with a dive on the Adolphus Busch. The ship is a former island freighter renamed to memorialize the patriarch of the Busch brewing family.
As well as being a short-haul island freighter, the vessel that became the Adolphus Busch had a movie career. It co-starred with Robert Mitchum, Jack Lemmon and Rita Hayworth in the 1957 film "Fire Down Below."
Built in Scotland in 1951 and previously called the London, Topsail Star, Windsor Trader and Ocean Alley, the ship was christened Adolphus Busch Sr. by the Anheuser-Busch brewery founder's grandson, Adolphus Busch IV. The younger Busch, an avid diver and fisherman, donated $200,000 toward the purchase, cleanup and sinking of the ship.
Because the ship was sunk in a protected area in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, no explosives were used in the scuttling process. Instead, 12 holes were drilled into the Busch and water was pumped into its hull. It settled upright and in perfect condition on a sandy bottom, with its wheelhouse at 70 feet and main deck at 90 feet.
Hatches and portholes were removed, but the ship remains otherwise intact. The 12 large holes provide safe, easy access into it.
Within the ship, divers are likely to encounter enormous goliath grouper, a colorful spectrum of snappers, amberjacks, grunts, blue runners, barracuda, sharks and even the usually rare octopus.
Visiting from Florida Bay are schools of snook and permit. Sea turtles occasionally make a curious pass through.
Dive shops in the Lower Keys regularly visit the Adolphus Busch. Find a directory at fla-keys.com/lower-keys/listings/diving.
The Adolphus Busch, Sr. was intentionally sunk on Dec. 5, 1998. After 25 years underwater, it is now a top dive site in the Lower Keys. Photo: Andy Newman
Before becoming a Lower Keys artificial reef, the vessel now called the Adolphus Busch co-starred in this famous film.
Large schools of fish as well as huge goliath grouper and other sea creatures are seen by divers exploring the wreck of the Adolphus Busch.