The 43-foot ferro cement sailboat doesn’t look very impressive sitting on the ocean floor about 75 feet deep off Hollywood. It’s plain and bare with no design flourishes.
But the latest addition to Broward County’s collection of artificial reefs, which was deployed Tuesday, has quite a back story and already has begun to attract marine life.
The Usikusiku — a Swahili word meaning “twilight” — was built in Africa more than 30 years ago by a couple living in Zimbabwe. Pete and Liz Fordred sailed it from Cape Town, South Africa, to Fort Lauderdale in the early 1980s despite both being confined to wheelchairs and neither having any previous sailing experience. Liz wrote a book about the adventure entitled An Ocean to Cross.
The Fordreds settled in Fort Lauderdale, opened a lawnmower repair business, bought a house and never sailed the boat again. So Usikusiku sat in its berth on the New River deteriorating until a neighbor suggested turning it over to the county to become a haven for divers and marine life.
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The Fordreds paid to have Cape Ann Marine tow the boat to the wreck site where employees of the county’s Environmental Planning and Community Resilience Division (EPCRD) sank it. There was no cost to taxpayers.
Pete Fordred had mixed emotions about his former boat’s new resting place.
“We spent all that time keeping it above water and now we’re putting it below water,” he said. “But that’s a better end than scrapping it.”
For sure, said Ken Banks of EPCRD.
Banks said the sailboat is among a suite of 12 wrecks that make up the Hollywood Dive Trail. Placed between the Eben-Ezer and Donal G. McAllister, the Usikusiku serves as a navigational aid for scuba divers who want to drift with the prevailing northerly current starting at the Eben-Ezer and ending about 1/4 mile away at the Emmi Boggs.
“The idea is divers could do the whole thing in one dive,” Banks said.
Banks and several colleagues did a drift dive Friday from the Eben-Ezer to the Usikusiku and then the McAllister, observing the contrast between the heavy coating of soft coral and sponges and schools of snappers and grunts on the two older wrecks and the relatively bare surface of the sailboat. However, a cloud of cigar minnows and an angelfish already had claimed the new reef.
Meanwhile, owners of a local marina have contacted the county about donating another unused sailboat to the collection. Environmental technician Angel Rovira said his department might deploy it between the Usikusiku and the McAllister so divers don’t have to drift very long on the trail without seeing a reef.
The GPS coordinates for the Eben-Ezer are: 26.00.3820 north; 80.05.5755 west. The coordinates for the Usikusiku are: 26.00.4407 north; 80.05.5850 west.