Annapolis Sunk









It took only two minutes and one second to send the former Canadian warship Annapolis to the bottom of Halkett Bay Marine Park on April 4.

The steam powered destroyer came to rest 31 metres below sea level on the ocean floor – only one metre off of its intended destination.

It is now an artificial reef for divers to enjoy, and sea life to call home.

Crowded around the sinking site were over 200 private vessels, who cheered as the 14 charges, placed throughout the ship’s hull and engine room, were set off seconds apart, causing the bay to echo with loud booms.

Once the charges were tripped and the ship began to fill with water, a small party of former Annapolis Commanding Officers, including retired Captain (Navy) Brian Beaudry and Rick Town and Commander (Retired) Peter Campbell, added their cheers to the chorus around them.

As the ship lurched downward, waves sweeping over the flight deck, the officers set their eyes on Annapolis one last time.

Annapolis, a 102-metre helicopter-carrying destroyer, was commissioned in 1964 by the Royal Canadian Navy, and decommissioned in 1996.

In 2008, it was purchased by the Artificial Reef Society of British Columbia from the Federal Government, with the goal to create the largest artificial reef in the Greater Vancouver area.  

This is the eighth ship sunk by the Reef Society, and will provide a new habitat for a diverse range of marine life.

In the past, sunken vessels have attracted over 100 different types of marine life to a single location.

Annapolis will be specifically dedicated to promoting the growth of the rockfish and lingcod species native to the Howe Sound area.

With an impressive array of marine life to view, the Reef Society predicts there will be a heavy surge in diving tourists and researchers to the site.

The cleaned ship, sunk in a deliberately upright and stable position, will make for a safe investigative environment.

Additional safety measures for divers include two safety cages which allow for decompression stops.

They are attached to the ship’s bow and stern.

Negotiations are ongoing with researchers from the Vancouver Aquarium to establish citizen-based scientific research, where divers can document and upload photographs from their own expeditions to a website.

If this can be accomplished Aquarium marine biologists will then have an opportunity to analyze any material provided by divers on private excursions.

In this way, the benefits of artificial reefs to the marine ecosystem can be studied.

Getting Annapolis to the bottom of Halkett Bay was no easy feat.

The Reef Society had to abide by strict requirements delineated by the Canadian Environmental Protection Act.

Roughly 1,000 volunteers and staff dedicated 17,000 hours of work time into preparing the ship for disposal, cleaning off all petroleum and oil products, scrubbing the fuel tanks and boiler by hand, removing any “floaters” that could rise to the ocean’s surface, and taking apart any sections of the ship that could not be effectively cleaned.

LCdr (Retired) Rick Wall was the Assistant Engineer of Annapolis from 1978 to 1980, and a volunteer who worked to bring the ship up to the prescribed guidelines for the final Environment Canada inspection.

He put hours into scraping and peeling paint chips off of the ship, and was on board the ship 10 hours before it sank, clearing away tools and cleaning supplies.

He witnessed, first hand, the ship’s transformation from its fully operational capacity to its pre-reef state.

“You look at pictures of what she looked like when she was operational, and what she looked like just before she sank – rusty, covered with slime and so many holes cut into her.”

But he’s happy the ship will be used by future generations of divers and researchers.

“I’d rather see it re-purposed as a reef than cut up and sold to a scrap yard and used to build cheap cars or razor blades,” he says.

“Sailors are proud of what they do, and a lot of that pride is projected onto the vehicle that allows them to do their jobs.”

LCdr Wall first boarded the ship when he was 25 years old, and completed the final stages of his engineering training with its crew.

“While serving on board Annapolis, I got engaged, completed my engineering training and was promoted to Lieutenant.  These were major milestones in my life, the things that happen to a person in their late twenties and I experienced while on Annapolis.”

He says it was his experience on that ship that strengthened his self-confidence in his job, and his ability to work with a team, eventually leading to his 37-year career in the navy.

“On board Annapolis, we all learned to trust each other, and there was a strong sense of camaraderie. I’m sure everyone says this about their own ship, but there was a special feel for me about it. And in terms of the way she went, I just thought it was a dignified end to her.”

Rachel Lallouz
Staff Writer

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