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1988 - She Sinks!


The Stuart News
Martin County Edition
MONDAY, JULY 25, 1988
Stuart, Florida                25 Cents
The Rankin goes down
Hundreds watch from boats, planes

By Jim Orr
News staff writer

ABOARD THE ISLAND PRINCESS — The USS Rankin Sunday became the huge artificial reef Martin County was waiting for, and the enthusiasm showed.
An estimated 500 private and charter boats and a dozen aircraft were on hand as the old Navy attack transport ship was sunk eight miles offshore to give the county bragging rights to Florida's largest artificial reef.
The ship took three minutes and 55 seconds to sink into 125 feet of water, after Navy demolition experts set off 240 pounds of explosives in its hull at 12:15 p.m. The sound of the underwater blast was muffled, but the sound of festive boaters was not.
Clouds of smoke drift from the USS Rankin after explosives were set off in the ship's hull. An estimated 500 boats surrounded the decommissioned Navy vessel as it was sunk Sunday to create an artificial reef named to honor Ralph Evinrude.
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“You have to be amazed at how many boats are out here in the middle of the ocean,” said Martin County Commissioner Thomas Kenny. “You're talking, like, a 4th of July crowd out here. God has been good to us, I'll tell you.
“It's one of those things,” he added, “where the people got together and got something done.”
The finished product, which cost $125,000 in donations and county funds, is a 459-foot artificial reef named in honor of Ralph Evinrude.
Officials expect it to attract marine life and hope it will become a money-
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maker by drawing fishermen and divers to the area.
As the Rankin sank, the ship appeared to tip on its starboard side with its bow down. Officials hoped the World War II ship would right itself and land flat on the barren ocean floor.
“It went down a little bit crooked, but it should straighten itself out on the bottom,” said Hayward Mathews, head of the state's Sea Grant Artificial Reef Resource Team.
No matter how it lands, Mathews said the Rankin's main structure was not seriously damaged by the explosives in the hull.
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Mathews, who writes applications for proposed reefs and reef sites, said Martin County was fortunate to get the Rankin before it reached the scrap yard. He said many similar ships built during World War II have been stripped for scrap metal.
The Rankin, faded gray and rust-streaked, showed its age before being bombed into its last assignment. The Japanese had no such luck in World War II, when the Rankin reinforced U.S. troops in the south Pacific.
“I guess it was better that it was sunk now than in 1945,” said Howard Nestigen, a Navy ensign on the Rankin
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during the war. “She did a good job on the surface and will do a good job submerged,” said Nestingen, of Racine, Wis. “Of course, a lot of memories go down with her, such as storms and attacks.”
But from now on, the 16½-foot cannon at the ship's stern will be for divers to enjoy.
Retired naval architect Charles Petzold of Stuart, who designed the Rankin in 1944, said he had “mixed emotions” over the sinking.
“It's sad to see it come to end,” he said, “and then again, it's for a useful purpose.”
Most folks spending the sunny
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Sunday out at sea were in a party frame of mind. Smiling boaters waved to each other, cheered as the explosion's smoke puffed above the Rankin, and snapped photographs.
And the Island Princess sounded its horn and released dozens of blue and white balloons into the sky after the blast.
“There's more people out here on boats than there were in Martin County in 1940,” said Chee Chee Gunsolus, a friend of the Evinrude family.
Once the explosives ripped through the Rankin, boats swarmed in for a close-up look from the one-mile radius enforced by the Coast Guard.
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“I saw the ship go down and I couldn't believe how fast it went down — less than five minutes, incredible,” said Mark Perry, chairman of the Martin County Artificial Reef Committee.
Perry said some 150 people contributed more than $50,000 to the Rankin fund drive.
Bill Donaldson—the “admiral” of Martin County's underwater fleet— Perry commended “for getting the ball rolling” with the Rankin.
Donaldson dressed in a Rankin baseball cap and blue polo shirt inscribed with “#1 Reeftiree,” said he was satisfied “just with the thought of doing something for people.”
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