If ships really do have souls, the Kodiak Queen’s must have been a weary one.
It’s an old ship, first launched as a Navy barge in 1940 under the uninspiring moniker YO-44, and it’s had its share of experiences. On Dec. 7, 1941, for instance, it was moored in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii, when the Japanese attacked. The crew had to scramble to avoid the bombs while all around them, other ships and their sailors sank to the bottom of the harbor.
YO-44 survived the attack and was eventually decommissioned, renamed the Kodiak Queen, and turned into a fishing boat. But that wouldn’t last forever. It eventually ended up in a maritime junkyard in the British Virgin Islands, destined for scrap.
Then, in 2012, someone recognized it.
A historian, Mike Cochran, saw Kodiak Queen in the junkyard, figured out what it was, and decided being turned into scrap metal was too ignoble for one of the few remaining Pearl Harbor ships.
Cochran started to recruit a team, including photographer Owen Buggy and Buggy’s previous boss and friend, British business magnate Richard Branson. Together, they set out to give the Kodiak Queen a proper retirement.
Their idea is something called the BVI Art Reef. Rather than ending up as junk, the Kodiak Queen will become a reef — a living part of the ocean that it traveled for so many years.
As part of the project, sculptors decided to adorn the Kodiak Queen with an 80-foot-long squid-like kraken sculpture welded from wire mesh and rebar.
Krakens are mythical sea monsters known to sink ships. But this particular one isn’t attacking — it’s helping shepherd the Kodiak Queen along.
“The kraken is embracing the boat and taking it down to this next life,” Aydika James, a founder of the company that built the kraken, told The New York Times. “She’s no longer a weapon of war; she’s now a platform for rebirth and regrowth.”
Once the work was finished in April 2017, all that was left to do was for the ship to get a friendly tow out to its new home.
The destination? A sunny spot off the island of Virgin Gorda.
The crew came out to see it off, including Branson, the man who’d helped get this all together.
They gave it the proper honors for a ship going on a voyage — a bottle broken across the bow.
And then down…
There was a tense moment where it looked like it was about to tip over onto one side — ruining the artwork — but in the end, everything went right.
Safely nestled on the sea floor, the Kodiak Queen will slowly transform into an artificial reef.
Artificial reefs are submerged structures that create habitats for fish and other sea creatures, which can help to restore damaged ecosystems. As sea life moves in, either naturally or through planned coral restoration projects, the Kodiak Queen’s old hull and the kraken’s many wiry nooks and crannies will become a great habitat for fish and other sea creatures.
In the meantime, the Kodiak Queen has become a tourist attraction and popular diving spot.
It’s giving a boost to the local economy, helping to highlight the importance of ocean conservation, and it might even inspire some future divers and conservationists.
It’s even helping scientists learn more about the waters around Virgin Gorda.
Scientists are using the Kodiak Queen as a platform to gather something called environmental DNA, which is a way to monitor what animal populations are present through castoff material (like poop).
This was a spectacular reincarnation for such a storied ship. One must imagine if indeed the Kodiak Queen has that weary soul, it must be pretty satisfied with how it ended up.