The Ruby E: One of San Diego’s Most Richly Historied Shipwrecks
"I have been diving the Ruby E for 20+ years and I never get tired of seeing her. I think she has improved with age."
The Ruby E is Wreck Alley's sweetheart. Though older and smaller than San Diego's flagship artificial reef, HMCS Yukon, Ruby E has a rich history and an incontestable charm that make the wreck distinctly accessible to most divers. The ship has a little of everything and can entertain wreck aficionados and marine life enthusiasts alike.
History of the Ruby E
USCGC Cyane (WPC-105) and Prohibition
Once upon a time in 1920s America, the 18th Amendment to the Constitution was ratified, banning the manufacture, sale, and transport of alcohol and beginning Prohibition. Predictably enough, a maritime smuggling economy popped up to ensure the continued access to those vices the American public held most dear. These opportunists, called rumrunners, smuggled Caribbean rum, Canadian whiskey, British gin, and French Champagne to speakeasies around the country. Enter the United States Coast Guard, charged with enforcing Prohibition by intercepting shipments of illegal alcohol before it hit American shores. Though the early rumrunner intercept boats generally were "obsolete, uneconomical, and inefficient" (often repurposed tugboats or seized ships), the later years of Prohibition saw the commission of Coast Guard fleets designed specifically to thwart alcohol shipments. One such class of ship was the Thetis-class (or 165' "B Class") cutter, built for the long-range pursuit of rumrunner vessels far offshore in international waters. USCGC Cyane (WPC-105), one such B Class cutter, was named for the nymph in Greek mythology who opposed Hades in his attempt to abduct Persephone, her playmate (her grief at failing to prevent the abduction caused her to dissolve in her own tears and melt into her spring). She was 165' long and was capable of a maximum speed of 16 knots as well as a 3000-mile range at cruising speed (11 knots). By the time of Cyane's 1934 launch, Prohibition had been repealed, but the need for patrol vessels to intercept rumrunners had not diminished. Although alcohol shipment was once again legal, rumrunners still sought to avoid import taxes and so continued to smuggle liquor. The Thetis vessels proved adaptable to these and other Coast Guard missions and continued to provide great value to the service; Prohibition had provided the USCG with a means to substantially grow and develop its fleet and personnel, and technologically-advanced ships such as Cyane were no exception.
In the post-Prohibition years, Cyane was based out of Ketchikan, Alaska, serving as a Bering Sea patrol boat during 1937 and 1938. Bering Sea patrols were conducted in the harsh Arctic conditions found off Alaska's western and northern coasts in the interest of regulating the fishery and ensuring safe working conditions.
In 1941, President Roosevelt transferred jurisdiction of the Coast Guard from the Treasury Department to the Navy. Cyane returned to Washington for sub-chasing armament upgrades--among them sonar gear, depth charge tracks, anti-aircraft weaponry, and a "Y" gun--at the Puget Sound Navy Yard. In 1942, the Thetis-class cutters were given the alphanumeric Naval designations WPC (Patrol Craft; "W" to indicate Coast Guard subordination) 100-116. They were designated alphabetically beginning with Argo; these ships are sometimes called "Argo-class" in Naval references. Cyane was designated WPC-105. In 1942, Japan seized the remote Aleutian islands Kiska and Attu. Cyane assisted in removing this Japanese presence during World War II's Battle of the Aleutian Islands. In 1943, the crew of Cyane published an anthology of prose, poetry, and songs called Cyanthology. The ship was decommissioned in 1950.
Cyane as Can Am and Ruby E
In December 1954, Cyane was sold to Birchfield Boiler of Tacoma, Washington (sister ships Daphne and Atalanta were also sold to Birchfield Boiler at the same time). She was renamed Can Am and converted into a fish processing ship. The reconfiguration included the installation of a refrigeration system, the conversion of living quarters into holds, and the removal of some structure on the aft deck. She was then sent to fish the waters of South and Central America, where the story goes that in an ironic twist to her Prohibition-Era roots, she was eventually impounded for running drugs. Can Am was sold once more and repurposed as a salvage ship named Ruby E. When the owners defaulted on their loans, the lending bank repossessed the ship and sold it to the San Diego Tug and Barge Company, who stripped the ship with the intent of selling the hull for scrap. Instead, they ended up donating the hull to Wreck Alley. The hull was cleaned and diverized, with multiple holes cut for easy access to the interior, and doors either removed or welded shut for increased safety. The story of the Ruby E's sinking is an interesting one. California Wreck Divers describes the spectacle:
"The morning of July 18, 1989 marked the day when the Ruby E would begin a new life as an artificial reef. She was towed to a planed location of Mission Beach and anchored. The sea cocks were opened and it was hoped she would fill up with water and sink. The spectators watching the sinking waited and watched. By noon, the ship was still afloat with only a slight starboard list. Unknown to planers, two secret compartments were hidden in the bulkheads fore and aft of the engine room. These sealed compartments were used to hide drugs during its smuggling days and now prevented the ship from sinking. Local lifeguards brought several large pumps onboard to speed up the flooding. By 3 PM the Ruby E's stern was very low in the water but still afloat. Finally, at 3:30 PM the lifeguards were forced to abandon the Ruby E as she began to sink. With her stern leading the plunge, she rolled briefly onto her starboard side as seawater approached her amidships. Suddenly, her bow and forward compartment shot straight up into the sky, before slowly sinking to the bottom. The Ruby E was gone and the cheers of those who waited all day and bubbling foam were all that remained."
A Swim Through the Ruby E
Despite the issues with her sinking, the Ruby E miraculously landed upright on the sand in about 85' of water. Her deck is at around 65'. Visibility averages around 15'. There is usually surge on the wreck.
The Forward Areas
Moving aft from the bow on the main deck, we find a hatch to the crew berths. Beneath the berth area are the holds.
The Wheel House
The forward section of the deck house contained the Commanding Officer's stateroom. On top is the pilot house, accessible by ladders to bridge wings.
The Engine Room
Aft of the deckhouse is the engine hatch. The twin diesel engines are still in the engine room. The heads of the port engine have been removed and the cylinders are visible.
The Aft Areas
Aft of the engine room and above deck, Ruby E has a smokestack and gear locker. Below deck is the galley and mess hall. Her propellers and rudders are intact and visible.
A Haven for Macro Life
Having been underwater since the late 1980s, Ruby E is covered in a rich array of sea life, particularly invertebrates. Strawberry anemones cover the hull, giving the ship a colorful, almost floral appearance that many liken to that of a Rose Parade float. The Ruby E wreck is absolutely littered with lots of different kinds of nudibranchs, so there is always something to see, even if visibility is very bad. Of particular interest are the giant Dendronotus iris nudibranchs, which feed on the tube anemones in the sand just off the wreck.
The Ruby E Toilet
It's a proven fact that all wreck divers enjoy finding toilets. Maybe it's because of how easy they are to recognize, or maybe divers as a group haven't yet evolved beyond bathroom humor. :) In any case, at any given time there is at least one toilet somewhere on the wreck. It's something of a game to move it around.