Diving The Kelp Cutter: The El Rey Wreck

San Diego, California: Stern of the El Rey Wreck

Every once in a while, we get off the beaten path a bit and dive some of the less-often-seen shipwrecks of San Diego's Wreck Alley. El Rey is one of those wrecks: I believe I've (now) dove it twice in my nearly three years here.

Both times, though, I've been blown away with how fun the little wreck is. Maybe I should dive it more often! Or maybe then it would lose its charm. All I know was that I had a good time.

So I stumbled across El Rey accidentally-on-purpose while pursuing this really cool Red-Eye Medusa jellyfishEl Rey was a 100' kelp cutter for Kelco, and her job was to travel up and down the California coast and harvest the top three feet of the kelp canopy to make all kinds of commercial kelp products, such as:

  • Toothpaste
  • Shampoo
  • Salad dressing
  • Cake
  • Pharmaceuticals

Point Loma, San Diego, California: Kelp crab in the kelp canopy

I bet you didn't realize how much kelp you probably eat on a regular basis!

So El Rey was outfitted with a big harvesting arm on the bow that cut off the kelp for processing. Other than the arm, it was essentially a barge that could carry 300 tons of kelp at a time.

Source: California Wreck Divers

Here, you're looking at the stern of the vessel, where the wheelhouse was. You can just make out the kelp cutting arm and blades on the bow in the back of the photo; on top of the arm is the operator's booth.

The superstructure of the vessel was primarily wooden, and after El Rey was scuttled (in about 75' of water) as part of the Artificial Reef Program in 1987, much of that superstructure collapsed and came to rest in wreckage fields on the sand.

San Diego, California: Superstructure wreckage of the El Rey Wreck

Wreckage of El Rey's superstructure

San Diego, California: Superstructure wreckage of the El Rey Wreck

Wreckage of El Rey's wheelhouse

San Diego, California: Stern of the El Rey Wreck

El Rey's stern

San Diego, California: El Rey Wreck

San Diego, California: Spanish Shawl nudibranch on the El Rey Wreck, looking forward toward the kelp-cutting arm in the background.

Looking forward along the deck toward El Rey's cutting arm; Spanish Shawl nudibranch in the foreground

It doesn't take long to traverse El Rey's 100-foot length, so soon you've reached the bow and found the El Rey wreck's primary feature, the distinctive kelp-cutting arm.

On the way, you've passed some cutouts in the deck; a determined diver can squeeze into them, but there's not a whole lot to see once you're in there.

San Diego, California: Bow and kelp cutting arm of the El Rey Wreck

El Rey's bow and kelp cutting arm

San Diego, California: Kelp cutting arm of the El Rey Wreck

El Rey's kelp cutting arm

San Diego, California: Kelp cutting arm of the El Rey Wreck

El Rey's kelp cutting arm

San Diego, California: Kelp cutting arm of the El Rey Wreck

El Rey's kelp cutting arm

The El Rey wreck is one of those dives that everyone seems to assume isn't worth doing. Sure, it doesn't have the grand expanse of HMCS Yukon or the rampant invertebrate life of Ruby E, but it's a fun and unique dive nonetheless.


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