San Diego Business Journal Vessel Expected to Become Worldwide Diving Destination

When divers scope out a submerged ship, it's often hard to see anything beyond 30 feet.

But if they're familiar with similar vessels, they have an idea of what to expect.

That sort of vision is needed to analyze the tourism potential for the Yukon, a 2,890-ton Canadian destroyer slated to be sunk off of Mission Beach on July 15.

Organizers commissioned a study with estimates from other cities' experiences with similar ships. But this group , largely consisting of divers , senses the potential for the project, which will cost more than $1.2 million before it's done.

They say it could generate $2.5 million in direct spending each year, plus ripple effects.

Open for tours earlier this month, the Yukon sparked unexpected interest, sometimes attracting more than 100 visitors an hour, said Richard Long, president of the local Oceans Foundation and head of Project Yukon.

The tours mark the first of three rather public stages for the Yukon. The second will take less than five minutes: the sinking, two miles off of Mission Beach. The final stage is the ongoing dive tours.

The sinking itself is expected to draw about 25,000 people and 1,000 to 2,000 boats, Long said. It's also likely to create media attention.

The media coverage is expected to alert more divers in San Diego, the United States and the world to the diving opportunities in San Diego, he said.

There will also be a conference on artificial reefs July 12-15 that will culminate with the sinking, said Robert Watt, an Oceans Foundation director.

Others in local tourism agree the sinking will make a media splash. They hope it will be felt in diving communities around the world.

According to Carl Nettleton, public information officer for the city of San Diego, the city and the Yukon organizers have been meeting to coordinate media coverage, which they expect to be extensive.

"We think it's fantastic," said Sal Giametta, spokesman for the San Diego Convention & Visitors Bureau, of the project.

It's a positive addition to what the city currently has for visitors and makes San Diego a better destination, Giametta said.

The dive market is an active one, and it is a good opportunity to capture more of it, he said.

One particular selling point is that the Yukon is easier and cheaper to reach than similar military ships, Long said.

"Sunken warships are not that unique," he said. Most of them were spontaneously placed , an act of war or weather, he said.

In many cases, the ships were sunk too deep for any person to visit, Long said.

Also, accessible vessels often require costly and lengthy travel arrangements, he said.

"You come to San Diego, and if you timed it right, you'd be under the deck of the ship within an hour," he said.

The Yukon could inspire many return trips, Long said.

"In order to say you've been in every room of the vessel, it will take you from 32 to 36 dives to do that," he explained. "You couldn't do it in a week. It's not possible."

Financing the Yukon project , which has been in the works since April 1998 , wasn't easy, Watt said.

More than half the donations have been in-kind and several individuals donated large sums of money. Chief among them is Long, who estimated he spent more than $250,000 on the project.

And it has nothing to do with its potential impact on tourism, he said.

"I'm in it for the critters," he said. "When we started this, I never would have thought I'd have that kind of money in this. It represents a significant portion of my personal holdings, but the more I got into this, the more I realized the opportunity.

"This is a grass-roots effort," he said. "This is not funded by any government agency. Think of it this way: An army of ants picked this ship up on their backs and carried it."