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Dive In!: South Padre Island

Written by Melissa Gaskill.

On a diving trip this spring, I explored a ship’s observation wing and swam along its starboard navigation deck, stopping to enjoy the view. I wasn’t on a cruise ship, but rather above one. The ship in question lies 17 miles out from South Padre Island and 132 feet below the surface of the Gulf of Mexico with the top of its superstructure—the observation wing—at 62 feet deep. Here, in 2007, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department sank the Texas Clipper, a 473-foot-long ship that served as a troop transport during World War II, then operated as a cruise liner, and finally retired as a training vessel for Texas A&M mariners. Now, resting on the bottom, it creates an artificial reef populated by corals, barnacles, and sponges, and offers shelter to all manner of fish and other marine life.

Scuba diver.

My journey there on American Diving’s 60-foot dive boat took about an hour. The crew helped divers gear up on the back deck. Then I simply fell forward into the gentle waves and followed a line down to the Clipper. My dive buddy, none other than American Diving owner Tim O’Leary, used a light to point out plaques commemorating the Clipper’s three lives, then a blue and yellow queen angelfish, schools of juvenile red snapper, a pair of cocoa damselfish, and a large grouper. Back on board, he showed me a diagram of the huge ship, pointing out the tiny part we’d explored. Clearly, it would take more than one—perhaps more than a dozen—dives to do the Clipper justice.

The 473-foot-long Texas Clipper ship creates an artificial reef populated by corals, barnacles, and sponges, and offers shelter to all manner of fish and other marine life.

Next, we motored a short distance to Seana’s Rig, a decommissioned natural-gas rig that supports a rich variety of coral, barnacles, and other tiny sea life, including blennies and fans. Huge schools of snapper and jacks swirled inside the rig, a flashing, flowing wall of fish that bent away when I reached out a hand. The large fish and the tiny creatures on the structure make for a fascinating dive—one I ended reluctantly. As the boat turned toward shore, I grabbed a soda and soaked up sun on the front deck, planning a return trip.

American Diving offers trips that include two or three dives at the Clipper, or two dives at the Clipper plus one rig dive, as well as dives to a half-dozen other wrecks and rigs in the area. The boat departs from the Sea Ranch Marina on South Padre Island.

American Diving, 956/761-2030; South Padre Island Convention and Visitors Bureau, 800/SOPADRE.

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