The Kodiak Queen was a ship that survived the day that continues to live in infamy: December 7, 1941. Back then, her name YO-44, a U.S. Navy fuel barge that barely escaped the bombing of Pearl Harbor carrying more than 100,000 gallons of airplane fuel. She lived for many decades after that, decommissioned and reborn as a fishing boat with her new moniker.
Now, she rests off the shore of Virgin Gorda, one of the British Virgin Islands, as an art installation and home for the marine life of the area. And guarding her in an eternal embrace is a magnificent monster: a giant kraken–or mythical squid–with 80-foot-long tentacles made of steel wire and netting.
The ship was resting in a junkyard near Road Town, on the island of Tortola, when historian Mike Cochran discovered it in 2012. After finding out about her noble origin, he created this website hoping that someone would take pity on the poor queen and save her from destruction in the hands of unscrupulous metal scrappers. Shortly after, he got lucky. A photographer named Owen Buggy, whose beautiful work illustrates this article, took notice.
Cochran got lucky–because Owen knew just the right guy to save this old dame of the sea. “The whole thing is my baby, so to speak,” Buggy told me via Facebook. “I found the ship and pitched the project to Richard, my boss.” Richard, his boss, is none other than Sir Richard Branson.
Buggy told Branson about the possibility of turning the Kodiak Queen into a home for coral reef and other marine life off the coast of the British Virgin Islands, a place that has suffered reckless fishing to the point of almost eliminating some of the local species, like the Goliath grouper. And so the project was born.
Creating an effective artificial reef required more than just a scuttled WW2 ship, though. The team wanted to turn the site into a diving destination that could funnel money into the area in order to finance further conservation. They opened the project to artists, asking for underwater work that could help attract people–a kind of “art dive site.” The kraken was one of the proposed projects.
Earlier this year the creator of the kraken, Secret Samurai Productions founder Aydika James, spoke to the New York Times about the meaning of the mesh sculpture. While it riffs on myths describing a massive squid pulling whole ships into the sea, it also serves a meaningful and pragmatic purpose: “The kraken is embracing the boat and taking it down to this next life. She’s no longer a weapon of war; she’s now a platform for rebirth and regrowth. It creates really fun structural designs that allow for ideal grouper and marine life rehabilitation habitats inside the head, the ship, and the tentacles.”
A noble purpose, and an epic one too. Filmmaker Rob Sorrenti made a full- feature documentary about the process, from cleaning to creation to sinking. It will be released next year–but for now, enjoy this magnificent teaser.