The state will sink two boats off the coast near Beaufort Inlet next week to honor the man who ran North Carolina’s artificial reef program for 14 years.
The boats – an 108-foot Army tug and a 65-foot New York harbor tug – will provide an underwater habitat that attracts marine life and divers, the two main goals of the program Jim Francesconi ran for the state Division of Marine Fisheries. The larger boat will be renamed the James J. Francesconi, with his name in steel letters on its wheelhouse.
Francesconi died of leukemia in the summer of 2014 at age 54. The idea to honor him by sinking a ship drew support from both diving and fishing organizations, who donated nearly $34,000 toward the project. Other sources of money include nearly $78,000 from the state’s scuba diving license plate fund and a $7,000 grant from a conservation fund administered by the Division of Marine Fisheries.
The two retired tugs have been stripped and thoroughly cleaned to prepare for their new role on the seafloor. They will be tethered to each other when they are sunk in 63 feet of water in a designated reef site 12 miles off shore. The timing will depend on the weather.
There are 50 designated artificial reef sites in North Carolina – 42 off the coast and eight in Pamlico Sound and its tributaries. Some are littered with concrete objects designed and built to act as what are known as patch reefs, but many more are made of concrete culverts, roadbeds, bridges, railroad boxcars and ships.
Francesconi is credited with making hundreds of contributions to the state’s artificial reefs, including overseeing the sinking of a U.S. Coast Guard cutter and two Coast Guard Falcon jets.