Florida Visitor Information
The waters around Florida have been swarming with ships for more than 6,000 years. American Indians used dugout canoes to travel up and down Florida's rivers and around the coast. When the Spanish first explored and later colonized Cuba and the Florida Panhandle, their wooden-hulled sailing ships were common sights in Florida's waters. Until the advent of railroads on the Florida Peninsula, ships and boats were vital to the development of the region as they were the most efficient means of transporting goods and passengers. Ever since the earliest European contact with the American continents, Florida has been a converging point for maritime trade routes connecting Europe, North America, the Caribbean, Central and South America and the Gulf of Mexico. Traversing Florida's waters could be hazardous; the water currents, offshore geography and geological hazards, including the Florida Reef and the Gulf Stream, traversed with narrow, shallow channels, are compounded by powerful hurricanes, and have caused many ships to founder and wreck. Not surprisingly, there are a large number of shipwrecks in the seas surrounding Florida. These vessels are time capsules from an earlier age and contain a wealth of information on the history of commerce and transport in Florida and the greater Caribbean area.
Florida's shipwrecks are important for many different reasons. The story of each shipwreck adds to the intricate tapestry of local history. Dugout canoes provide information about American Indians who occupied the area for thousands of years. During more recent times, some vessels were locally famous and contributed to the development of Florida's economy. Others provide information on the history of commerce in the region from the days of Spanish treasure fleets up through the age of steamboats and continuing into present day. Shipwrecks contain important information not found in history books or archival records and can supplement our understanding of the past.
Most of the shipwrecks listed in this travel itinerary are easily accessible and fascinating dive locations. Some of the shipwrecks are located within Dry Tortugas National Park, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary or one of Florida's Underwater Archeological Preserves. The others are within the territorial waters of the United States and under the jurisdiction of the state of Florida. Near most of these shipwrecks visitors will find local dive shops with further information, mooring buoys, marked underwater trails, laminated underwater maps for diving and snorkeling, shore-based exhibits with artifacts that interpret the sites for divers and non-divers alike and brochures. Except for the Maple Leaf (closed to divers), all sites are within generally accepted safe recreational diving limits and everyone is welcome to explore the sites, enjoy the surrounding undersea marine life and learn more about Florida's exciting maritime history. As with all historical and archeological sites on public uplands or submerged bottomlands, the shipwrecks are protected in accordance with Federal and/or Florida laws. The government agencies responsible for their management have established programs for their preservation, protection and interpretation, and for authorizing any excavation, disturbance or removal of artifacts. Living coral also are protected by law in Florida and must not be disturbed. It is important to remember that many of these shipwrecks have been damaged or are in an advanced stage of deterioration due to their being submerged for so many years. Divers today can help preserve these wrecks for future generations by not touching or removing anything from the shipwrecks or disturbing the surrounding sediment or marine life. When diving, always display the "diver down" flag and use mooring buoys to prevent anchor damage to the wreck sites.
The only surviving example of a pre-Dreadnaught battleship, the USS Massachusetts is the Nation’s oldest battleship. Commissioned in 1896, the Massachusetts, along with the USS Indiana and the USS Oregon, were members of the “Indiana” class of warships and the first ships constructed for the new “Steel” Navy. These heavily-armored, heavy caliber battleships were transitional models obsolete 20 years later as they contained a significant design flaw; “Indiana” warships were built without bilge keels that prevent the vessels from rolling from side to side. As a result, the Massachusetts was extremely unstable, even in calm seas, and if both 13-inch gun tubes were trained abeam at the same time, the ship would heel over, forcing one side underwater while the other side emerged from the waves.
The Massachusetts did not see much action but it did participate in the Spanish-American War, firing on the Spanish warship Cristobal Colon and helping to sink the cruiser Reina Mercedes. The ship was decommissioned in 1906 but returned to a reduced commission status in 1910 as a practice vessel for midshipmen. During World War I, the Massachusetts was employed as a gunnery practice ship. In 1919, it was decommissioned for the last time and renamed Coast Battleship No. 2. In 1921, the vessel was sunk in a training exercise by guns at Fort Pickens. Since it was still partially visible from the surface, Navy pilots used the Massachusetts for target practice during World War II. The Massachusetts is 350 feet long and 70 feet wide at the amidships and two of the battleship’s 13-inch cannon rise out of the water. Even though the hull was stripped for scrap metal during the 1940s, the wreck is in relatively good condition for being submerged for 80 years and has reached a state of equilibrium with the environment. In fact, the Massachusetts was completely undamaged by the violent hurricanes of the summer of 1995.
Built in 1887 and christened Naugatuck, the iron-hulled twin screw steamship Tarpon served during the period when railroads began replacing steamships. Many steamship companies were losing money and as a result, the Naugatuck changed owners a couple of times before being renamed the Tarpon and acquired by the Pensacola, St. Andrews & Gulf Steamship Company, which commissioned Willis Barrow to be its captain. For more than 30 years, starting in 1903, Barrow and the Tarpon made weekly runs along the northern Gulf coast. It is estimated that Barrow made more than 1,700 trips on the Tarpon. By 1937, the Tarpon was considered to be one of the most reliable and dependable vessels operating along the Florida panhandle.
On August 30th of that year, the Tarpon left Mobile, Alabama, loaded with as much freight as possible. The vessel carried more than 200 tons of general cargo as well as 200 barrels of oil and 15 tons of fresh water. As a result, the freeboard (distance between the waterline and the top of the deck) was less than five inches. In the early morning hours of September 1st, the ship started to take in water as the seas steadily became more turbulent. The crew started to jettison cargo but as dawn approached, a gale overtook the vessel. In a last ditch effort, the first mate of the Tarpon steered the ship towards land in an attempt to run it aground before it sank, but the ship was already out of control. Captain Barrow was among the 18 of the 31 aboard that drowned. There was no radio on board to call for help.
Although the Tarpon has begun to deteriorate, remains are still clearly visible on the sand and hardpan bottom. The wreck, approximately 160 feet long and 26 feet wide, was in relatively good condition until the early 1970s when a fierce storm in the Gulf of Mexico damaged the amidships and stern sections. Since then the bow has also collapsed. Located within a Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve, the Tarpon is one of Bay County's oldest artificial reefs and is teaming with marine life.
City of Hawkinsville
The City of Hawkinsville, a wooden-hulled paddlewheel steamboat, was first constructed for the Hawkinsville (Georgia) Deepwater Boat Lines in 1886. It was sold 14 years later to the Gulf Transportation Company of Tampa which used it to transport cargo on the Suwannee River. The City of Hawkinsville was especially important to the growth of the lumber industry in the region. However, as railroads in the area started to increase in popularity, steamships became obsolete. In an ironic twist, the City of Hawkinsville transported materials for the construction of a railroad bridge across the Suwannee River at Old Town, thus assisting in the development of the railroads in the region. In 1922, the City of Hawkinsville's captain, Mr. Currie, abandoned the vessel in the middle of the Suwannee River as the steamboat was no longer profitable.
The wreck’s port side is only three feet under the surface, while its starboard edge is at a depth of 20 feet. The 141-foot long by 30-foot wide vessel is in a remarkable state of preservation, and the hull is almost entirely intact including the stem post, the deck planking, exterior planking, boiler room and internal framing. The main propulsion system and the steam piping are still in place. The excellent condition of this vessel is due to the freshwater environment of the Suwannee. The City of Hawkinsville has reached a state of equilibrium with its surroundings and has stabilized.
Constructed in Kingston, Ontario, the Great Lakes passenger steamship Maple Leaf set out to sea on June 18, 1851. Its first owner, Donald Bethune and Company, used the Maple Leaf as a passenger ship until the company started to flounder. Mr. Bethune subsequently fled the country and the remaining partners sold the vessel to a company based in Rochester, New York, in 1855. At the time, a new reciprocity treaty between the United States and Canada temporarily revitalized Lake Ontario shipping but by the end of the decade the United States found itself in a depression. Although the shipping trade went into decline, the charter market for steamers rose as a result of the Civil War. In 1862 the Maple Leaf was sold to Bostonians J.H.B. Lang and Charles Spear who chartered it to the U.S. Army.
The Maple Leaf was used as a transport vessel, bringing Union troops south to Virginia. In 1863, Confederate prisoners-of-war (POWs) on the ship overpowered their guards and took control of the vessel. After landing, the POWs escaped to Richmond. The Union recovered the boat and continued to use it to transport troops along the East Coast until 1864. In April of that year, the Maple Leaf struck a Confederate "torpedo" (what we would now call a mine) off Mandarin Point in the St. John's River. The explosion tore the bow of the ship apart, ripping through the deck and killing four soldiers. The vessel sank quickly, but apart from those lost in the explosion there were no other fatalities.
The Maple Leaf was never salvaged and, while the U.S. Treasury Department attempted to sell the wreck and signed two contracts in 1873 and 1876 that required removal of the wreck, no sale occurred. Since the remains of the Maple Leaf were blocking a portion of the river and were a serious threat to other vessels, in 1882 the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers contracted to move the wreck to its present location. The Maple Leaf is 181 feet long by 25 feet wide and weighs 398 tons. The wreck is buried beneath 7 feet of mud in 20 feet of water. It is extremely well preserved under the mud with the hull virtually intact save for the starboard box and deck, which were damaged in the explosion. However, what makes the wreck of the Maple Leaf truly amazing is the vast amount of cargo associated with the submerged steamer. More than 3,000 individual artifacts have been recovered from the Maple Leaf and are on public display at the Jacksonville Museum of Science and History.
Urca De Lima
The Urca De Lima is a wooden-hulled sailing ship that was part of a Spanish plate flota (fleet) sunk by a hurricane off the east coast of Florida in 1715. A flat-bottomed and round-bellied ship, the vessel was ideal for transporting goods across the Atlantic because of its large cargo capacity. The 11 vessels of the merchant convoy were traveling from Havana, Cuba, to Spain loaded with products from Mexico and Manila, including vanilla, chocolate and incense. While there was no royal treasure on the boat, the Urca De Lima did contain private chests of silver. After it was grounded by the storm, the Urca De Lima was one of the first vessels to be salvaged by the Spanish, who subsequently burned the hull down to the waterline to hide its location from English freebooters.
The Urca De Lima was rediscovered in 1928. For the next half century the wreck was heavily salvaged. In the 1980s, the state of Florida stopped issuing salvage permits on the Urca De Lima and opened the wreck to the public as the state’s first Underwater Archaeological Preserve. To recreate a visual sense of the original state of the wreck, five cement replicas of cannons and an anchor were positioned around the sunken ship. All that remains of the ship is the 100-foot by 50-foot ballast mound which covers the hull timbers. Bottom sediments constantly cover and uncover the vessel as a result of wave action, storms and currents. The remains of the Urca De Lima are especially significant because the ship is extremely well preserved and it is the only surviving wreck from that 1715 flota. The Urca De Lima is in good condition and has stabilized, reaching a state of equilibrium with its environment.
The Lofthus shipwreck is one of the few remaining examples of iron-hulled sailing vessels that plied the waters of Florida, and the world, in the late 19th century. Originally named the Cashmere, the vessel was built in Sunderland, England, by T.R. Oswald and launched on October 5, 1868. Owned by the Liverpool Shipping Company and managed by H. Fernie & Sons, the Cashmere was intended to travel the globe; false gunports were painted along her sides to deter Sumatran and Javanese pirates. Constructed of riveted iron, the barque measured 222 feet in length, 36.7 feet in beam and had a depth of hold of 22.7 feet. The ship was rated at 1,277 gross tons with two decks and one cemented bulkhead. In 1897, Cashmere was sold to a Norwegian named Henschien, renamed Lofthus, and transferred to the American trade.
On February 4, 1898, while en route from Pensacola to Buenos Aires with a cargo of lumber, Lofthus wrecked on the east coast of Florida. The local sea-going tug Three Friends (which usually was engaged in running guns to Cuba) attempted to assist the stranded barque, which was high on the beach and quickly being pounded to pieces by waves. The crew of 16 men was saved but the vessel was a total loss. While stranded on the beach, Lofthus' Captain Fromberg, traveling with his family, entertained local residents and gave the ship's dog and cat to one family. After being stripped of all useable items, the wreck was sold along with 800,000 feet of lumber stowed in the hold for $1,000. In September 1898, the hull, which was not nearly as valuable as the cargo, was dynamited so that the lumber could be salvaged.
The blasting of the hull produced a scattered wreck site approximately 290 feet long by 50 feet wide, with three main areas of wreckage. The ship's bow is at the north end of the site and includes deck beams and hull elements. Visible in the midships area are deck beams and deck plates together with fasteners, hanging knees and a worm gear (possibly associated with the vessel's steering mechanism or with a deck-mounted donkey engine). Toward the stern, a section of iron mast as well as additional pieces of decking and beams protrude from the sand. The Lofthus has stabilized in the marine environment and can, through future archeological investigation, provide additional information about late 19th-century merchant ships, the combination of metal hulls and sail propulsion in sea-going vessels and coastal maritime commerce and transportation.
A 19th-century steel-hulled schooner-rigged screw steamship, the SS Copenhagen was constructed in Sunderland, England. It was registered in Glasgow, Scotland, to the Glasgow Shipowners Company, Ltd., which used the vessel to transport cargo across the Atlantic. Launched in 1898, the Copenhagen met a watery grave only two years later during a voyage between Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and Havana, Cuba. The Copenhagen was transporting some 4,940 tons of coal when, without warning, it ran aground and became stranded on a reef. The crew began to unload cargo and efforts were made to free the ship from the reef but, ultimately, the vessel was abandoned.
An investigation into the sinking of the Copenhagen reported that the official cause of the accident was "improper navigation" by the ship's captain, William S. Jones. The wreck remained visible above the water for a prolonged period of a time, and the Navy used it for target practice during World War II before it sunk under the water. While the 325-foot by 47-foot ship has been stripped of its engine, boilers, propeller and other machinery, it is well preserved, and many of its features are still recognizable. However, the bow section was removed during an excavation attempt and presently lies 200 yards southeast of the wreck. Today, the Copenhagen has become an artificial reef, and has stabilized, reaching a state of equilibrium with its environment.
Built in Kiel, Germany, in 1908, the Half Moon (originally named the Germania) was designed by the famous engineer Dr. Max Oertz. The racing yacht, constructed of chrome-nickel steel, was a wedding present from Bertha Krupp to her husband, Count Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach. An extremely fast ship, the Germania participated in the prestigious regattas at Cowes, England, and Kiel, Germany, before it was seized by the British as a prize of war at Southampton, England, in 1914, when the ship's captain brought it into port without knowing war had been declared.
The vessel sat and deteriorated in port until 1917 when it was auctioned off for £10,000 sterling to Mr. H. Hannevig who renamed it Exen and sailed it across the Atlantic. When Hannevig went bankrupt three years later, it was sold again and renamed the Half Moon. It was then purchased by Gordon Woodbury, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy, who set about refurbishing it. The yacht was badly damaged in 1922, but was repaired and sold to Charles Vail and served as a floating saloon and restaurant during Prohibition. In 1926, the yacht sank in the Miami River but was raised soon thereafter. In 1928, Captain Ernest Smiley acquired the Half Moon and used it as a fishing barge until the ship wrecked in a 1930 storm and sunk for the last time. The Half Moon was discovered in 1987 and positively identified three years later. It is approximately 155 feet long by 40 feet wide and rests on its port side. Although the starboard edge has been struck by another boat and is damaged at the amidships, the Half Moon is in relatively good condition. However, there are not many artifacts associated with the wreck as it was used as a fishing platform before being designated as the state's seventh Underwater Archaeological Preserve.
USCG Cutter Duane
The USCG Cutter Duane was built in 1936 at the U.S. Naval Yard in Philadelphia. At 327 feet long, the Duane was one of only seven Treasury class cutters, all named after Secretaries of the Treasury. Duane was third in the series to be built, named for the 11th Secretary of the Treasury, William J. Duane, who served under President Andrew Jackson. The vessel had various assignments before joining the U.S. Atlantic Fleet in 1941. Duane served with distinction during several important wartime and peacetime missions. On April 17, 1943, the Duane and sister ship Spencer sank the German U-Boat U-77. The Duane participated in four rescues at sea, picking up a total of 346 survivors. In 1980, she was an escort vessel for thousands of Cuban refugees coming to the United States. The cutter's last assignments included search and rescue work and drug enforcement.
After being decommissioned on August l, 1985, as the oldest active U.S. military vessel, the Duane was intentionally sunk for use as an artificial reef in 1987. The ship's hatches were opened and the holds pumped full of water to sink the ship. On a clear day, the outline of Duane's intact hull can be seen from above. The mast and crow's nest, protruding high above the hull, can be seen at 60 feet below the water line. The navigating bridge is located at 70 feet, just forward of amidships. The superstructure deck is at 90 feet and the main deck lies at l00 feet. The hull structure, completely intact with the original rudders, screws, railings, ladders and ports, makes an impressive display. Duane offers advanced divers an exciting opportunity to explore an intact sunken ship that hosts an impressive community of pelagic and sedentary marine life.
The USS Alligator, a U.S. Navy schooner constructed in 1820 at the Charlestown Navy Yard in Boston, Massachusetts, is an excellent example of an American warship from this period. The Alligator was primarily used to combat the slave trade off the coast of Africa and protect merchant ships in the West Indies from pirates, two of the most significant issues on President James Monroe's agenda. By the time Monroe took office, it was illegal to transport new slaves to the United States from Africa and the U.S. Navy was called upon to enforce that law. The Alligator was one of many ships that patrolled the shores of West Africa in an attempt to curtail illegal slave trading. The Alligator also transported Dr. Eli Ayres, a representative of the American Colonization Society, and Lt. Robert Field Stockton, the captain of the ship, to West Africa in 1821 to negotiate the purchase of land that became a colony for freed African American slaves. From these roots, the State of Liberia was formed in 1847.
The Alligator was also used to combat piracy in the Caribbean, which became an issue when Spain ceded Florida to the United States in 1819. Suddenly it was the responsibility of the United States to protect merchant ships off the coast of Florida from pirates, who were rampant in the Gulf of Mexico at the time. The Alligator met a number of pirate ships in combat during the spring and summer of 1822, but in November of that year it ran aground while escorting a convoy of merchant ships. After unsuccessfully attempting to refloat the vessel, the crew of the Alligator set it afire to prevent pirates from salvaging the schooner. The Alligator is 86 feet in length and 25 feet at the beam and the wreck site consists of two ballast piles and associated coral heads and rubble. The primary ballast pile consists of the remains of the lower hull, which are preserved in situ. The second pile contains artifacts from the vessel, as well as components of the Alligator that were jettisoned overboard when the crew attempted to refloat the ship. Today, the Alligator has stabilized and is in a fair state of preservation.
The San Pedro, a wooden-hulled Dutch-built sailing ship, was one of 21 merchant ships loaded with tanned hides, spices, jewels, silver and gold in a flota (fleet) headed to Spain from Havana, Cuba, in the summer of 1733 when a hurricane off the coast of the Florida Keys wrecked all but one of the ships. The ships were salvaged for their precious cargo and those vessels that could be refloated were taken back to Havana. Those ships that could not make the journey, including the San Pedro, were burned down to the waterline. It took years to complete the salvage effort but eventually more treasure was recovered from the wrecks of the 1733 flota than had been recorded on the ships' manifests, evidence of illegal smuggling.
The wreck of the San Pedro was rediscovered in the 1960s and proved to be very profitable for those involved in the modern day salvage effort as the sunken vessel contained thousands of silver coins and other artifacts. Bottom sediments cover the wreck of the vessel, which is made up of a ballast mound 90 feet long by 30 feet wide and lies from the northwest to the southeast. The remains of the ship that were not covered by sand have long since been consumed by sea worms or carried away with the current. In 1977, the wreck site was surveyed by Florida's Underwater Archaeological Research Section and the ballast mound was recorded and mapped. In 1989, it became the state's second Underwater Archeological Preserve. Today, the wreck is stable and has reached a state of equilibrium with its environment. The San Pedro is among Florida's oldest artificial reefs.
Windjammer Site (Avanti)
Located within Dry Tortugas National Park, the Windjammer site (also known as "Steel Wreck," "Dutch Wreck" and "French Wreck") is the nickname of an iron-hulled ship-rigged sailing vessel known as the Avanti. In 1875, John Reid & Co. constructed the ship, originally named the Killean, in Port Glasgow, Scotland. The first owners of the Killean, Mackinnon, Frew & Co. sold the vessel to Antoine-Dominique Bordes & Fils of Dunkirk, France, in 1893, which promptly renamed it the Antonin after the owner's son. Although there is no historical evidence, it is safe to assume that at this time the vessel was employed in the Chilean nitrate fertilizer trade, as Bordes & Fils was one of the major participants in this industry. When Bordes & Fils purchased a larger, more economical ship in 1901, the Antonin was sold to a Norwegian company, Acties Avanti, owned by partners C. Zernichow & O. Gotaas. The new owners renamed it Avanti and sent the vessel to Pensacola where the burgeoning lumber export industry was in desperate need of transport ships to carry cargo around the Caribbean.
The Avanti sunk on January 22, 1907, as it was transporting lumber from Pensacola to Montevideo, Uruguay. The details of the sinking of the ship are unknown, as there are no historical documents on the event. The ship is 261 feet long by 39 feet wide with three masts, two decks and cement ballast. The Avanti is in excellent condition as a result of iron's resistance to corrosion. There are two main wreckage fields with the bow section oriented east-west and the stern section aligned north-south.
Bird Key Wreck or Brick Wreck
The Bird Key wreck, also known as the "Brick Wreck," is a screw-driven, narrow-beamed, shallow draft, flat-bottomed steamboat. While the ship has not been positively identified, it is likely that it was transporting bricks to Garden Key for the construction of nearby Fort Jefferson. It is possibly the Scottish Chief, which was owned and operated by the Tift brothers out of Key West, who were the principal suppliers of bricks for Fort Jefferson at this time. There are three types of brick associated with the wreck; yellow bricks identical to those used to construct the curtains, bastions and other major portions of Fort Jefferson; and two other types of brick that were used in the firebox of the vessel.
There is no specific information on the circumstances surrounding the wreck. All that is known is that the grounding and loss occurred sometime between 1857, the first date that the firebricks found on the wreck were manufactured, and 1861, the last date that the yellow construction bricks were produced for the Federal government. It is evident that the wreck was salvaged, as the engine and much of the ship's machinery have been removed. The remains of the ship have been scattered around the area by storms. The wreck measures about 107 feet in length, 17 feet wide and is listing starboard lying with its bow facing the shore of the key. The composite hull is made up of a wrought iron frame with iron plates on the bottom and a wood exterior.
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