Friday, August 13, 2004


Shipwreck off Crescent Beach could be declared a park


Features Editor

A shipwreck off Crescent Beach might become the first underwater park in northeastern Florida if the team of divers from the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program (LAMP) is successful in satisfying all the requirements set forth under the Florida's Shipwreck Preserves Program.

On July 3, 1918, the U.S. Corps of Engineers' dredge vessel Florida encountered a storm off Daytona Beach. When the vessel began listing, the captain gave orders to abandon ship. Three of the 13 crew members perished. Wreckage washed ashore between Crescent Beach and Matanzas Inlet.

The steam-powered paddle wheel, originally launched in 1904 and rebuilt in 1908, measured 152-feet-long, 29.9 feet in breadth with 7 feet of depth.

The wreck currently sits relatively intact in protected waters about 15 feet off the bottom on a north/south orientation. Its position is about a mile and a half east, parallel to the Crescent Beach 207 Bridge. The remains, 130 feet of preserved hull, are approximately 29 feet, 8 inches across. It is covered in hard and soft corals and is home to numerous species of fish and at least two nurse sharks.

July 6, almost 86 years to the date of the demise of the ill-fated ship, a team of divers led by archeologist John W. Morris III, executive director of LAMP, began initial mapping of the site. LAMP's aim is to develop it into an underwater park as part of the Florida Archeological Preserves. Morris hopes to obtain sufficient documentation about the ship and the site to be able to nominate it as the first underwater park in northeastern Florida.

Lt. Col. Steve Muskett and two LAMP staff members, Robin Moore and Kim Eslinger, joined Morris. The mapping process also serves as an educational experience for Nicole Tumblesome, a University of Florida student who is an intern in the program.

Muskett, who earlier this year returned from a tour of duty in Iraq, teaches at Nease High School. He is credited with starting the local Marine Archaeology Research Center for high school students interested in learning basic archaeological methods and research skills, with a hands-on underwater experience. Four students who were in that program while in high school are participating in the mapping process. The four, all who are now in college, include Laura Black, B.J. Strawn, Jena Shockley and Peter Osterrieber.

Morris emphasized that throughout the process there will be no digging or recovery operations. The dives will be for observation purposes only and will include fish identification and counts by species.

"The waters around St. Augustine are protected as a marine archaeological preserve by the State of Florida. That makes it illegal to salvage anything from sunken vessels in our waters," he explained.

Morris cautioned that it could be up to two years or longer before the process is completed. If successful in satisfying requirements for the underwater park designation, the site would be marked by a buoy. It then would become a living museum in the sea. An underwater plaque interprets each designated park. Brochures and laminated underwater guides would become available from local dive shops.

This could become a haven for snorkelers and scuba divers and a boon to local dive shops. It could also open the door to a whole new tourist attraction in the area.

"The visibility won't be as good as in the Keys," Morris advised, "but it should still be a great place for local diving."

The dredge Florida is not the only sunken ship off Crescent Beach. The Isis, a private steam yacht launched in 1902, was originally owned by the wealthy Spaulding brothers, John Taylor and William of Boston. Isis became a naval vessel during World War I and was decommissioned in 1919 at which time the ship was used for survey work. On Jan. 20, 1920, the Isis was taking soundings near the submerged Florida, preparatory to placing a warning buoy in its area, when she ripped a hole in the ship's bottom. The captain decided to beach the vessel about 150 yards offshore. In doing so he probably saved the lives of the 45 crew members.

Before salvage efforts could begin, another storm hit the St. Augustine area. The wreck of the Isis broke up and was abandoned.

And there she lies -- 1.09 miles northwest of the dredge Florida off Crescent Beach. While LAMP is interested in the sunken wreck, it is not being considered as an underwater park, "because," according to Morris, "the Isis is in an impact zone where the waves break. It's not a safe dive location."

There are currently nine underwater parks designated as Florida Shipwreck Preserves, and one, the Regina, is pending designation. The locations and ships include:

Boynton Beach: Iron hulled barque Lofthus wrecked in 1898.

Bradenton Beach: Irish built steamer Regina sunk in 1940 (pending designation).

Fort Pierce: Spanish Plate Fleet, Urca de Lima went down in 1715.

Islamorada: Galleon San Pedro lost in a hurricane in 1733.

Key Biscayne: The racing yacht Half Moon downed in 1930.

Panama City: The merchant steamer SS Tarpon, lost in a gale in 1937.

Pensacola: The Spanish American War-era battleship USS Massachusetts was scuttled for target practice in 1921.

Pompano Beach: Steamship SS Copenhagen, wrecked in 1900.

Port St. Joe: Once a patrol gun boat, the Vamar sunk in 1942.

Suwannee River: Paddlewheel steamboat City of Hawkinsville sunk in 1920.

For details on each of the parks go to and click on Archaeological Preserves.

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