Treasure Hunt

You won’t find precious jewels or gold bullion on these shipwrecks. Most have been picked over by salvagers ages ago. But the deep wrecks of the Gulf of Mexico have their own hidden treasures: grouper, snapper, amberjack and shark, just waiting for the intrepid angler or spearfisherman. This map lists a few of the more popular wrecks. For a more detailed accounting, pick up a copy of Michael C. Barnett’s new book, Shipwrecks of the Sunshine State: Floridas Submerged History, published by the Association of Underwater Explorers.

U.S.S. Massachusetts: This 351-foot battleship, launched in 1893, saw action off Cuba during the Spanish American War. Sunk off Pensacola in 1920, the ship was used for target practice. The U.S.S. Massachusetts rests in about 25 feet of water 2 miles offshore: 30 17.450N, 87 18.690W.

Emanuel Point Wreck: This 16th-Century ship was discovered in 1992. Researchers believe it was part of Tristan de Luna’s fleet that brought colonists to Florida in 1559. Wrecked in 12 feet of water close to shore, this ship was likely salvaged soon after sinking: Pensacola Bay.*

San Pablo: This 315-foot steamer, built in 1915 to run cargo in the Caribbean, was shelled by a German sub in 1942 but escaped to port. The San Pablo later was sunk in Costa Rica by another U-boat, raised but declared unfit for service, and subsequently towed to Pensacola, where it sits in 80 feet about 8 miles from Pensacola Pass: 30 11.329N, 87 13.088W

Tarpon: The steamer set out on the night of Aug. 30, 1930, with 200 tons of general cargo and 31 passengers. The 130-foot, iron-hulled vessel began taking on water and the crew was able to launch only one lifeboat before the ship sank. Eighteen people, including the captain, died: 30 05.595N, 85 56.640W.

E.E. Simpson: The 93-foot tug survived a hurricane in 1906, but 23 years later it went to the bottom assisting another vessel in a storm. The Simpson rests in 20 feet of water, 12 miles east of the Panama City Pass: 30 03.231N, 85 37.291W.

Leroy: This 144-foot steamer, launched in 1874, was once the largest seagoing tug in the Gulf of Mexico. En route to Sarasota in 1926, the tug sprang a leak 17 miles west-northwest of Cape San Blas and sank: 29 53.358N, 85 57.125W

William J. Keyser: This 93-foot oceangoing tug was on its way from Pensacola to Fort Jefferson in the Dry Tortugas in 1898 when it foundered in a storm and drowned 13 men: 29 53.904N, 85 31.094W.

Vamar: This 170-foot ship supported Admiral Richard E. Byrd during his first Antarctic expedition in 1928. In 1942 the ship was bound for the U.S. Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, when it sank mysteriously off St. Joseph Bay. A subsequent investigation determined the German captain, who was posing as a Norwegian, may have scuttled it: 29 53.939N, 85 27.808W

Empire Mica: This 456-foot tanker was on its maiden voyage in June of 1942 when it sank in 105 feet after being struck by two German torpedoes off Cape San Blas. Of the crew of 47, only 14 survived: 29 18.727N, 85 21.189W.

Holsten: This 1,859-ton freighter was carrying 2,000 tons of corn flour when it sank in 30-foot seas Oct. 2, 1992. The wreck lies in 200 feet with its port hull accessible at 160 feet: 28 19.126N, 84 26.373W

Captain Gil: In February 1996 the crew of this 60-foot workboat discovered the engine room taking on water. A fishing boat rescued the two men aboard, and Captain Gil went down in 80 feet: 28 41.280N, 83 38.030W

U.S.C.G. Blackthorn: This 180-foot buoy tender also served on the Great Lakes and in the Pacific. On Jan. 28, 1980, en route to Galveston, it collided with another ship at the mouth of Tampa Bay. Twenty-three men died. The ship was raised and sunk in 80 feet, 20 miles off Clearwater: 27 52.570N, 83 11.280W

U.S.S. Narcissus: This 82-foot Union tug participated in the Battle of Mobile Bay, where Admiral David Glasgow Farragut is said to have exclaimed “Damn the torpedoes. Full speed ahead!” After the war it ran aground off Egmont Key, rolled, and killed all 29 men aboard: 27 37.460N, 82 48.050W

Gunsmoke: The Coast Guard found 11 bales of marijuana aboard this 70-foot trawler as it sank off Egmont Key on Jan. 27, 1977. The Gunsmoke later would be linked to four murders and the disappearance of a $1-million yacht, the Pirates Lady. The hull lies in 80 feet: 27 33.310N, 83 05.050W

Southjack Wreck: This iron-hulled steamer, resting in 65-feet, sits upright and may have sunk as the result of a collision. The hull has collapsed, but two boilers and an engine can be seen nearby: 27 26.402N, 82 59.930W.

Regina: Known locally as the Sugar Barge, this 247-foot steamer was launched in 1905 for the Cuban Molasses Transportation Company of Havana. By 1940 the ship had been stripped and converted into a barge. It later foundered in a storm 100 yards off Bradenton Beach, killing one man.*

Bayronto: This 400-foot freighter survived being torpedoed by a German U-boat in July 1918, but a year later, the Bayronto ran into a hurricane and sank in 100 feet: 26 45.800N, 82 50.840W.

Roatan Express I: This 180-foot, steel-hulled offshore supply ship made numerous trips between Tampa and Honduras before sinking in rough seas approximately 80 miles west of Ft. Myers on Sept. 31, 1992. The captain and one passenger died: 26 20.358N, 83 22.027W

Fantastico: The No Name Storm of 1993 claimed more ships than Hurricane Andrew. The Honduran freighter Fantistico slipped beneath the waves on March 13 as it carried a load of fertilizer from Miami to Tampa. Of the 10 crew members aboard, only three survived. The 205-foot freighter sits in 115 feet 50 miles off Ft. Myers: 26 17.775N, 82 50.082W

Paddlewheeler Wreck: The wreck of a stern-paddlewheel steamer, known locally as the Paddlewheeler, rests upside down in 80 feet of water off Naples. Flat-bottomed boats of this design normally operated inland. The only clue to its identity is a pressure gauge that was manufactured in 1898: 25 53.320N, 82 17.510W

Marine Sulphur Queen: On the morning of Feb. 4, 1963, this 524-foot tanker disappeared off the west coast of Florida en route to Norfolk, Va. Debris was recovered two weeks later off Key West, but no trace of its 39-man crew was ever found.**

Baja California: This 265-foot freighter was en route to Guatemala in July, 1942, when a German U-boat put two torpedoes through her hull just before midnight. In 10 minutes the ship turned on its side and sank in 115 feet: 25 21.522N, 82 31.901W

Rhein: In November 1940, the German freighter slipped out of a Mexican port patrolled by American warships. Confronted by a Dutch Man-of-War off the Dry Tortugas, the crew scuttled the vessel in 250 feet: 24 56.116N, 83 30.601W

U-2513: This German sub had increased battery power, which meant it could run longer under water without detection. Fortunately for the Allies, it never saw combat. The U-2513 was towed off the Dry Tortugas and used for target practice: 24 52.719N, 83 15.956W

Araby Maid: Built in 1868, this 194-foot barge was built to carry cargo to and from the Far East. The iron-hulled sailing ship collided with the S.S. Denver on Nov. 21, 1903, northwest of the Dry Tortugas. Two men drowned: 24 43.831N, 83 28.955W

Source: Michael C. Barnett, Shipwrecks of the Sunshine State: Florida’s Submerged History, Association of Underwater Explorers
*Wreck close to shore **Wreck has never been found
© Copyright 2004 St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved