Sunday Favorites: Shipwreck Preserves, a New Trend in Conservation

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Published Sunday, April 27, 2014 12:05 am
by Merab-Michal Favorite

The USS Narcissus participated in the Union victory at the Battle of Mobile Bay. However, that same year a torpedo struck the hull on the starboard side and the ship sank in 15 minutes.
The USS Narcissus participated in the Union victory at the Battle of Mobile Bay. However, that same year a torpedo struck the hull on the starboard side and the ship sank in 15 minutes.

Remnants of Florida’s maritime history lie scattered along Florida’s coast, some of them untouched for thousands of years.

Dugout canoes used by Native Americans to trade with other tribes await excavation.

The skeletons of Spanish Galleons that arrived on Florida shores in search of gold and everlasting existence sit undisturbed on the ocean floor.

And countless vessels commissioned to conduct military operations during a variety of conflicts convey a story of bravery, endurance and patriotism.

But those artifacts can’t be brought into a classroom.

A new trend in preservation has focused on shipwrecks to encourage the education of Florida culture and allow learners the opportunity to participate in a bit of adventure.

Shipwreck parks are relatively new to Florida tourism, meant to serve as educational preservation through recreation.

The program began in 1987 with the designation of the Urca de Lima, a Spanish merchant ship, which sank off the coast of Ft. Pierce in 1715.

Now officials have nominated the USS Narcissus, the remains of a U.S. Navy steam tug sunken off the coast of Egmont Key, as Florida’s twelfth shipwreck park.

The wooden-hulled screw tug had a shallow draft of six feet, could reach speeds up to 12 knots and was armed with a 20-pounder Parrot rifle that fired a 12-pound cannon.

The U.S.S. Narcissus served during the Civil War, but blew up and sank in 1866 during a storm, taking the entire crew with it.

Today parts of the steam machinery, propeller and a portion of the wooden hull are positioned on a sandy bottom northwest of Egmont Key in about 15 feet of water. The conditions are perfect for diving, as the current is often mild and visibility impressive.

The wreck would be the second in the area. In 2004 the Regina, a molasses barge, wrecked during a storm off Bradenton Beach, becoming the states tenth underwater preserve.

If the USS Narcissus site becomes a preserve, an opening ceremony will be held to dedicate the new Preserve and to place an underwater bronze plaque designating the site a State Underwater Archeological Preserve and Florida Heritage Site.

Designating an underwater wreck as one of Florida’s Underwater Archaeological Preserves takes months of preparation. The designation requires historical research by archeologists, historians and divers as well as underwater mapping of the site.

The Florida Aquarium and South Eastern Archaeological Services nominated the wreck in 2010.

The USS Narcisssus was built Albany, N.Y. in 1863, the commissioned by the U.S. Navy for use in Mississippi Sound, New Orleans, Mobile Bay and Pensacola.

Admiral David Farragut of the West Gulf Blockading squadron captained the ship. In August 1864, the vessel participated in the Union victory at the Battle of Mobile Bay. However, that same year a torpedo struck the hull on the starboard side and the ship sank in 15 minutes.

Although no lives were lost during the attack, the blow marked the end of the tug’s war career. The USS Narcissus was salvaged, but spent the remainder of the war at the Pensacola Naval Yard under repair.

At the conclusion of the Civil War, the USS Narrcissus departed Pensacola destined for the Northeastern U.S., where she was to be sold. However, the tug ran aground and sank Jan. 4, 1866 while navigating around a storm off the coast of Tampa. The collision caused the broiler to explode, blowing the ship, and the entire crew into the depths of the Gulf.

The park is expected to draw in diving and snorkeling enthusiasts and Florida heritage tourism as well as generate revenue to surrounding communities.

Florida’s shipwreck parks are well visited often introducing charters to the site several times a week, especially at the height of dive season.

Other shipwreck perseveres include:
• Urca De Lima, Spanish merchant vessel, Ft. Pierce, Fla.
• San Pedro, Spanish treasure fleet galleon, Isamoralda, Florida Keys
• City of Hawkinsville, stern-wheel steamboat, Swannee River, Levy County
• USS Massachusetts, U.S. Navy Battleship, Pensacola, Fla.
• SS Copenhagen, single screw steamer, Pompano Beach, Fla.
• SS Tarpon, merchant steamer, Panama City, Fla.
• Half Moon, German steel racing yacht, Key Biscayne, Fla.
• Lofthus, English barque, Boynton Beach, Fla.
• Vamar, tramp steamer, Port St. Joe, Fla.
• Regina, screw steamer turned tanker, Bradenton Beach, Fla.
• George Valentine, Barkentine, Stuart, Fla.

So the next time you are feeling adventurous, trade the hiking boats for flippers and come on out to a shipwreck park located in your area.

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