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Centuries-Old Shipwreck Washes Up in Florida

The 48-foot section of ship’s hull was found last week at South Ponte Vedra Beach

(St. Johns County Sheriff's Office)
smithsonian.com

Last week, what is believed to be a centuries-old ship’s hull washed up on South Ponte Vedra Beach in Guana State Park, north of St. Augustine, Florida. Dan Scanlan and Matt Soergel at Jacksonville.com report that the well-preserved 48-foot section of wreckage may be from a ship constructed between in the late 1700 or early 1800s. Conservators are scurrying to document the ship since it’s possible that the tide could soon pull it back into the ocean before it is rescued.

The ship was first discovered by a visitor to the park, who spotted the item last Wednesday along with her son. Thinking it was some fencing or boardwalk that washed ashore, she went to investigate and found the hull. Later that day, archaeologists from the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) visited the wreck and began taking measurements, photos and videos in order to build 3D models of the wreckage.

Legally, the wreck is considered the property of the State of Florida, so the museum is not allowed to move it.

Already the researchers can say a few things about the wreck. It’s likely from a large sailing vessel, probably a merchant ship, and copper tack heads show that the hull was likely sheathed in the metal. Roman numerals carved into the ribs of the ship are also visible. “It’s really amazing to see somebody’s writing that's been buried in the ocean for well more than a century,” LAMP maritime historian Brendan Burke tells Scanlan and Soergel.

Vic Micolucci at News4Jax.com reports that the local sheriff’s office dispatched a deputy to guard the wreck to make sure treasure hunters or vandals did not disturb it.

Marc Anthony, who owns a local St. Augustine antique shop, tells Micolucci that the wreckage is something that not many people—even professional treasure hunters—ever see in their lifetime. “I was just blown away,” he says upon seeing the hull. “We are going to need to preserve this and get this into a museum if possible. I would hate to see history like this be taken away by the ocean again.”

It’s likely that the shipwreck was buried somewhere off the coast, and that rough seas over the last few days dislodged the large section of hull. There is no word yet on whether the state of Florida intends to collect the wreck.

This is not the first wreck discovered on Vedra Beach. In 2008, the remains of the Deliverance, a ship based in Bermuda were discovered off the beach and identified in 2014. In 2013, volunteers patrolling to protect sea turtles discovered the remains of what is likely a 100-year-old shrimp boat.

As one of the oldest ports in North America, the St. Augustine area is full of wrecks, many still waiting to be discovered. According to LAMP, they are on the hunt for ships including early French and Spanish colonial vessels from the 1500s, 18th-century slave ships, Confederate privateers, early 20th-century steamers along with dozens of other potential finds.

About Jason Daley

Jason Daley is a Madison, Wisconsin-based writer specializing in natural history, science, travel, and the environment. His work has appeared in Discover, Popular Science, Outside, Men’s Journal, and other magazines.

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