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  Week 12   Hurricanes and Shipwrecks Program Menu
  Program 56 Hurricanes and Shipwrecks
      Visitors from all over the world flock to Florida’s pristine beaches during the warm weather of June. But June also marks the beginning of hurricane season, a historically dangerous period, especially for sailors.

I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida…

For centuries, violent winds and punishing waves produced by hurricanes and tropical storms have claimed some of the finest seagoing vessels of the day.

As a result, there are numerous shipwrecks in the deep and shallow waters surrounding Florida.

Archaeologists have excavated some of these underwater sites caused by hurricanes, such as the 1559 de Luna wrecks in Pensacola Bay and 1733 Plate Fleet shipwrecks scattered off the Florida Keys.

Weaker Tropical can be just as dangerous to ships- even into modern times. The 1904 Georges Valentine wreck near the city of Stuart and the 1937 SS Tarpon near Panama City were both lost in such storms.  Today these wrecks are among those featured as public “museums in the sea” in Florida’s Underwater Archaeological Preserve system.

  Program 57 Luna Shipwrecks

In shallow waters near downtown Pensacola lie the second oldest shipwrecks ever found in U.S. waters.  They were part of the 1559 Luna expedition. 

I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida. 

Tristan de Luna was a conquistador and governor charged with establishing the first Spanish settlement north of Mexico.  He sailed into Pensacola Bay with 1500 people aboard 13 ships…but before they could even unload… a hurricane struck, sinking 7 of the ships and all their contents.  

In 1992, state underwater archaeologist Roger Smith found one of Luna’s ships.  Protected by the soft muddy bottom of the bay, was a major portion of the hull and many artifacts, such as the ship’s 10-foot tall anchor, the encrusted mold of a soldier’s breastplate, and a silhouette carving of the ship herself.  

14 years later, University of West Florida archaeologists discovered a second Luna ship resting just 400 yards away- some of their finds so far include stone cannonballs, wooden shafts of crossbow arrows, and rosary beads.

  Program 58 1733 Plate Fleet
      Shipping riches of gold, silver, and exotic resources from the New World across the Atlantic was often dangerous for Spanish sailing fleets centuries ago: especially during hurricane season.

I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida…

In July of 1733 the New Spain fleet, made up of four armed galleons and eighteen merchant ships packed full of New World goods, left Havana on a course to Spain.

With little warning a hurricane smashed into the fleet, nearly destroying every ship and scattering them over 80 miles along the Florida Keys. Rescue ships were dispatched to pick up the survivors and salvage what they could.

Throughout the 1960s most of the wrecks were relocated by modern divers. Artifacts including cannons and anchors were raised. 

In 2004- ironically a very active hurricane season - state archaeologists surveyed and mapped 13 of the shipwrecks to create the 1733 Spanish Galleon Trail that’s open to the diving public.

  Program 59 Geroges Valentine
      On October 13, 1904 the three-masted ship Georges Valentine set sail from Pensacola carrying a load of lumber destined for Buenos Aires. A few days later the vessel encountered a violent storm in the Straits of Florida.

 I’m Dr. Judy Bense, and this is Unearthing Florida…

After three consecutive days of weathering the storm, the battered ship was wrecked off the coast of Stuart.  It was a complete loss and only seven out of the twelve crew members survived.

In 2003, state archaeologists conducted a survey of the wreck after it was nominated by local groups to become the site of the 11th Florida Underwater Archaeological Preserve. Portions of the vessel that were mapped include a section of the iron hull, parts of the deck, masts, and crane. 

In 2008, divers from the Florida Public Archaeology Network, or F-PAN, revisited the shipwreck. Although they found it in overall good condition, over the years shifting sands caused by hurricanes have reburied portions of the site that were previously exposed.

  Program 60 SS Tarpon
      The SS Tarpon was one of the unfortunate steamships in Florida’s maritime history.

I’m Dr. Judy Bense and this is Unearthing Florida…

For over three decades SS Tarpon, built in the late 19th century, never missed its weekly trips hauling cargo and passengers along the gulf coast, but on august 30th 1937 the overloaded vessel encountered rough seas and gale force winds that put an end to the streak of good fortune.

Attempts by the 81-year-old captain to lighten the heavy-laden freighter were in vain, and the ship ultimately succumbed to the sea less than 8 nautical miles from the shores of Panama City.  All cargo and 18 lives were lost.

Today SS Tarpon is the deepest shipwreck in the Florida underwater archaeological preserve. This 160 ft long sunken vessel has disintegrated over the years and much of it lies in pieces. But, the ships boilers, hull and deck plating, main engines, anchor chain and windlass still remain.

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