Captain Dan Porter has personally investigated many shipwreck leads and states with confidence that MRR will be the first in line when a person as experienced as Rush Maltz says he has located a wreck on the ocean floor. Rush is a prominent local Florida Keys charter fishermen, proficient at locating rock piles and shipwrecks throughout the Florida Keys using the latest in Simrad equipment. MRR entered into an agreement to investigate and identify a target found by Rush in an area that is void of geological features, in approximately 500 ft. of water off the Lower Florida Keys. The target is located outside of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) and Florida waters.
Rush’s sonar images of the target area.
On July 26, Dan Porter and MRR team members Levin Shavers and Rob Hill traveled to Key West to meet with Rush and his crew to attempt using a drop camera survey methodology to identify the suspected wreck site. This tactic was derived as an attempt to be more cost effective than setting up a deep-tow side scan operation, as well as to save time in potentially identifying the target as a viable historic shipwreck target or something different.
Since the target was outside Florida waters and well outside of the FKNMS, permitting for the survey operation was not required. On the morning of July 27, the MRR team met with Rush and crew at Murry’s Marina on Stock Island and boarded his center console vessel with the survey gear. They made the 17-mile trip to the location of the potential site, and when the vessel arrived, the drop camera system was already set up and ready to investigate. Rush skillfully positioned the vessel over the target and the weighted camera was lowered.
It took less the one minute for the camera to reach the desired depth of 505 ft. The team made a thorough drift over the target and began to retrieve the camera. When the system was on board, the team took the micro SD card out of the GoPro, placed it into the survey laptop and reviewed the footage.
Everyone on board was on pins and needles waiting to get a glimpse of what was laying on the bottom, 505 ft. below. When the first images began to come into focus, there was wild speculation of cannons and anchors. But as the team looked closer, it became clear that the structure on the bottom was the scattered remains of a fiberglass-over-wood shrimp boat. As the footage continued, the booms became visible, and the engine transmission and shaft were clear to see.
Survey images of the target, identified as a shrimp boat.
While wishes for the success of this project faded, what stands clear is the methodology used was the right choice and saved everyone a lot of time and money. The team left and returned to the dock in less than three hours with the successful identification of the site. The total cost was less than $400, as opposed to nearly $10,000 that it would have cost to set up a deep-tow system for the side scan unit. The funds saved can now be used to continue excavation on MRR’s primary sites along the Treasure Coast and the site of the Santa Margarita.
One important point to be made very clear by such an investigation is that this shipwreck has only been laying on the ocean floor for approximately fifty years and the degree of degeneration is very apparent in the pictures above. Those who assume shipwrecks are time capsules on the ocean floor in a preservation state are mistaken, as degradation happens quickly in the harsh saltwater environment.
After the efficient and effective survey process was completed by MRR, Rush mentioned that he has many fishing spots that resemble this target. Dan suggested that they start making a list and attempt to identify as many as possible. Remember, there were many fish hooks found in the main pile of the Atocha.