ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. (AP) - Researchers believe a shipwreck that surfaced near Crescent Beach is likely the remnants of a cargo vessel called the Caroline Eddy that was run aground by a hurricane in the late 19th century.
According to Chuck Meide, director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program, analysis of the bones of the ship a, along with initial research his team has done, make it a “strong candidate” for identification as a merchant ship that sank not far from the area in 1880.
“We believe it could very well be the Caroline Eddy,” Meide told The Record at the site of the shipwreck, which is just of Matanzas Inlet near the Summer House condominium complex on State Road A1A.
“And this is definitely the hull of the ship. There is no keel under here which would be the center of the ship, but it could just be that the ship is broken up.”
IS IT THE CAROLINE EDDY?
LAMP is the research arm of the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. Meide and his team have investigated hundreds of shipwrecks, here in Florida and beyond, including most recently what has come to be called the “Spring Break Wreck” that washed ashore in Ponte Vedra Beach two years ago.
In this case, researchers believe the structure has been buried under dunes for centuries, and its weathered remains gradually began poking through due to erosion.
A local who is an avid maritime enthusiast tipped Meide off to the suggestion that the shipwreck could, in fact, be the Caroline Eddy, a theory Meide and his research team believe evidence is beginning to corroborate.
From the book “Shipwrecks of Florida: A Comprehensive Listing, Second Edition” by Steven D. Singer (2015, Rowman & Littlefield): “Brigade Captain George Warren, from Fernandina bound for New York with lumber. Went ashore near Matanzas during hurricane of Aug. 28, 1880. Crew saved after spending two days and one night in the rigging.”
Meide said a log kept by the St. Augustine Lighthouse keeper at that time notes on Aug. 29, 1880, that a merchant ship out of Fernandina was, in fact, impacted by a storm that drove it at least 9 miles south of its original port of origin.
After it sank, the wreckage was probably pushed onto the beach during a storm and covered with sand over time. Over the past 10 years, the loss of nearly a foot of sand from the Crescent Beach shoreline has likely exposed the wreck, Meide said.
Identifying shipwrecks is kind of like fitting together the pieces of a puzzle as marine archeologists take measurements and look for certain markers in order to confirm certain hypotheses, including the time period of a vessel.
“These irons here are the ribs of the ship,” Meide said as he placed a ruler across one section of the wreck on Wednesday.
The timber, most of which has been oxidized due to the iron bolts it’s constructed with, is strong enough to suggest the vessel could have carried a heavy load of cargo.
Seventy percent of all known historic shipwrecks lost in Florida are merchant vessels, part of the coastal trade of moving goods from one port to another along the Atlantic coast, Meide said.
ROUGH WEATHER HELPED REVEAL WRECKAGE
Dating the ship is a bit trickier; however, Meide believes it goes back to the 19th century.
“Everything we’ve seen on it so far fits that hypothesis; wooden planking, wood timbers, iron fasteners,” he said. “They look quite similar to other ships from the 1800s that we have seen.”
Due to the lingering effects of a tropical storm passing through the area, wave action had been strong for several days leading up to the discovery of the shipwreck. The LAMP team began inspecting and documenting the shipwreck on Sunday, the day after the structure became visible.
“It seems, day by day, we’re seeing a little more of it being uncovered,” Meide said. “And we’ve done some excavating as well.”
LAMP is going over some records and doing other research at its offices at the lighthouse for the next few days. The team plans to go out again to the site early next week to continue their examination, including taking material samples for further investigation by Lee Newsom, professor of anthropology at Flagler College, who has worked with LAMP previously.
The group is not likely to move the wreck from the site as it would be too expensive, but it is seeking permission from the state to have the area marked off so visitors cannot disturb the structure. There have, of course, been many sightseers already out to see the shipwreck for themselves.
“It really is a living museum we’re dealing with here,” Meide said.
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