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Fast Facts

Average Rating: 3.625
Average Depth: 90 ft.
Max Depth: 95 ft.

    This twin-screw steamer powered by twin compound engines was built in 1887 in Wilmington, Delaware and launched as the Naugatuck. She had an iron hull, was 130 feet in length and had a 26-foot beam. In 1889 she was sold to Henry B. Plant of Tampa who used her to carry freight and passengers along the west coast of Florida. Plant may have also used the ship to transport troops and supplies to and from Cuba during the Spanish-American War. Plant even sent the ship back to the shipyard to have the hull extended to almost 160 feet and to add staterooms.

    In 1902, the Naugatuck was sold to the Pensacola, St. Andrews and Gulf Steamship Company and named the Tarpon. The Tarpon made weekly runs from Mobile, Alabama, to Pensacola and St. Andrews Bay, Florida. The Tarpon and other steamships like her were the lifeline between the coastal communities that had few paved roads and depended on ships for goods and communication. The Tarpon's Captain, Willis Green Barrow, made over 1700 trips and had a reputation for maintaining a tight schedule no matter what. He is reported to have said more than once, "God makes the weather, and I make the trip."

    On August 30, 1937, Captain Barrow allowed the Tarpon to be loaded with flour, sugar, canned foods, and beer beyond its maximum capacity before leaving Mobile. In Pensacola, iron was added to the the Tarpon's load. By the time the Tarpon left port with over 200 tons of cargo and 31 people to make the trip to St. Andrew Bay, her freeboard was less than five inches!

    As the weather worsened overnight, a small leak in the Tarpon's bow grew larger and the engineer reported the bilge pumps could not keep up with the rising water. Over three hours the crew threw 12-15 tons of cargo overboard. Captain Barrow made the wrong decision when he demanded that the ship continue on course rather than head for shore. By the next morning, waves were crashing over the deck and into the engine room. The Captain gave the order to abandon ship after the stern was underwater. The crew had time to launch only one lifeboat which capsized, killing the cook's wife, and leaving many men clinging to life perservers and floating in the Gulf. Addley Baker managed to reach shore after swimming for 25 hours. Once he alerted the Coast Guard, two cutters and a search plane raced to the location of the sinking. The ship had gone down less than 10 miles from shore, but had no radio on board and never fired a distress flare. The Coast Guard rescued 13 survivors who had spent 36 hours in the water. Eighteen bodies were recoverd, including the body of 81-year-old Captain Willis Green Barrow.

    The Tarpon now lies about nine miles southwest of the St. Andrews jetties in 90-95 feet of water. She rests on a hard bottom, parallel to the shoreline. The smokestack, part of the stern, and the bow are intact. Thousands of beer bottles are scattered around the area. The stern anchor and her builder's plaque have been recovered. In 1997, the Tarpon was designated Florida's Sixth Underwater Archaeological Preserve, making it unlawful to remove artifacts. Leave those beer bottles on the bottom!

    The Tarpon has been popular for fishing since the 1950s and recreational divers report spotting spiny lobster, moray eels, grouper, spadefish, angelfish, amberjack, flounder and remoras.

    Waypoint: TARPON Latitude Longitude
    Degrees 30.0950333333333 -85.9425833333333

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