Book Review By Staff Writer - 09/01/2008 Scuba News
Submerged wrecks are mysterious things, in some cases nearly undistinguishable from the ocean floor but for a ballast pile, mast, propeller or other artifact. But if you’ve ever rolled overboard and descended onto a structure that still maintains the outline of a vessel, your curiosity is piqued: what did it look like under full sail, or how many decks did it have? Who owned it, what cargo did it carry, and how did it come to lie here?
Divers have Michael Barnette to thank for the answers. His book Shipwrecks of the Sunshine State: Florida’s Submerged History, published in 2003, matched images to many of the wrecks that divers regularly explore. Barnette gave the coordinates and detailed historical information on many of the identified wrecks that are spread throughout the state’s Atlantic and Gulf coasts, inland waterways and the Florida Keys.
In his new book, Images of America: Florida’s Shipwrecks, just released by Arcadia Publishing, Barnette goes into less detail than with his previous book, but presents us with more of a visual history of these amazing vessels. His diligent research offers details on famous owners of some of the vessels and those who were transported by them. The vintage photographs are truly amazing--many of them from Barnette’s own personal collection--showing sleek racing yachts and tankers in their full glory, and then just before oftentimes tragic circumstances doomed them to obscurity.
The book is divided into chapters that describe the fate of the ships: After the Storm explores vessels that fell victim to violent upheaval of nature.
“Hurricanes are a fact of life in Florida, but while Florida residents have grown accustomed to their annual inconvenience, hurricanes were a constant menace to shipping,” Barnette explains in his Introduction. Before the days of 24/7 weather updates, sailors who followed the River of Gold (Barnette’s next chapter) often left much of it scattered on Florida’s reefs.
Divers will enjoy the chapter on treasure salvage and the discovery of Spanish galleons that set off a salvage frenzy in the Florida Keys in the 1940’s that continues today. Historic photos testify to the salvors’ creative use of common materials for tools and equipment, and vintage dive gear.
Chapter Three, Coursing Waters, charts the demise of many of the wooden work vessels that carried passengers and goods up and down the state’s early shipping lanes--inland rivers and lakes.
“Fire was a constant threat for mariners, particularly on wooden steamers,” according to Barnette. “Boiler explosions and fires were not uncommon, and numerous steamers were lost in this manner.” Some even caught fire at docks or, as in the case of the Thomas A. Edison, while onloading fruit at a packing house. Many burned to water line and lie where they caught fire, or as in the case of the City of Hawkinsville in the Suwannee River, abandoned after becoming obsolete and left to sink to the riverbottom.
Legacy of War is a fascinating chapter relating the vessels who met their fate in military service or as a consequence of war. Barnette has compiled an astounding collection of images that portray the violence of these encounters.
The chapter That Sinking Feeling features vessels that were damaged or sunk as the result of collisions or accidents. There is an interesting section on “wreckers,” the individuals and their fleets of boats that salvaged anything of value from shipwrecks. There are some mysteries here: boats that have disappeared, never to be found, and those whose true identities have finally been confirmed. Barnette’s expertise exceeds dutiful research; as a member of the Association of Underwater Explorers (AUE), a coalition of divers dedicated to the research, exploration, documentation and preservation of submerged cultural resources, he has helped to verify the identification of some of these shipwrecks. This final chapter also recounts the success of more recent artificial reef installations as the USS Speigel Grove in Key Largo and the USS Oriskany off Pensacola.
Images of America: Florida’s Shipwrecks by Michael Barnette, 128 pages, Arcadia Publishing. Order from www.arcadiapublishing.com.
Find Books By Title:
Find Books By Theme:
Find Books By State: