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Archive for the ‘Key West Treasure’ Category

A Quick History of Wrecking in the Florida Keys

January 16th, 2018 by Piper Smith

In 1820, the wrecking industry boomed in the Florida Keys. Florida was declared a Territory, then an official port of entry, and before you know it, Key West and the Florida Keys are making thousands on salvaging ships that are wrecked off of the reef. The middle/ upper Keys along with the Marquesa’s were hot spots for ships to find themselves grounded or having their hulls destroyed and soon sinking.

What many don’t know is one of the first salvaged wrecks was in 1622. A Spanish fleet wrecked in the Marquesa’s- this fleet consisted of the famous Atocha and the Margarita. Local Indians spent 8 years salvaging these ships.

In 1827 the Guerrero, found itself in need of help and Wreckers quickly found it was a slave ship.

Many wreckers took on day jobs that would allow them to quickly get out to salvage when they saw a ship in distress. These jobs included farming, fishing and sponging.

As wrecking became more popular, law was passed that the Ship Master and wrecking Ship had to be licensed. Many crews worked together, but it was the crew that arrived first that was the Wrecking Master and could claim the largest reward and choose who they wanted to assist in the haul.

Wrecking alone was not what made Masters and the Florida Keys rich. Owning a Ship and a Warehouse is what allowed Key Westerners William Curry, Asa Tift, and John Lowe to be so wealthy. Not only did they receive rewards for being wreck masters, but they would auction off the items in their warehouses that stored salvaged goods.

When lighthouses started erecting along the Florida Coast in 1852 and throughout the Florida Keys, the wrecking industry came to a close. Lighthouses were used as a guide to warn ship Masters of Dangerous areas to help the ship and crew get to shore safely.

When the wrecking industry ended, cigar manufacturing came into Key West as a replacement. Originating in Cuba, this practice made its way to Key West and then Key West and Miami.

Today, you can stroll through Old Town Key West and find the Gato Building which served as a cigar factory (constructed in 1871).

Visit the Key West Shipwreck Museum to learn more on how the Wrecking Industry impacted the Florida Keys.


Widows Walk

October 24th, 2017 by Piper Smith

A widow’s walk is also known as a Widow’s Watch. It is a small railed rooftop platform frequently found on 19th-century North American coastal houses. They are a common sight to see on Original Conch Houses built during the Wrecking Era.

Some properties in Key West with a widow’s walk include:

The Curry Mansion, Sarabeth’s, John Lowe Jr. House, Island City House.

Replica Doll House of the Lowe House on Southard St.

6 Undiscovered Wrecks

July 18th, 2017 by Piper Smith

Is it possible to know of wrecks that have yet to be discovered? How do we track that?

Today, we have GPS technology where locating sinking (and floating) ships is easier to locate. As recent as the early 1900’s Ships have sunk and are yet to be found. Because of currents and drifts in the ocean it is difficult to pinpoint an exact location without the use of today’s technology.

The locations known of these sunken ships is a “guestimation” of their course of travel and where they submerged into the water.

Six wrecks that embody this situation are the Santa Maria 1492), USS Indianapolis (1945), HMS Endeavour (1778), The Griffin (1679), Shackleton’s Endurance (1914), Bonhomme Richard (1779).


Treasure Hunting from the Shore

June 20th, 2017 by Piper Smith

Every once in awhile an article in newspaper appears talking about a new wreck that has been found and the treasures that have been claimed. An exciting experience for these treasure hunters as they spend most of their life and career looking for the motherlode.

Now, not everyone can do such a feat, BUT we can find treasures right here on shore.

All you need is a backyard or ample of amount of land that you can dig into, a metal detector, and a shovel.

If you live on a coast, all you need is to walk along the shoreline- treasures wash up to shore all the time.

Patience is key when it comes to looking for that piece of sea glass, gold, or fossil. But it’s not impossible.

Glass Buoys

May 23rd, 2017 by Piper Smith

Glass buoys were used in the ocean waters to support large fishing nets- could be found with many individual fishing nets strung together, sometimes even miles in extent. These buoys prevented the nets from sinking.  Glass buoys range in size from a golf ball to a basketball.

Visit us at the Key West Shipwreck Treasures Museum and get an up close look at these buoys.

Ship in a Bottle

March 21st, 2017 by Piper Smith

A creative past-time that developed in the late 18th century can still be found as a hobby or creative outlet in today’s era.

The first requirement in creating a ship in a bottle is choosing the right bottle.

A preferred bottle has these characteristics:

  • a flat-base shape proper for the ship being built
  • pigment of the bottle that will help depict the ocean

other necessities for successfully building your ship are blocks of timber, cables, and gum.

The timber used for creating the ship must be durable but also easy to whittle into the ships shape.

When the desired shape of the ship is created it is time to begin crafting details such as cables, sails and masts.

After completing these tasks, it is time to insert and position your ship in the bottle.

The cables can be used to maneuver the ship into position and move about the bottle.

When set in position, the cables are pulled to raise the sails, and then are cut as your ship is now complete.

Though this is an incredibly brief  instruction on how this maritime past-time can be created, you can see that it comes with incredible patience, talent and perseverance to develop a successful product.


Anatomy of a Ship

February 21st, 2017 by Piper Smith

Though there are many ships that roam the ocean, each with an anatomy a bit different than the other, it is important to have basic knowledge of the components that make up these ships.

5 types of ships commonly known to roam the waters are Ship of the Line, Frigate, Snow, Corvette, Schooner, and Sloop.

Mast: tall pole sticking up from the deck of a ship.

There are 3 types of Masts:

  1. Foremast: front mast
  2. Mizzenmast: rear mast
  3. Mainmast: middle mast or only mast

Sails: piece of material extended on a mast to catch the wind and propel a boat, ship, or other vessel

4 types of sails:

  1. Jibs: a triangular staysail set forward of the forwardmost mast.
  2. Spankers: afore-and-aft sail set on the after side of a ship’s mast, especially the mizzenmast.

Jibs are at the bow, and Spankers are located at the stern of a ship.

       3. Stay Sails: a triangular fore-and-aft sail extended on a stay.

       4. Stays which are large ropes used to support a mast

Rigging: the system of ropes, cables, or chains employed to support a ship’s masts and to control or set the yards and sails

Two ways to rig a mast:

  1. Square Rigged: having the principal sails at right angles to the length of the ship, supported by horizontal yards attached to the mast or masts.
  2. Fore & Aft Rigged (Sloop Rigged): having one mast and a mainsail and jib rigged fore and aft.

Decks: a structure of planks or plates, approximately horizontal, extending across a ship or boat at any of various levels, especially one of those at the highest level and open to the weather.

9 types of decks:

  1. Poop: the aftermost and highest deck of a ship, especially in a sailing ship where it typically forms the roof of a cabin in the stern.
  2. Forecastle: the upper deck of a sailing ship forward of the foremast, or the forward part of a ship with the sailors’ living quarters.
  3. Spar: an upper deck of a ship or other vessel.
  4. Main: the highest complete deck on a vessel extending the full length and width of the ship
  5. Lower Deck: The deck of a ship situated immediately above the hold.
  6. Middle Deck: The middle deck of guns when the ship of the line carried three decks of guns.
  7. Berth: the deck on which the hammocks on a warship were formerly swung.
  8. Orlop: the lowest deck of a wooden sailing ship with three or more decks.
  9. Bilge: The bottom and lowest internal part of a ship’s hull.


Maritime Flags

January 24th, 2017 by Piper Smith

Maritime flags were designed for ship communication way before there was morse code or radio.

There is a flag for each letter of the alphabet, numbers 0-9, and even substitutes and pennants. There is a US Navy meaning and also an international meaning.

Here is the US Navy Maritime alphabet.

Happy New Year!

January 1st, 2017 by Piper Smith

What’s your resolution?


Happy Holidays!

December 25th, 2016 by Piper Smith

Have a safe and happy holiday!