Three to four miles from South Bimini island there is a prominent and famous shipwreck called the Sapona. It sits in about 15 feet of water just east of due south from the island. The 282-foot-long ship rises around 20-25 feet above the water at the deck level and it is a popular day trip destination. The snorkeling is excellent as you can swim around the wreck and also into it with the engine room especially interesting. I have even climbed the hull to jump off the wreck into the water. If you follow suit, take the time to check out the deck area. As fun as it is to spend the day out at the Sapona, many people do not know the fascinating history this ship has gone through and how it is connected to one of America’s greatest writers and the Bermuda Triangle.
The US Navy authorized the Liberty Ship Building Company to build cargo steamers during World War I, but they had to be made of concrete due to a war shortage of steel. Many of the ships were not completed until the war ended and the Sapona was part of this group. No longer needed the Sapona was sold to Carl Fisher, one of the Miami Beach developers, who initially used it as a floating casino and later for oil storage. In 1924 Fisher sold the ship to Bruce Bethel, who moved it to Bimini to be used as a warehouse for alcohol destined to be bootlegged into America during the Prohibition. Two years later a hurricane ran it aground at its current location.
In 1935 most of the wood on the Sapona was stripped off and used in the construction of the Compleat Angler Hotel in Alice Town on North Bimini island. This three-story, 12 room hotel was well known for its bar and many of the late night parties that took place here. Several famous people have stayed in the hotel including Lucille Ball and Jimmy Buffett, but no one can compare to the popular Ernest Hemingway who stayed for two years when it first opened, while he wrote the novel To Have and Have Not. There was a wonderful museum in one room devoted to Hemingway with lots of photos from his time on the island, but all was lost when the hotel burned to the ground in 2006.
During World War II training flights, originating from Fort Lauderdale, would fly over the Gulf Stream and make training runs at the Sapona. On December 5, 1945 a routine training exercise would add fuel to the Bermuda Triangle theories when Lieutenant Charles Taylor and 13 other crew were lost and never heard from again. The famous Flight 19 was flying five Grumman TBM Avenger when the lieutenant got disorientated. He confused the Bahamas islands for the Florida Keys and all personnel were lost. This caused the conspiracy theorist to conclude it was due to the Bermuda Triangle.
Since that time the Sapona has been used in the 1977 horror film Shock Waves and the James Bond series Thunderball. Today most of the concrete has weathered away and all that stands are the bones of the ship, but that does not stop day trippers from having a wonderful time at a fun and storied shipwreck.
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