Sagas of Six Submerged Caribbean Wrecks

Wrecks, both boats and airplanes, litter the Caribbean Sea floor. The splendor of these coral crusted fish-o-miniums are often famous today as spectacular snorkeling and scuba diving sites. Yet, there’s a tale to tell as to how these wrecks found their way to the deep. Here are a sampling of six:

Exumas Plane Crash Wreck
Exumas Plane Crash Wreck

1. Plane Crash Site, Exumas, Bahamas.
Sitting near the Staniel Cay Yacht Club and in only six feet of water, this small, fairly intact crashed plane looks rather unassuming. Yet, its history is intriguingly nefarious. According to local legend, it was smugglers during the height of Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar’s reign in the 1980’s that ditched here from what is thought a lack of fuel combined with being unable to spot the cays poorly lit landing strip. The smugglers and jam-packed booty of drugs onboard are long gone, replaced today with a wealth of corals and tropical fish.

2. HMS Endymion, Turks and Caicos.
It was August of 1790 when this British fifth-rate 44 gun warship struck an unchartered rock – now called Endymion Rock, during a storm and sank off the south side of Salt Island. Historical records tell she foundered for three days before sinking, and the crew all survived. Back in the 18th century, many British and French ships bound for the West Indies or Europe were required the treacherous Turks Island Passage. The Endymion sat, virtually untouched, until the 1990’s when she was re-discovered by a Salt Island resident. Though there’s not much left of the Endymion other than anchors, chains and the story of how she landed in this spot.

Butler Bay Wrecks
Butler Bay Wrecks

3. Northwind, St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands.
USA Today named the shipwrecks in Butler Bay, located north of Frederiksted, the number one dive site in the Caribbean. There are a number of shallow and deep water wrecks here. Among them is the 75-foot steel-hulled vessel, Northwind. This ocean-going tug was named after the salvage boat used by treasure hunter Mel Fisher when he recovered the $450 million-plus in gold, silver and more from the wreck of the Nuestra Señora de Atocha  off the Florida Keys. The Northwind played a starring role in the made-for-TV drama ‘Dreams of Gold – The Mel Fisher Story’. Unfortunately, the tug washed ashore during 1984’s Tropical Storm Klaus. The following year, it was sunk in Butler Bay to serve as an artificial reef.   

The Rhone - Photo: Armando Jenik Underwater Images
The Rhone – Photo: Armando Jenik Underwater Images

4. The Rhone, British Virgin Islands.
Thought to be ‘unsinkable’, the iron-hulled 310-foot sail steamer, RMS Rhone, carried mail and passengers transatlantic, from England to the Caribbean, back in the mid-1800s. It was October 29, 1867, two months short of when the BVI was hit by catastrophic hurricanes, that another category 3 storm blew through. All was well for the Rhone, and her nearly 150 passengers and crew, until the power of the tempest surged after the eye wall passed driving the ship into Black Rock Point off Salt Island where she broke in two. Only 22 people survived. Last year, the Rhone ranked second only to the Butler Bay wrecks at the best dive sites in the Caribbean according to a USA Today poll.

5. Bianca C. Grenada.
Some call this 1931-built, 600-foot long cruise liner, which sunk off the Spice Island, the ‘Titanic of the Caribbean’. Ironically, this ship was first sunk by German forces in 1944 in Europe before the hull was raised and turned into a liner in France. Fast forward to 1961, the Bianca C when she sailed from Naples to La Guairá, Venezuela, and stopped in Grenada. Little more than a week later, while in St. George’s, the ship caught fire, burned extensively and was ultimately towed out and sunk off Pointe Salines. She is one of the top wrecks off Grenada, as well as the Caribbean, on which to dive. 

Antilla Shipwreck Dive Site
Antilla Shipwreck Dive Site

6. Antilla, Aruba.
Built by the Hamburg American Line for trade between Europe and the Caribbean, this 1939-launched cargo ship never lived to see her second birthday afloat. Instead, she held a role in one of the many World War II stories that played out in the Caribbean. It all started a little over a month after the Antilla’s launch when the captain received a coded message to head for neutral ports as Germany invaded Poland. At the time, she was in Galveston, Texas, loaded with sulfur destined for Europe. The Antilla arrived and anchored off Aruba, a place she was about to be seized the next spring after Germany invaded Denmark, Norway and then the Netherlands. The crew set her ablaze, scuttled and ultimately sank her. Today, the 398-foot Antilla, laying on her port side in Malmok Bay, is one of the largest shipwrecks in the Caribbean. 

Carol_Bareuther
Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.