A mysterious secret known only to the sea
February 29, 2020
On a reef known as Bear Wreck rested the remains of at least one seagoing vessel that sank suddenly, with no survivors.
Every morning, early, I tune into a social media site that is a live cam of the sun coming up over the Atlantic Ocean off of St. Augustine, Florida. Most sunrises are lovely, from pale pink to vibrant coral. The rhythmic waves rolling in to greet seagulls, sandpipers, and early beachcombers are impressive but calm, almost hypnotizing. Ninety-five percent of the time, the sea is peaceful and comforting. Sometimes the sun will not reveal itself at all—it is but a white glow covered by thick, gray clouds.
On one to five percent of the mornings, the sea is turbulent under cloudy skies. The beaches are empty of animals or people. Deadly violence seems to wait beyond the wicked breakers.
All of these many months, I have watched these St. Augustine sunrises. I did not realize what I was really looking at. If I could go out a short distance, right there, and down to the ocean floor, I would come upon a reef known as Bear Wreck, a marine graveyard. There rest the remains of at least one seagoing vessel that sank suddenly, with no survivors.
The main wreck has intrigued oceanographers and marine biologists for at least fifteen years—there off of St. Augustine. What is it? It has been searched and scanned meticulously, and there are no identifying markers.
No name is on the ship.
There is not even a ship’s bell with an identifying insignia on it.
What a confounding mystery!
They have only been able to plot off a type of blueprint of the anatomy of the ship, in hopes of matching it to a missing vessel.
There is one vessel that disappeared on the outer edge of the Bermuda Triangle in 1925. It was making a short trip from Charleston to Havana in November when it disappeared into oblivion. It ran into a tropical storm, two days out. The
S. S. Cotopaxi is listed as swallowed up by the Bermuda Triangle in most books about that eerie geometrical configuration that I have read, including the most well-known, The Bermuda Triangle by Charles Berlitz.
Could the wreck off the Florida coast be the S. S. Cotopaxi? How could this possibly be verified, with nothing on the ocean floor to identify the ship—not even a visible bell?
As a last resort, Michael Barnette, marine biologist, and his colleagues decided to use a landlubber’s method to try to identify the wreckage.
They began combing all of the documents and records they could find about the missing ship: court records, insurance papers, and history documents filed as a result of the ship’s disappearance. They made lists of the machinery and baggage known to be on board.
The equipment on the sunken shipwreck was an exact match for that known to be on the S. S. Cotopaxi, but the identity was still not cinched. The oceanographers kept digging and decided to concentrate on the probable location of the final distress signal.
Barnette turned to the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum—a Smithsonian affiliate—to back up his theories. The matching records indicated there was a distress signal right off of the Florida coast.
Further examination revealed that the S. S. Cotopaxi was struggling to perform under financial hardship. It made its final voyage in a sad state of disrepair. It was not equipped to take on a tropical storm of any magnitude. The wooden hatch covers were so dilapidated that they could not do their job of keeping out the raging water.
The disaster at sea happened swiftly with a terrible end for the crew.
For almost one hundred years, and macabre rumors swirling, many believed that the S. S. Cotopaxi had been claimed by supernatural powers—those that can only exist in the confines of the Bermuda Triangle.
Earlier this year, the sea gave up her mysterious secret.
Sara Marie Hogg is the author of It Rises from the Pee Dee. Please click HERE to find the book on Amazon.