Narcissus may follow Regina as underwater preserve
MAP PROVIDED/FLORIDA DEPT. OF STATE
The U.S.S. Narcissus took its final voyage in
January 1866, 146 years ago this month.
EGMONT KEY – In 1866, 146 years ago this month, the U.S.S. Narcissus was on her way to be decommissioned from Civil War service when she ran aground off Egmont Key in a storm and her boiler exploded, killing all 29 sailors aboard.
Now, the wreck of the steam tugboat is proposed to become a state Underwater Archaeological Preserve.
As a preserve, it would be promoted by the state for recreational tourism as a diving and snorkeling site, heritage tourism as a historical shipwreck reflecting local maritime heritage, and ecotourism as a marine habitat, according to a report by the Florida Department of State's Division of Historical Resources Bureau of Archaeological Research. The program produces brochures, posters, underwater maps, websites and bronze plaques marking preserve sites.
The 82-foot-long wreck lies in pieces in 15 feet of water on a sand bottom in the shoals about two miles northwest of Egmont Key, according to the report, and is home to marine life including goliath grouper, soft coral and stone crabs.
The submerged tomb, which is owned by the U.S. Navy, served in the Civil War battle of Mobile Bay in 1864, during which Union Admiral David G. Farragut spoke his infamous quote, "Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"
According to the report, the U.S.S. Narcissus was traveling with the U.S.S. Althea to New York to be decommissioned when a storm hit off St. Petersburg, and the commanders decided to anchor off Egmont Key and wait it out. Althea headed northwest against the tide and wind, while Narcissus took a route to the west, taking the wind and tide on her starboard beam. Traveling at full speed, she ran aground on a sandbar and her boiler exploded.
The Florida Aquarium in Tampa nominated the U.S.S. Narcissus for the preservation program; if designated, it would become the twelfth Underwater Archeological Preserve in Florida.
Another underwater preserve lies just off Bradenton Beach.
The Regina, a molasses barge, sank on March 8, 1940, while traveling from Cuba to New Orleans, claiming the life of one crewman and a dog.
The Cuban tugboat Minian was towing the 300-foot barge Regina when a storm struck as they passed by Egmont Key. The towline broke and the Minian made for Egmont Key, while the wind and waves drove the Regina to Bradenton Beach, where it grounded on a nearshore sandbar.
The next morning, a Coast Guard seaplane dropped life jackets, most of which were swept away. The Coast Guard sent a truck from St. Petersburg equipped with a gun to shoot a lifeline to the barge, but it didn't work.
Two crewmen made it to shore with the help of Cortez resident Clayton "Jap" Adams, who swam out from shore to help them with a rope tied to his waist. The others were saved by Furman Smith, of Palma Sola, who took a rope out to the Regina on a dinghy and with Coast Guardsman Barney Barnett and volunteer Jim Parker, brought them to shore one at a time in a boatswain's chair.
The Regina was designated as a state preserve in 2004.
The state's Underwater Archaeological Preserves must meet several criteria, including being an identifiable wreck located in state waters with safe public access and abundant marine life. Fishing at the sites is legal with a valid Florida saltwater fishing license.
The public may comment on the U.S.S. Narcissus' designation as a preserve by e-mail at email@example.com.