Local Shipwreck Offers An Underwater Playground

Dated: May 9 2024

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Our local neighborhood has so much to explore, including the remnants of a ship that sunk with its final resting place just a few yards off the coast east of Sexton Plaza, Ocean Grill, Costa d’Este, and Waldos. Built in 1883, the S.S. Breconshire was a marvel of maritime engineering. The ship was a schooner operated by both sail and steam, powered by compound engines generating 350 horsepower. The Breconshire was a versatile and reliable vessel for transoceanic voyages. Commanded by the experienced Captain Robert Taylor and manned by a crew of 24 skilled sailors, the Breconshire embarked on numerous journeys, ferrying cargo across the seas with efficiency and grace. However, in the spring of 1894, the Breconshire set sail from England on what would be her final voyage. Join us as we delve into the story of the S.S Breconshire.

Laden with cargo bound for various Mediterranean ports and then destined for New York, the 300-foot, iron-hulled ship braved the unpredictable waters of the Atlantic Ocean. It was upon departing from New York in April 1894 that tragedy struck. Ordered to proceed to Tampa to pick up unknown cargo, Captain Robert Taylor, an experienced skipper who carried a master’s certificate for commendable seamanship and was highly regarded by his employers at Jenkins and Company, UK, found himself navigating unfamiliar waters off the coast of Florida. Despite requesting charts of the state's coastline, crucial sections were omitted from the package including charts of the Florida coast for a 20 mile stretch south of Cape Canaveral.

As the Breconshire sailed along the Florida coast, on the calm and clear night of April 29, 1894, Second Officer Edwin H. Curling assumed command. As the hours passed, and darkness enveloped the ship, disaster loomed on the horizon. Instructing his crew to remain vigilant for any signs of land, he proceeded with caution. At 1:45 a.m., Officer Curling thought he had spotted land on the starboard beam, estimating its distance to be four to five miles. Curling’s crew mistook a dark streak off the starboard side as a weather change, but instead it was a series of coral reefs stretching seaward. The ship was perilously close to the reef lurking just beneath the surface. In a matter of minutes, the Breconshire struck the reef in approximately 15 feet of water.

When the ship struck the reef, its hull’s seams split, water poured in, and the massive vessel sank. The captain and crew lowered the long boats and made it safely to shore. They were sheltered at a nearby coast guard station for three days before returning to London for a trial. A court of Her Majesty’s Justice of the Peace determined the casualty was “primary negligence” and suspended Taylor and Curling for six months.

Today, the wreckage of the S.S. Breconshire lies submerged as a silent sentinel of a bygone era. Locals now call this ship the “Boiler Wreck” since the ship’s boiler stack was known to have protruded out of the water. There aren’t many shipwrecks that divers have as easy access to like the Boiler Wreck. It’s a short swim or paddle (1/4 mile) from the beach out to the site, and on a good day, when visibility averages 10 to 20 feet, snorkelers can see an abundance of fish and other marine animals. Although there’s little definition remaining, the ship's engine parts, beams and machinery afford homes for a lot of animals. In addition to the remains of the ship, the reef has four sections that run parallel to shore at various depths which also provide more homes for aquatic life.

Generations of Treasure Coast residents, as well as tourists, have explored the Breconshire wreck site, harvesting lobsters hiding in the boilers and experiencing close encounters with turtles, sharks, Grouper, dolphin, tarpon and even a few right whales.

The tragic tale of the S.S. Breconshire serves as a sobering reminder of the dangers inherent in maritime exploration. From its maiden voyage to its final moments off the coast of Florida, the Breconshire's story is etched into the annals of history, a testament to the indomitable spirit of those who dared to traverse the seas. As we reflect on the legacy of this ill-fated vessel, may we honor the memory of its crew and continue to preserve the rich tapestry of maritime history for generations to come.

Photos by Joe Semkow

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Alex "AMAC" MacWilliam IV

It was bound to happen the day Alex MacWilliam, IV was born…the Alex MacWilliam Real Estate family legacy would carry on. Fast forward to September 2013, when Alex IV joined the firm, and the famil....

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