The S.S. Sapona: Bimini’s Watery Wonder

T
JJust three miles off the shores of Bimini sits a mysterious concrete remnant of US history. From World War I and II, to the Prohibition and 150 mph hurricanes, this relic has withstood the test of time. And although weathered and beaten down, with its rusty arms sunk into Bimini’s powdery ocean floor, its haunting beauty continues to amaze visitor after visitor. Sail with us as we explore the legendary S.S. Sapona Shipwreck.

Built For War, Destined For More

Designed by Henry Ford himself and built by the Liberty Ship Building Company in Wilmington, North Carolina, the Sapona had big plans. Her first purpose was to join the emergency fleet program during WWI, commissioned by former president Woodrow Wilson to serve as a troop transport – but war wasn’t in her fate. After a late completion, she was sold to a man named Carl Fisher, who turned her into a casino for a brief time. His ultimate plan was to turn the Sapona into a private floating club in the keys – but that never came to fruition either.

The Sapona moved into the hands of the mysterious one-armed Bruce Bethel, a prior British war captain, AKA Bimini’s Rum King during the Prohibition Era. The Sapona was the ultimate rum runner, a godsend for alcohol-craved US citizens. At the time, the illicit liquor trafficking business was booming in the Bahamas. Much of it was traded and stored on the islands before it made its way to warehouses, speakeasies, and other hideaways along the South Florida coast. Bethel helped island inhabitants make a comfortable living from the export liquor trade and put Bimini on the map as a smuggler’s paradise – but the captain had even bigger plans. Bethel imagined the Sapona as a floating nightclub fueled by alcohol and the energy of nightlife, but, once more, the Sapona had a different idea of her own fate.

In 1965, in rolled “Billion Dollar Betsy,” the first tropical cyclone in the Atlantic basin to accrue at least $1 billion in damage. With 150 mph winds, the Sapona ran aground and officially became the “S.S. Sapona Shipwreck.” With its concrete foundation and ideal location so close off the coast of the US, the Sapona became a bullseye for WWII fighter planes and bombers’ target practice. But once more, the Sapona had plans of her own. In 1954, a group of five torpedo bombers mysteriously disappeared during their return from target practice over the Sapona. This disappearance was forever known as the mystery of Flight 19. Theories still circle to this day, but we may never know what truly happened to the lost squadron. All target practice on the Sapona stopped on that day, leaving the wreck to live out the rest of her days in peace.

Dive Into The Depths of Mystery

Instead of gamblers, alcohol smugglers, and torpedo bombers, the Sapona is now inhabited by thousands of tropical colored fish, lobsters, and creatures of the sea. With the help of Bimini Undersea, you yourself can explore the history and mysteries of the Sapona. Hop on a quick boat ride to the wreck and jump right into the turquoise waters. Your tour guide will lead in the snorkel adventure of a lifetime, all while relating the tales of the wreck’s past. Sitting in only 15 feet of water, the Sapona presents the perfect opportunity for both novice and expert divers to explore this unique piece of US history.

Dive right into the body of the ship and you’ll immediately feel a sense of wonder. Who were the people who gambled on this ship almost a century ago? Exactly how much booze was smuggled into the US by this relic? And what truly happened to the men of Flight 19? Today the Sapona is an underwater museum. Visit anytime of the year and you’ll find yourself captivated by the concrete walls that have seen things we only read about in books. Swim by the still intact propeller, the rusted pillars, and maybe even find yourself a lucky souvenir – it isn’t uncommon to find 20 caliber bullets resting within the ship to this day.

When you’re done exploring the depths of the Sapona, climb up to the top of the wreck and take the 40 feet plunge into Bimini’s crisp waters. The Sapona Snorkel Adventure is an exploration like no other, like the pages of a history book come to life. Feel the power of its history and learn more about the fascinating tale of this incredible Bahamas offshore wreck this summer with a trip to the closest Caribbean island to the US coast.

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