Episode 06 - Arratoon Apcar
Biscayne National Park
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Hi! I'm Heather Schorge and I'm a Park Ranger here at Biscayne National Park, the largest marine park in the National Park Service. The eastern waters of the park contain untold numbers of ships that have been lost upon the shallow patches of coral reef. Six of these shipwrecks have been carefully chosen to be part of the only underwater maritime heritage trail in the National Park Service. Before we look closer at "Arratoon Apcar," a steamship that ironically sunk in close proximity to a lighthouse, it is important that we consider some of the natural features that helped to shape this Park's unique maritime heritage. Biscayne National Park is comprised of mangrove shorelines, the shallow waters of Biscayne Bay, the northern portion of the Florida Keys, and the northern section of the Florida coral reef. From pirates to homesteaders, people have long relied on the valuable natural resources found in these waters. For hundreds of years, the eastern boundary of Biscayne National Park has been a marine superhighway for international trade and commerce. It is the northward flowing Gulf Stream that powered this aquatic superhighway. It propelled ships around the tip of Florida to ports worldwide. While many ships were able to safely navigate the perilous waters of the Gulf Stream, and the shallow waters that border it, many others could not. Huge amounts of cargo would be lost each time a ship would wreck. Ship owners began to call for major advancements in the technology used for navigation. One such improvement was the introduction of lighthouses and lightships. These provided permanent navigational tools which could be used both night and day. They would help guide ship captains in good or bad weather. In 1875, construction began on the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse in present day Biscayne National Park. This lighthouse took its name from a nearby reef bearing the name of the old English shipwreck. Fowey Rocks Lighthouse was the northernmost of the offshore lighthouses built in the 19th century to mark the shallow reef of the Florida Keys. While the usefulness of lighthouses was evident, they nevertheless could not completely eliminate shipwrecks. On a late night in 1878, a coal-laden steamer named "Arratoon Apcar" ran aground. The grounding was in very close proximity to the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse, which was still under construction. Construction workers on the unlit lighthouse platform watched the running lights of "Arratoon Apcar" grow larger and larger as the vessel approached them. Attempts to signal the ship went unnoticed and the men watched in fear as "Arratoon Apcar" crashed into the reef only a few hundred yards away from where they were stationed. Had it managed to move on just a bit farther, "Arratoon Apcar" would have slammed into the incomplete lighthouse and all of the men on it. After three days of bailing water from the doomed ship, the "Arratoon Apcar" was abandoned by her crew. They manned the lifeboats and headed for safety. Today, the coral-encrusted lower hull and iron beams of the vessel are visible. Upon closer investigation, remnants of the rudder and the keel can also be identified. The shallow depth of the wreck makes it ideal for snorkelers and divers. The remains of the steamship are now a haven for fish and marine life. Private boaters are able to safely view the ship's final resting place as mooring balls have been permanently installed near the wreck. You can help protect "Arratoon Apcar's" story by remembering that this site, like all of the archeological sites in Biscayne National Park, is part of our shared heritage. Remember to take only pictures and leave only bubbles. Dive into history and discover the stories behind the shipwrecks of Biscayne's Maritime Heritage Trail.
Dive Into History: Shipwrecks of Biscayne National Park. A 5-minutes podcast on the Arratoon Apcar shipwreck. Hosted by Heather Schorge. This video is open-captioned.