Last updated: May 15, 2017
Episode 07 - Erl King
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TranscriptHi there! I'm Chris Beers and I'm a Park Ranger here at beautiful 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 ships have been carefully selected to be part of the only underwater maritime heritage trail in the National Park Service. Let's take a look at a ship that represents the transition between sail- and steam-powered ships, the three-masted auxiliary steamship the "Erl King." But first, it's important for us to explore some of the natural features that helped to shape this park's unique maritime history. 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 the park served as a marine super highway for international trade and commerce. The northward flowing Gulf Stream powers this aquatic highway. The Gulf Stream propelled ships around the southern 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, others could not. In addition to the Gulf Stream, there were many other factors that led to the demise of so many ships Captains did not have accurate charts or navigational aids such as lighthouses, to steer them away from the shallow depths of the coral reef. Additionally, the wind blows predominantly from the east, thus, blowing ships closer to the reef than captains might have anticipated. Throughout most of the shipping history, the ships that travelled these waters were sailing ships. And those ships driven solely by wind power have limited mobility and virtually no stopping power. Gradually though, time brought about improvements to the shipping industry. Lighthouses were installed, charts improved, and ships gradually made the transition from sail to the more powerful propulsion method of steam. "Erl King" was one such transitional ship. Named after Erlkonig, a mythical, mischievous elf from German Folklore, she had three masts, but she also had a steam engine. This combination of both sail and steam characterized the push for industry and modernization while still holding on to familiar and dependable technologies. "Erl King" fatally ran aground in 1891 on Long Reef. Wreckers attempted to repair the doomed vessel but their efforts were in vain. Eventually, her machinery and 200 tons of cargo were removed. The bare carcass of a once mighty ship was left to the whim of the waves and the water. Today, divers and experienced snorkelers can view the remains of the 304 foot vessel lying in 18 feet of water. Look for barrel-shaped concrete features. These were once wooden barrels that contained dry concrete mix. Those wooden barrel staves have since disintegrated or been consumed by shipworms, and what remains are the solidified concrete casts of the barrels. Watch for fish darting among the iron beams and for a moray eel that has lived at the site for many years. You can help protect "Erl King'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. that led to the demise of so many ships. the ships that travelled these waters were sailing ships.
Dive Into History: Shipwrecks of Biscayne National Park. A 5-minutes podcast on the Erl King shipwreck. Hosted by Chris Beers. This video is open-captioned.