Sunken history: Ponte Vedra Beach shipwreck presents snapshot of centuries-old maritime customs

From The St. Augustine Record

By Colleen Jones

Brendan Burke has been studying shipwrecks for years — dozens of them in different pieces and conditions.

Archaeologist Brendan Burke will speak about wooden shipwrecks at 7 p.m. September 12, 2019 at Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience.

But when a shipwrecked hull, the ribs of its frame almost fully intact, washed ashore south of Ponte Vedra Beach in late-March 2018, Burke had the chance to study a historical vessel in depth and from the ground floor up.

In the last year and a half, Burke and a team of researchers with the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program, along with Dr. Lee Newsom of Flagler College, have been piecing together a puzzle they believe most accurately tells the story of the boat, its origins, its path of travel and other indicators.

The local shipwreck, dubbed the “Spring Break Wreck,” seemed to capture people’s imagination from the first reports that came out about the find, with thousands flocking to see the 48-foot-by-12-foot remnant drudged up on the beach.

What made the wreck so unique was the way it seemingly came out of nowhere, with nothing seemingly special about the water currents at that time, Burke said.

“And to see the craftsmanship of our ancestors,” Burke said, “And it looked almost brand new, it was like looking into a time capsule.”

Burke will talk about his work as a maritime archeologist and the Spring Break Wreck on Thursday at the Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience as part of the facility’s lecture series. The event, which is free and open to the public, begins at 7 p.m.

The process of analyzing the shell of a centuries-old ship, Burke said, is like processing a crime scene, with the more information gathered helping to form an eventual composite picture.

A crowd inspects the Spring Break Shipwreck that washed up on shore in South Ponte Vedra Beach in March 2018.

“Studying a shipwreck to get bits of data is like hunting clues at a crime scene,” Burke said. “And it takes a lot of clues to be able to put together a conviction.”

In the first days after the ship washed up near Ponte Vedra Beach, the LAMP team collected as much data as it could, and took measurements and photos. That helped it create a 3-D model of what the ship likely looked like before the wreck and after.

Researchers surmised first, that vessel was likely a commercial cargo ship on a route to or from the Gulf of Mexico and the eastern seaboard.

“This is one of the thousands of ships that built the backbone of our maritime industry and the rest of our economy,” Burke said.

They also believe that “based on the saw marks and how the wood was processed, it was constructed post-1880,” Burke said, adding that it didn’t appear to have been crafted at a large shipbuilding yard, but more of a mom-and-pop type operation, likely on the U.S. Atlantic Coast.

The ship contains wood samples of beech, spruce, pine and white oak and does not appear to have repaired parts or have a re-coating of copper on its bottom, leading Burke to believe it probably went down in whatever way it did not very long after it was first made.

When not in the lab, Burke can be found aboard LAMP’s research vessel, the Empire Defender, exploring Florida’s waters for historic shipwrecks. The group’s next mission will take off next week.

Ships, for people, hold a kind of universal curiosity, Burke believes.

“Just about every human has some tie to the maritime industry, so it’s a great connecting force,” he said. “You’re taking archeology and looking deeper into societies to find the voices of those who maybe didn’t have a chance to write a memoir … to tell their stories.”

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What: Evenings at Whitney Lecture Series — “Wonderful Wooden Wrecks and the Mysteries Within,” a talk by Brendan Burke, part of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Archeological Maritime Program team that analyzed the “Spring Break Wreck” discovered in Ponte Vedra Beach in 2018

When: Thursday at 7 p.m.

Where: Lohman Auditorium at the University of Florida Whitney Laboratory for Marine Bioscience, 9505 Ocean Shore Blvd., Marineland

More info: The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call (904) 461-4000.

St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum closed due to Mandatory Evacation Order

St. Johns County to Open Evacuation Shelters and Issue Mandatory Evacuation for Zones A and B

St. Johns County, Fl – Due to intensified conditions of Hurricane Dorian, St. Johns County has issued mandatory evacuation orders effective for 8 a.m. on Monday, September 2 for Evacuation Zones A and B, which includes the entire City of St. Augustine, the City of St. Augustine Beach, and those living on waterfront property or in flood-prone areas.

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is located in Zone A. The nonprofit Museum will be closed Monday-Thursday, September 2-5. Reopening date and time will be announced once Hurricane Dorian has passed.

In addition, the County has ordered evacuations for Hastings and Flagler Estates. For evacuation information, including route maps and evacuation zones, please visit

Residents living aboard boats, and those living in RVs, mobile homes, and manufactured homes throughout St. Johns County are also included in the evacuation order. Residents who are able to evacuate and are not utilizing a St. Johns County shelter should begin evacuating as soon as possible prior to the evacuation order scheduled for Monday, September 2 in order to minimize traffic congestion.

St. Johns County will also open six shelters at 8 a.m. on Monday, September 2. The County is prepared to open additional shelters as needed. The following shelters will be open to the public:

• Pacetti Bay Middle School, 245 Meadowlark Ln. (Special needs)
• Timberlin Creek Elementary School, 555 Pine Tree Ln. (Pet-friendly)
• Southwoods Elementary, 4750 State Road 206. (Pet-friendly)
• Pedro Menendez High School, 600 State Road 206 West. (General population)
• Bartram Trail High School, 7399 Longleaf Pine Pkwy. (General population)
• Osceola Elementary, 1605 Osceola Elementary Rd. (General population)
While shelters provide safety throughout the storm, residents must bring supplies in order to maintain personal comfort and sustenance. St. Johns County recommends that all evacuees bring their own bedding, including sleeping bags or air mattresses, pillows, sheets, and blankets. A five-day supply of water, non-perishable food, medication, diapers, and other personal items are also suggested. Please refer to the list below for additional supply suggestions:

• At least five-day supply of medications, insulin and cooler if you are diabetic.
• Personal grooming and hygiene items, feminine supplies.
• Extra clothing, eyeglasses.
• Books, magazines, cards, games, etc.
• Pillows, blankets, sheets, lawn chair/chaise lounge.
• Flashlight and extra batteries, manual can opener.
• Personal identification/important papers.

For more information, please call the St. Johns County Emergency Operations Center Hotline at 904.824.5550.


Sept. 4: New Ghost Hunters episode at the St. Augustine Lighthouse airs on A&E

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – They’re back! Attention Ghost Hunter fans: Third time’s a charm! The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum will be featured at 9 p.m. Wednesday, September 4 on A&E in a new episode of Ghost Hunters called “Return to St. Augustine.” Prior to 2019, the original Ghost Hunters (TAPS, The Atlantic Paranormal Society), filmed at the St. Augustine Lighthouse in 2006 and 2008.

From the A&E website: “Grant (Wilson) returns to the St. Augustine Lighthouse, site of some of the most compelling paranormal evidence ever captured in Ghost Hunters history when the team is summoned to investigate a reported increase in paranormal activity, both in and around the undeniably haunted landmark. …”

The film production company (Pilgrim Media Group) reached out to lighthouse staff in March, asking if Ghost Hunters could return to the Museum.

“I’m working on the new season of Ghost Hunters and we want to have our team revisit a handful of the BEST locations from the show’s first 11 seasons. Obviously, St. Augustine is one of the best episodes we’ve ever done, so naturally we’d love to come back if you’ll have us… We’d like to have our team spend 2-3 nights investigating, after hours,” said John Fitzpatrick, Segment Producer with Pilgrim Media Group, a Lionsgate Company.

Filming took place in May of this year, organized by Kelcie Lloyd, Special Programs Manager for the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum. Lloyd is a guide and manages the staff for Dark of the Moon Ghost Tours. She also will be featured on the episode.

The St. Augustine Lighthouse, built from 1871-74.

“I’ve been here for a number other filming including the WWE, some smaller companies, and many YouTube videos. I’m behind the scenes in most of the videos, as I have a preference to not be on film, but that wasn’t the case for Ghost Hunters,” Lloyd said.

“The Ghost Hunters and the crew are some of the nicest people I’ve met. Some nights they filmed until the wee hours of the morning and were still polite and thankful that we (staff) were there. They were very respectful of the fact we were a historical site and an active attraction,” Lloyd explained.

Dark of the Moon Ghost Tours feature ghost stories that include history about the first lighthouse, called the Spanish Watchtower, and the current St. Augustine Lighthouse. The most popular story includes the two Pittee sisters and their playmate who drowned in 1873 during construction of the current tower. Another popular story includes lighthouse keeper Joseph Andreu, who fell to his death white-washing the Spanish Watchtower, and his wife, Maria, who became the first female lighthouse keeper in Florida.

The 1874 Keepers’ House at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

“Our Dark of the Moon Ghost Tours help to support our Lighthouse Archaeology Maritime Program at the nonprofit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, explained Executive Director Kathy Fleming. “Everything we do at the Museum saves our maritime past.”

Also on September 4, the episode featuring the St. Augustine Lighthouse from 2006 will be shown at 4 p.m. on A&E, followed by the Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse at 5 p.m., and the Pensacola Lighthouse at 6 p.m.

From the A&E website: “Fifteen years after introducing the world to the field of authentic paranormal investigation, ‘Ghost Hunters’ returns to television. The series that terrified and captivated fans for 11 seasons will follow one of the original team leaders, Grant Wilson, and his handpicked group of professional ghost hunters as they use their decades of field experience to investigate hauntings across the country. Engaging forensic experts, historical records and the most innovative technology available, the new squad will help everyday people who are struggling with unexplained supernatural phenomena. The team is committed to discovering the truth to give relief to those plagued by paranormal activity and will follow the evidence they uncover wherever it may lead.”

“It’s going to be exciting to see what kind of things the Ghost Hunters find. It might make working nights a little more unsettling,” said Megan Cejmer, Specialty Program Assistant Manager and Dark of the Moon Ghost Tour guide at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

For more details about the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, visit or call 904-829-0745. Stay updated on social media at, and


A pivotal navigation tool and unique landmark of St. Augustine for over 140 years, the St. Augustine Light Station is host to centuries of history in the Nation’s Oldest Port®. Through interactive exhibits, guided tours and maritime research, the 501(c)(3) nonprofit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is on a mission to discover, preserve, present and keep alive the stories of the Nation’s Oldest Port® as symbolized by our working lighthouse. We are the parent organization to the Lighthouse Archaeological Maritime Program (LAMP) and an affiliate of the Smithsonian Institution. (

About the American Alliance of Museums:

The St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum has achieved accreditation by the American Alliance of Museums (AAM), the highest national recognition afforded the nation’s museums. The American Alliance of Museums has been bringing museums together since 1906, helping to develop standards and best practices, gathering and sharing knowledge, and providing advocacy on issues of concern to the entire museum community. Representing more than 35,000 individual museum professionals and volunteers, institutions, and corporate partners serving the museum field, the Alliance stands for the broad scope of the museum community. (

Handcrafted wooden strip kayak offered through silent auction

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – The nonprofit St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum is offering a handcrafted wooden kayak to the community through a silent auction. Created by volunteers in Heritage Boatworks, the kayak is made from strips of red cedar, mahogany and cypress coated with fiberglass.

Heritage Boatworks volunteers working on the strip kayak.

This unique design features the St. Augustine Lighthouse spelled out in in Morse code which runs along one side, made from mahogany and cypress. The kayak is on view in the Visitors Center area of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Gift Shop.

The Museum is auctioning this incredible wooden watercraft, along with two handmade and decorated paddles. Minimum bid starts at $2,000.00 through a sealed bid silent auction, available at and click on the link in the Heritage Boatworks section.

All sealed bids must be received by designated museum staff by 3 p.m. October 15, 2019.   

The completed strip kayak, made from red cedar, mahogany and cypress.

Volunteer boatbuilders work in the Museum Heritage Boatworks area from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday. Guests can watch them create wooden craft following boatbuilding traditions practiced in St. Augustine for more than 400 years. Boatbuilders work with Museum researchers to ensure authentic builds of historic, wooden, small craft.

This boat is a beautifully crafted wooden strip kayak that shows the dedication and skill of our volunteer boat builders,” said Brenda Swann, Interpretative Division Director at the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum.

“As with all our volunteers, they help make the Museum a great asset to the community and a fun, educational place to visit. The proceeds from the auction will help support our educational programs such as Heritage Boatworks, and preserve the rich maritime history of the northeast Florida region for future generations.”

For more information, contact Brenda Swann at or call 904-829-0745 ext. 208.

For more details about the St. Augustine Lighthouse & Maritime Museum, visit or call 904-829-0745. Stay updated on social media at, and