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The Newest Shipwreck in the Oldest Port

Posted by: Chuck Meide in LAMPosts, Shipping News

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The 69' fire rescue boat Patriot, on route from Canada to Tampa, ran aground at the inlet attempting to make it into St. Augustine's harbor for the night. She was eventually pulled to safety by the tugboat Albert Pike, seen in the background.

Its the same story that it ever was. Late Wednesday night a vessel on route from Canada to Tampa made its way into the St. Augustine Inlet, seeking a safe refuge for the remainder of the night. It is probably safe to assume that the captain and crew were unfamiliar with the dynamic environmental conditions that prevail in the waters around our nation's oldest port. And so around 11 pm the 69' vessel found itself stranded near Porpoise Point at the north end of the inlet, as have ships for centuries attempting to make safe harbor in St. Augustine.

The area known as the North Shoals have seen many vessels come to grief, including a number of shrimp boats during the heydey of St. Augustine shrimping earlier in the 20th century. In previous centuries, when the mouth of the inlet was further south, similar breakers and shoals caused the same problem for ships attempting to enter our port. The historic submerged landscape was even more dynamic before the stabilizing actions of jetties and dredging maintained since the 1940s by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Confederate privateer Jefferson Davis ended up stranded on the North Breakers in 1861, a location that today is offshore and north of the relict inlet, around 2 miles south of our present-day inlet.

The Patriot was recently built in Ontario for the city of Tampa and upon its arrival it will be the largest fire rescue ship for that city.


Bill Wade, Tampa Fire Rescue spokesman, said he and a crew of six were sailing the 69-foot vessel Patriot to Tampa from Canada, where it was being built for the last five years. They planned to dock at a St. Augustine marina for the night. But at about 11 p.m. they hit ground while navigating through the channel near Porpoise Point, Wade said.

"We like St. Augustine so much we decided to stay here," he said with a laugh.

Clearly on land, Wade said the boat's GPS unit showed that it was actually in the middle of the channel.

No one was injured, and the boat was not damaged when it grounded, said Joy Hill, a spokeswoman for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

The tugboat Albert Pike pulled the Fire Rescue vessel off the shore about 1 p.m. Thursday.

The Patriot, because of her sturdy steel construction and the availability of modern rescue infrastructure, was luckier than most of her predecessors in that she was able to be pulled back into navigable waters. So there will be no trace of this incident left for St. Augustine's future maritime archaeologists. The team that enabled this rescue included members of TowBoat U.S.A., the U.S. Coast Guard, St. Johns County Marine Rescue, St. Johns County Sheriff's Office, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. In previous centuries, the Keeper and his staff at the St. Augustine Lighthouse would have taken the lead in any rescue effort of ships imperiled at sea.

You can read more about the incident in the local paper, the St. Augustine Record.

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Photographs courtesy of the St. Augustine Record.


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