Experiential

Four Miles South of Bimini

Still waiting for the Dramamine to kick in. I laid slanted on the rear seats of a 38’ Center Console. My eyes were partially closed and a damp towel cushioned my head. 

The sound of the engine slowing down brought me back from a daydream. I sat up, opened my eyes and there it was.

The SS Sapona. A beautiful remnant of the past.


It was a windy day on the waters. Blue skies, a few clouds, and strong winds. Strong enough for this mermaid to get sick aboard a 38’ Center console. Yes, sadly I am one of those people that love the ocean but gets seasick.

We were about 4 miles south of Bimini, a quaint little island in the Bahamas, and had just pulled up to a free diver’s playground. I sat up to get a good look at the wreck. 

The SS Sapona sat in about 17 feet of water and yet still half of the wreck could be seen above the surface.

There were other boats, dinghies, and snorkelers. Ten little children were also climbing a rope ladder to the top of the wreck – I didn’t think this was a good idea but they all jumped down safely.

By this time, the nausea had left. I am not sure if the Dramamine had finally kicked in or if it was pure adrenaline. But I was up on my two feet, fins in hand, anxiously waiting for the queue that we had anchored and that it was safe to enter.

Beep…. Beep. 

The sound of my gopro turning on was the last thing I heard before entering the underwater world. 

I swam through a school of Sergeant Majors on my way to the massive, algae-covered concrete wreck just ahead of me. 

Atlantic Blue Tangs were grazing on algae. Sea Fans waved at me and a few parrot fish scaled the edge of the wreck as I swam passed the part of the ship that broke away from the stern.

What lied beneath the surface was beautiful yet eerie. The indefinite silence underneath the water added to the mystery of this aged wreck.

According to an article written by Rob Bender, a concrete ship connoisseur, the S.S. Sapona was built in the 1920s.  It was a concrete cargo ship whose glory days were during prohibition. The ship’s last owner, Bruce Bethel, was a rum runner in the Bahamas. Bethel purchased the ship in 1924 from Floridian Carl G Fisher.  Bethel brought the ship near Bimini island and used it to house his liquor during the prohibition.

Two years later, a hurricane caused the Sapona to run aground on a reef. The stern of the ship broke off and the S.S. Sapona has been there ever since.

Salted steel iron rods stuck out of from the aged concrete. I swam port-side of the ship, passing long steel beams that had spaces in between them. The spaces gave me a glimpse of the adventure that awaited me inside the S.S. Sapona. 

I entered the wreck through a gaping hole in the hull of the ship – it must have been from the bomb tests. 

During World War II, the S.S. Sapona was used as military practice by the U.S. Air Force and Navy.

It led into what once seemed to be the engine room. To the left, there was an opening that led to a smaller room. That room led to the front of the hull and it was massive.  

Algae covered concrete surrounded me. Above the surface, the skeleton of the hull towered about 18 feet. Below the surface, perfectly spaced iron beams laid to the bottom of the ocean floor and up the sides of the wreck.

Nearly a hundred years ago air, bottles of whiskey and rum occupied this space. 

On the day it ran aground, those bottles probably fell from their places, crashing into one another sending broken glass and rum everywhere. That day Bethel lost a lot of merchandise. 

Some thirteen years later, practice bombs carved out cavities in the hull of the S.S. Sapona.

And now divers and snorkelers alike enjoy the alluring sunken wreck. 

The S.S. Sapona has a few riveting chapters in its history. The last one is heard best, 4 miles south of Bimini, underneath the water in beautiful silence.

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