Sapona lies four miles south of the Bimini islands in the Bahamas and 56 miles east of Miami, Florida, making her very accessable to divers basing out of the Bahamas and the United States. The remains of Sapona at deepest lie at ony 17 feet, the majority of her hull above water and highly visible to tourists and recreational divers alike. The shallow depth means any recreational diver with enough experience can visit the wreck. Sapona is a popular recreational diving site.
~ GPS Shipwreck Location ~
Latitude: 25° 39' 1.8" N Longitude: -79° 17' 36.2904" W
Sapona was constructed in 1920 by the Liberty Ship Building Company in Wilmington, North Carolina for the United States government originally part of the planned 24 ship World War I emergency fleet. Her sister ship was the Cape Fear. Like the concrete ship Palo Alto, Sapona was never used as a cargo steamship. She was purchased by Miami Beach developer Carl Fisher and used first as a casino and later as an oil storage barge. In 1924, at the height of prohibition, Fisher sold the Sapona to Bruce Bethel, an alcohol smuggler based in the Bahamas. Sapona was used as his floating alcohol storage warehouse. Bethel later hoped to partially repurpose parts of Sapona to become a night club. In 1926, the ship was caught in a violent storm and thrown aground on a reef. Her hull was holed and punctured, then her stern ripped off the main hull. Bethel abandoned her where she lay. During World War II, Sapona was used as target practice by the United States Navy and continued to be used for such a purpose after the war had ended in 1945. The last time she was said to be used as target practice was by the infamous Naval Squadron Flight 19 shortly before the aircraft went missing in a region commonly referred to as the Bermuda Triangle. A Mariner flying boat was sent out to search for the missing squadron, but also vanished. To this day, none of the aircraft have been located.
Sapona lies in two main sections, having broken in half when she ran aground in 1926. Both sections were easily discernable up to the early 2000s. However, years of neglect, constant hurricanes and target practice by the United States Navy have taken their toll. The sides of the ship and her internal decks have collapsed, but the resilliant main skeleton of the vessel has upheld its basic shape and has kept the concrete main deck intact. In the mid to late 2000s, the stern section succumbed to its fate and collapsed into a pile of concrete rubble on the bottom of the reef. The ship's propeller remains and is completely underwater. The prow itself is in the best shape of all the vessel, retaining its appearance and structural integrity where the rest of the wreck has since given up.
Further info and photos of Sapona.
Sapona was part of a series of ships built of concrete for the U.S. Military in the late 1910s early 1920s. During World War I, steel was a highly sought after material needed for warships and other high priority military equipment. Reinforced concrete was an easy to construct, strong and cheap alternative to steel. President Wilson approved the construction of an "Emergency Fleet" of 24 ships in 1918. Only 12 were finished, all after the war, and sold to commercial operators. Many ended up as fishing piers, breakwaters and shipwrecks. Only one is still afloat as a Powell River breakwater in British Columbia; the Peralta. The San Pasqual is also intact off the Cuban coastline, but is abandoned and likely not afloat.