'Regina' friends meet; mapping of shipwreck starting this month
Regina made a lot of friends Saturday, with more expected in the weeks and months ahead.
"Regina" is the molasses barge that sank in the Gulf of Mexico off Bradenton Beach in a storm March 8, 1940. One man died while trying to swim ashore from the wreck in the high winds and rough seas, but the other seven were rescued through the efforts of Cortezians and other locals.
The "Regina" was commissioned as a steam schooner in 1904, built in Belfast, Ireland. It is 247 feet long and, when it ran aground and later sank off Ninth Street North, was carrying 350,000 gallons of molasses from Havana, Cuba, to New Orleans.
"Regina's" friends, about 40 of them, want the shipwreck to become part of the Florida Department of State's Division of Historical Resources Bureau of Archaeological Research's State Underwater Archeological Preserve system, a sort of "shipwreck heritage trail" that is currently comprised of nine wrecks.
"The idea of a series of underwater parks, trails and preserves is new to Florida," Della A. Scott-Ireton has said. She, along with Dr. Roger Smith and Jennifer McKinnon, will be here for the month, working with local divers and others to map the wreck and establish a "Friends of Regina" group.
Not much is knows about the events that took place that night in 1940, and Scott-Ireton is hoping that people who were on the beach or any member of the crew can be located to tell their story of what happened. Pictures, artifacts, or any other material will be used to make the formal nomination of having the wreck placed into the state program, and the collateral material can be used for a shoreside exhibit.
"Whatever happened to the tug?" Scott-Ireton asked. "We aren't even sure of its name." Accounts of the tug's name vary based Scott-Ireton said a group of local divers would be meeting in a classroom setting in the next few weeks to learn the process of an underwater archeological survey. Detailed maps will then be produced in the form of brochures and other material for divers to have a better understanding of the wreck and its history.
upon news accounts of the time, and no mention of its captain has been found as yet.
She said that the state has contracted with a marine historian in Washington, D.C., to research the "Regina" and its history.
The wreck is only a short swim from shore and is a popular locale for experienced and novice scuba divers. Several of the attendees at Saturday's meeting said that due to the popularity of the wreck, reefballs - artificial reef structures that attract fish and other marine life - should be considered to be added nearby to serve as "staging areas" for divers awaiting their turn to visit the wreck.
It was agreed that county officials would be contacted to see about the feasibility of such a reefball deployment.
Lorraine and Pete Athas of Sea-Trek Divers in Bradenton Beach began the nominating process about two years ago. Pete is the president of the new "Friends" group; Lorraine is vice-president, and Jim Humes is secretary-treasurer. Any information from anyone about the ship can be relayed to Sea-Trek at 779-1506.
It seems only fitting that the "Regina" receive its designation as part of the state's underwater preserve system as it turns 100 years old.
A dark and stormy night
The following account of the floundering of the "Regina" is from "Fog's Comin' In," by Doris M. Green. The superstructure mentioned disappeared long ago.
Just north of the Island end of the Cortez Bridge, about 50 yards offshore, a black rusted object can be seen protruding from the Gulf waters. Few know or remember what it is unless they were on the beach March 8, 1940, or have asked about the object. A converted tanker, the "Regina," laden with 350,000 gallons of molasses, was being towed from Cuba to New Orleans by the Cuban tugboat "Minian."
A late winter storm developed on Friday with gale-force winds and pounding 8- to 10-foot waves and by nightfall the temperature had dropped in the 30s. The tug and barge were possibly headed for the shelter of Tampa Bay when the tow line between the two vessels sheared off, whether by accident or deliberately cut by the crew trying to save themselves. The eight-man tanker crew and a German shepherd dog were left stranded on the sandbar. The Coast Guard in St. Petersburg was alerted but in the darkness it was too dangerous to send a rescue boat. They loaded an old PBT seaplane with rescue supplies for an early Saturday morning flight to the floundering barge.
It took about a half-hour to reach the spot on the beach. After circling as low as they dared, they dropped life jackets and supplies but the near hurricane-force winds blew them towards shore and beyond reach of the crew seen hanging on the rails with waves crashing over them. All during the previous night, crowds had gathered on the beach and kept fires going to encourage the stricken crew. In addition to the seaplane, the Coast Guard had sent a truck with a gun used to shoot lines out to the barge, but were unsuccessful. There was no Sunshine Skyway Bridge at that time and the truck had to drive around Tampa Bay before arriving on the scene.
About 10 a.m. my younger brother, Clayton (Jap), aged 18, and other friends went over to the Island from Cortez to watch the attempted rescue operations. Shortly before they arrived the ship's cook, a black man named Sevrino Canersines, and his dog had jumped into the raging waves in an attempt to swim ashore, but soon disappeared in the water. Their bodies later washed up on the beach. Two other men had jumped into the water trying to make it to safety and were struggling in the waves to stay afloat. Jap volunteered to swim out to them with a long rope tied securely around his waist and the other end held by the men on shore.
When he finally reached them, he grabbed one man by his jacket and pulled him to the rope and the other crewman was able to grab the rope. All were pulled to safety by the men on shore. Jap said he was freezing and very tired when he reached the beach and hurried home to get out of the wet clothes and did not return to the beach.
Several attempts were made by men in boats to reach the barge but the waves were too high. Finally, Furman Smith from Palma Sola ventured out in a small dingy with a long rope, also held by men on shore, and was successful in reaching the barge. They tied the rope to the stranded vessel and the remaining crew made it safely to shore by holding onto the rope. Later Jap and Furman were awarded trophies by the Bradenton Chamber of Commerce for their heroism.
According to the state Web site on archeological preserves, "'Regina' joined a growing fleet of large and small tankers carrying a specific liquid cargo: molasses. Shipped from several locations in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico to ports on the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States, molasses was used primarily by rum distilleries, and also by animal feed manufacturers. "New Orleans was a principal port of the world's molasses trade; cargoes were transferred to river barges for distribution inland to feed producers in the Midwest. Compared with other liquid cargoes carried by tankers at sea, such as oil, chemicals, or freshwater, molasses is much heavier. In cold weather it thickens, becoming difficult to pump during transfer and requiring a longer time in port. Various tank-heating methods were used to make the cargo more fluid and easier to pump."