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After Tropical Storm Eta swept the north Florida earlier this month, a bather made a discovery while walking along the shore.

The program is the work of a team of researchers who have helped identify several shipwrecks discovered in the area.

Dorothy Rowland and Nick Budsberg, both members of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Maritime Archaeological Program, examine the wreck off Crescent Beach.
Dorothy Rowland and Nick Budsberg, both members of the St. Augustine Lighthouse Maritime Archaeological Program, examine the wreck off Crescent Beach. (Courtesy of Chuck Meide / LAMP)

Team members have begun to inspect and document the findings with the help of college students from Flagler College. They think the timbers are probably from the Caroline Eddy, an American merchant ship. But that has yet to be confirmed, as the team still has months of research ahead of it.

“Everything we’ve seen so far fits that hypothesis; wooden planks, wooden beams, iron fasteners,” said Chuck Meide, director of the organization, in the statement.

“They look a lot like other 19th century ships we’ve seen.”

Hurricane Eta, the 28th named storm of the 2020 hurricane season, left a trail of destruction that swept through multiple countries earlier this month when the storm made separate landfall.

On November 3, Eta made landfall in Central America as a Category 4 hurricane. It reentered the Caribbean Sea and crashed into Cuba on November 8 and then into Florida’s Lower Matecumbe Key as a tropical storm.

Eta then moved to the Gulf of Mexico and made landfall for the second time in Florida on November 12, just south of Cedar Key, approximately 210 kilometers northwest of Tampa. The storm hit northern Florida and moved into the Atlantic Ocean.

A woman runs past a pile of sand that washed ashore in the Passe-A-Grille neighborhood of St. Pete Beach, Florida.  following Tropical Storm Eta, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020 (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky)
A woman runs past a pile of sand that washed ashore in the Passe-A-Grille neighborhood of St. Pete Beach, Florida. following Tropical Storm Eta, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020 (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky) (AP)
People walk past boats on the beach after Tropical Storm Eta, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, in Gulfport, Florida.  (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky)
People walk past boats on the beach after Tropical Storm Eta, Thursday, Nov. 12, 2020, in Gulfport, Florida. (AP Photo / Lynne Sladky) (AP)

In St. Augustine, the storm caused extremely high tides with some coastal flooding and beach erosion at Fort Matanzas National Monument, according to the National Park Service. Erosion led to the discovery of the shipwreck that researchers believe could be the remains of the Caroline Eddy.

“In late August 1880, Caroline Eddy left Fernandina for New York with a shipment of lumber,” according to a NPS Facebook post.

“She sailed into a hurricane, was driven south, and landed near Matanzas. Her crew survived after holding onto the rig for two days and one night.”

Meide told CNN that they are at the beginning of their investigation, but at this point the clues are lining up that it could be those remains.

Investigators examine the timbers from the wreck.
Investigators examine the timbers from the wreck. (Courtesy of Chuck Meide / LAMP)

“We have not found any other candidate as strong as Carolina Eddy,” he said.

The sand around the wreckage has been eroding for years, especially after Hurricane Matthew and Irma, he said, and the dunes used to be more than ten feet higher. The sand has helped preserve the wooden structure.

“The wood is in very good condition,” Meide said.

“The sand kept him covered from the air and the sun.”

More than 70 percent of all known historical shipwrecks lost in Florida are merchant ships carrying goods from one port to another along the Atlantic coast, according to the researchers.

“Florida’s maritime past is America’s history as the oldest port in the country dating back to the Spanish landing in 1565,” said Kathy Fleming, executive director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum, in the statement.

“The San Agustín Lighthouse Maritime Archaeological Program is committed to saving our maritime history and transmitting these stories to our future generations.”

The research team continues to document and sample the wood and iron work.

Due to the high cost of excavation, the remains will not be fully excavated, Meide said. To preserve the site, the county agreed to the area and posted signs to warn visitors not to disturb the area.

The San Agustín Lighthouse Maritime Archaeological Program is in the process of obtaining a permit from the state for a more permanent barrier, Meide said.

“The shipwreck is a living museum,” he said.

“It’s great to see that there is so much interest in him.”

While he encourages people to take pictures and ask questions of an archaeologist at the site, he cautions that it is illegal to disturb the site.

“It is a protected archaeological site,” he said.

“We don’t want everyone to dig it up or tear it apart.”

Meide added that there is no treasure buried with the ship and that something of value was most likely taken from it in the 19th century.


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