The SS Tarpon has a fascinating history. Today, the wreck is located within a Florida Underwater Archeological Preserve. Approximately 160 feet long and 26 feet wide, the remains can be clearly seen on the bottom. The Tarpon is also considered one of Bay County's oldest artificial reefs and today is teeming with marine life thrilling divers and anglers year-round.
A Fascinating History: The SS Tarpon
In 1887, a ship was built in Delaware and christened the Naugatuck, she provided freight and passenger service along the Naugatuck and Housatonic Rivers to New York City. The ship was 130 feet long with a 26-foot beam, powered by twin-compound fore-and-aft steam engines, she also had auxiliary masts and sails. In case of machinery failure, the Naugatuck could sail when the winds and seas were favorable.
The Naugatuck was in service during the time when the railroads began replacing the steamships. Many steamship companies were losing money, and the Naugatuck changed hands several times. Eventually, the ship was purchased by the Pensacola, St. Andrews & Gulf Steamship Company, and rechristened the SS Tarpon. Willis Barrow became the captain.
Starting in 1903 and lasting for the next 30-plus years, The Tarpon and Barrow made weekly runs along the northern gulf. It's been estimated that Barrows captained for over 1700 trips on the Tarpon. By 1937, the Tarpon was considered one of the most dependable and reliable vessels operating along the panhandle.
On August 30th, 1937 the Tarpon left Mobile, Alabama carrying as much freight as possible, including 200 tons of general cargo, 15 tons of freshwater, and 200 barrels of oil. As a result, the distance between the waterline and the top of the deck was less than 5 inches. On the morning of September 1st, the ship began to take on water as the seas became turbulent. To try to save the ship, the crew began jettisoning cargo, but it was too late. At dawn, a gale overtook the ship.
In an effort to save the ship, the first mate steered her towards shore hoping to run her aground before she sank. Of the 31 passengers and crew on board, 18 souls were lost including Captain Barrow who went down with his ship.
An Underwater Archeological Treasure
Today, almost 80 years after the tragedy the SS Tarpon is one of Florida's 12 Underwater Archaeological Preserves and is an underwater oasis teeming with life! The Tarpon has become a favorite spot among divers thanks to the history behind the wreck and the natural hard bottom around the site.
After almost 80 years, the Tarpon plays host to amazing dives. It's a prime spot for picking up lobster and home to a vast array of marine life including hard corals, jellies, crustaceans, amberjack, grunts, sharks, and other gamefish.
Early divers could swim through the cargo hatches and into the hold, where they'd find stacked cases of beer still sitting there. Today, the passage of time has changed the wreck. The hull has flattened and only the hardpan bottom keeps it from sinking into the sand. Even today, it remains a site that is teaming with life and one of the state's most popular must-visit dive spots.
Florida is blessed with a huge variety of gamefish and artificial reefs like the Tarpon are magnets for an ever-changing cast of characters. From several delicious grouper and snapper species to hard fighting amberjack, a number of shark species, and trophy visitors like king mackerel, cobia, and bull dolphin the Tarpon is an angler's paradise.
Whether you love to dive, enjoy collecting lobster to share with friends, or are an avid angler, the Florida Gulf is a spectacular destination for outdoor enthusiasts. If you find yourself in the Panama City Beach area, it's just a short boat ride to the site of the SS Tarpon.
To learn more, stop into any local dive or tackle shop. Most have informational brochures about the Tarpon. Remember, shipwrecks are nonrenewable resources so treat the site with respect to preserve and protect them for future generations to enjoy and experience.