One of the deadliest shipwreck traps in the Western Hemisphere lies in the Southern Bahamas, about fifty miles north of Great Inagua Island. It is a place seldom visited because of the dangers involved and its isolated location. Nearly invisible beneath deceptively tranquil waters lies a treacherous reef that has claimed hundreds of ships over the past four hundred and fifty years or more. It was named the Dragon’s Teeth by early Spanish captains and sailors. Today it is known as Hogsty Reef. Spanish galleons laden with gold and silver from the mines of Hispaniola made their way north around Great Inagua island on their return trip to Spain. This took them past the deadly hidden Hogsty Reef and on toward the shallow waters of the lee side of Long Island, Bahamas.
In 1964, a scientific expedition was launched by the University of Miami to explore Hogsty Reef. They found bronze cannons and a jewel studded ring. In the mid 1990s an expedition to Hogsty led by Captain Carl Fismer logged more than two dozen wreck locations. One of those was the Princess Charlotte, an English ship that, though partially salvaged, still holds more than thirty thousand coins that were never recovered. The Spanish registry listings from the early sixteenth century are littered with lost ships that departed Santo Domingo. Many of these ships are thought to have met their fate in the deadly grip of the Dragon’s Teeth.
Long before I knew him, Walter Richardson began spearfishing in high school and had his own boat by the eleventh grade. After high school, he began diving with a guy named Allen. Allen’s mother had a friend, Tom McCrory, an old Miami River pirate, who knew about a 175′ three masted schooner available for charter and told Allen about it.
Allen first chartered this vessel, the Aldebaran Bay, in February 1983 as a party venue from which he and his friends could watch the inaugural Grand Prix of Miami. My great uncle Tom and cousin Keith attended this party and arrived in their own boat, the El Dora, tying her up to the Aldebaran Bay, which was docked in the current location of Bayside in downtown Miami. The weather was terrible that weekend – winds were howling at thirty to forty knots and the waves at the dock were between four to five feet. Keith, Allen, and Tom tied the El Dora with mooring line from the Aldebaran Bay so that she was between the dock and the ship and unable to bang into either one.
At daybreak, Allen awakened Keith telling him to come quick because the boat was in trouble. The mooring line had chaffed on the rounded edge of the Aldebaran from the rough weather and had worn completely through, freeing the El Dora, which then began slamming into the dock. The waves literally carried the boat up onto the concrete dock where she would then wash back down into the water and repeat the process over and over. In their underwear Keith and Allen battled the wind and rain to try to save the El Dora.
The abuse from the dock had created a two foot crack in the chine of the boat and knocked a hole out of one corner. Despite their heroic efforts to save the boat, she sank right there at the dock. The race was cancelled due to the extreme weather conditions, and Tom paid about fifteen hundred dollars just to have his damaged vessel floated by a guy named Bob NueBauer, with his salvage boat Odd Job, and towed to Watson Island.
This early incident with the Aldebaran Bay was a foreshadowing of things to come.