Summer 2013

Century-Old Wreck Identified

Article by Ryck Lydecker

Photo of the ship Hannah M. Belll
The Hannah M. Bell. (Photo courtesy of Harold Appleyard

Maritime archeologists got a positive ID on a shipwreck off Key Largo popularly known as “Mike’s Wreck,” thanks to some sub-surface sleuthing by members of the National Association of Black Scuba Divers. The wreck, now confirmed as the Hannah M. Bell, is popular with snorkelers as well as scuba divers because it’s in only 25 feet of water on Elbow Reef, six miles offshore. The 315-foot British freighter grounded there on April 4, 1911, carrying a load of coal to Mexico, and a May storm tore the wreck apart, making positive identification difficult.

Working with underwater archeologists from NOAA’s National Marine Sanctuary program, the volunteer divers took measurements and photos of the wreck for comparison with known vessel records.

"Similar to the way detectives use forensic information to solve a crime, we compared the dimensions and construction characteristics with historic records," said NOAA maritime archaeologist Matthew Lawrence. "Measurements of the shipwreck and the records for Hannah M. Bell were virtually identical, as were the reported sinking location and actual location of the wreck."