Photography by LISA MACNEIL
Roughly two years ago, Hernando County Port Authority Vice Chairman Steve Barton was working on a boat at the Hernando Beach Marina when he noticed another boat nearby in obvious disrepair. Barton approached the Marina owner who told him, “Man we’ve been trying to get rid of that for years.”
Barton thought this large vessel constructed of ferroconcrete would make a great addition to the Bendickson reef.
The Ghost Ship, named for its mysterious past was towed to its final resting place on Tuesday, April 23, 2019, where it became part of the Bendickson Reef. The vessel, which may have been purchased from the Clearwater Marine Aquarium may have also been involved in smuggling operations. Its final owner is believed to have died roughly 15 years ago. No one is really certain.
The old schooner wasn’t merely parked at the marina, it was completely submerged and needed to be emptied of water, oil and fuel contaminants and other contents to allow the vessel to be towed.
Barton took his Ghost Ship idea to the Port Authority, and later to the Army Corps of Engineers for their approval. “It took about a year and a half to get approval,” Barton said. During this time, members of the Port Authority and community volunteers readied the boat, removing 7-8 dumpsters of debris from the vessel.
Port Authority Chairman Frank Santo commissioned the plaque and affixed it to the stern, giving the stately but badly worn vessel its proper name.
The project was funded by donations of cash and labor, and the Ghost Ship was towed to the reef site by services donated by Tow Boat US and Port Authority member Captain Michael Senker. Moving at a careful pace of 5-7 knots, the tow boat guided the Ghost Ship twenty miles west of Hernando Beach, followed by The Second Wind piloted by Captain Santo. The Second Wind passengers consisted of Port Authority members, and others that volunteered their time and training to this project.
Aquatics Director Keith Kolasa oversaw the process that pumped water into the Ghost Ship that would ultimately sink it. Five other vessels carrying divers and other team members were also in attendance to assist. Also witnessing the event were several vessels that happened to be in the area, coming in for a closer look. From one emerged a paddle-boardist, who remained a safe distance from the sinking of the 46-foot schooner. An estimated 21 boats were in the area at the time.
It took only 30 minutes to sink the Ghost Ship.
The Bendickson Reef project began in April of 1995 when ten M60 Patton main battle tanks were submerged over an 11 acre area to provide a habitat for fish and other marine life, and serves as a destination for anglers and divers.
In 2017, 600 tons of concrete material was added to the reef.