The Eagle lies within the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary (FKNMS) approximately three miles northeast of Alligator Reef Light, which is six miles off the coast of the Lower Matacumbe Key. Resting on her starboard side, the Eagle has a minimum depth of 70 feet on her port side and a maximum depth of 115 feet at both the stern and bow ends.
Her position on the ocean floor gives divers the impression that she was victim to a shipwreck event, however, she was actually sunk for the purpose of an artificial reef. While her orientation may add a challenge to advanced divers, novice divers should use their best judgment when diving this site. Divers should utilize the mooring line to ascend as strong currents often sweep over the ship.
At the bow of the ship the port side anchor chain leads away from the vessel. The anchor itself is located away from the ship. Traveling toward the stern allows a view of one of the two masts, equipped with a crows nest. At the stern of the vessel is the ship's superstructure, which once stood over 60-feet high. The ship offers large open windows for easy access to the dark interior, where a strong light is recommended for diving safety. The shipÕs huge four-blade propeller remains fixed in position.
The Eagle has proved to be one of the Upper Keys most popular dives with an ever growing carpet of marine life to add to her attraction. The vessel is equipped with three mooring buoys at the bow, midsection and stern respectively. Visibility at this site ranges from 50 to 100 feet (Berg and Berg, 1991:112). Historical Background
The Eagle was built in Werf-Gorinchem, Holland by Bijker's Aanneming's Bedrijf, Ijssel under the title yard number 167. This conventional hull freighter, despite her short career, was known by various names. Beginning her career on December 31, 1962 under the name Raila Dan, the Eagle was 268.5-feet long, 40.29-feet wide and 65-feet high. She was later named Barok in 1967. Seven years later, her name was changed again to Carmela. She was also known in 1976 as Ytai, Etai (1977), and Carigulf Pioneer (1981). She was purchased in 1984 by Jonaz Corporation Ltd. of Georgetown, Cayman Islands where she became known as Arron K., and flew the Caymanian flag. Finally, she was christened Eagle Tire Co. in 1985 just before she was sank.
The conventional hull freighter carried mainly cardboard and newspaper between Miami and Venezuela. Powered by a single ten-cylinder diesel engine, she was capable of producing over 1700 horsepower. Her design speed was 12.5 knots. The vessel's three 60-kilowatt auxiliary generators, along with the main engine, were located at the stern of the ship.
On October 6, 1985, 125 miles south of Miami, she caught fire on route to Venezuela. Two U.S. Coast Guard cutters responded to the distress call only to find that the superstructure of the ship had been totally destroyed. Only 23 years into her career, she was useless and left to reside on the bank of the Miami River now owned by North River Terminals.
In 1985, new interests arose concerning the future of ship. The Florida Keys Artificial Reef Association(FKARA) as well as the Keys Association of Diver Operators (KADO) searched the banks of the Miami River before deciding to use the Arron K. to form an artificial reef. She was purchased for $30,000. Joe Teitelbaum, owner of the North Rivers Terminal donated another $20,000 to help create the reef. FKARA and KADO intended to sink her off Alligator Reef to aid in the rebuilding of the underwater culture. The vessel was then given her final name, the Eagle Tire Co., named after one of TeitelbaumÕs own companies.
On December 19, 1985, the Eagle Tire Co. was launched for its final resting place with her final cargo of $873 worth of high explosives. She was supposed to settle beside the barge she was moored to, the sunken Alexander Barge . However, the Eagle broke away from the barge, and the port anchor was dropped to prevent further drifting in the current. To avoid further complications, the decision was made to sink the Eagle where she had dropped anchor.
In preparation for the submerging of the Eagle, certain steps were taken to protect the life already residing in the reef. The ship was cleaned, gutted of all wooden parts and all oil and fuel from the machinery was removed. To help ensure the safety of future divers, many large holes were cut into the starboard side of the ship. Ed Armstrong of Florida recollects that the fuel tanks were not filled with water before the ship was sunk which may have caused her to roll on her side as she sank. The ship landed on her starboard side, and the holes which were cut into the hull to provide easy entry and exit were consequently rendered useless.
The Eagle wreck has very little significant archaeological value. The site consists of the hulk of a 268-foot steel-hulled freighter sent to the bottom as an artificial reef (Appendix E). She is listed as 40.29 feet wide and 65 feet high (Scott 1994:65). The Eagle site area includes a moderate amount of debris radiating out from the main hull (see Appendix E). Notable objects include hull plates, deck equipment mast fragments. The port side anchor chain can also be seen exiting the hawse hole and disappearing into the sand.
Standard preparations were made on the Eagle for its enjoyment by divers and artificial reef habitat. Contaminants were removed. All cables, equipment and materials of value were salvaged, and some hull plates were cut through to allow easier diver entry into some areas and lessen the possibility of entrapment. Brass fittings have also been removed.
The Eagle has a number of features that make it a notable dive attraction (Appendix E). In the bow area, the large anchor chain has already been mentioned. It continues considerable distance from the port bow. The two large mast assemblies rest on the bottom at 110 feet. They form a photogenic backdrop against the white coral sand. One is set on the forecastle; the other amidships between cargo bays. Each has its ladder and observation platform in place. As you move toward the stern, a tandem set of cargo booms are set at a forward angle. Large holes had been cut in the starboard side to balance her descent, but the blasts that finished her blocked them with debris, and she landed on her starboard side.
In the stern quarter, diver entry can be made at several deck levels. Heat damage can be observed from the fire during the voyage from Miami to Venezuela on October 6, 1985. The fire was so intense that it caused extensive structural damage and the Eagle was declared a total loss. The deck railings are in place, the bridge deck can be entered, and her stack is in place.
The Eagle was originally powered by a single direct diesel engine having 10 cylinders and producing 1700 horsepower (Scott 1994:65). She was designed to carry 12.5 knots. While her engine was salvaged, her propeller and rudder assembly can be seen.
This report takes the position that the Eagle shipwreck is not eligible for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places. It has high recreational value and other positive attributes, but it cannot be identified as a historic or archaeological site on the basis of current knowledge. The reasons for arriving at this conclusion are:
The Eagle is an extremely popular dive site. The wreck attracts large schools of fishes and has become an important reef habitat area. Today, approximately six dive centers charter trips to the Eagle on a regular basis. Tigner Blokman of Holiday Isle says that his dive center charters two trips per week with four to ten divers, implying a significance recognized by the public and assigned to the shipwreck. She is an important recreational resource for advanced divers and scuba businesses.
Field investigations on the Eagle to date have been far more limited than studies on the submerged resources in closer proximity to Key Largo. However, three biological monitoring stations (bow, midship and stern) were established during the August 1996 studies conducted by Indiana University (Appendix E). Biological growth on this shipwreck is not ubiquitous in part due to the deeper waters. The maximum depth of the Eagle is 115 feet, where light intensity may not be sufficient for some pioneering algae and bacteria species.
The Eagle, like the Duane, has been submerged for only a few years. Reef building organisms have had little more than 10 years to settle on this substrate. Perhaps future growth will compare to the complex diversity of that found on the City of Washington. Only by continual monitoring of biological growth can this be ascertained.