The Boca Chica Channel Wreck represents the remains of a late-eighteenth century wooden vessel that is located on submerged bottomlands within Boca Chica Channel, a small body of water adjacent to Boca Chica Key and within the boundaries of Naval Air Facility (formerly Naval Air Station) Key West. Local divers initially discovered the wreck site in the early 1970s; its location was reported to the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research (BAR) in 1992. Three years later, the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary and the Florida Division of Historical Resources developed a partnership with the Naval Historical Center to inventory, investigate, and prepare management plans for significant Navy shipwrecks in Florida's waters. Planning discussions also included non-naval sites in Florida under Navy jurisdiction, such as the Boca Chica Channel Wreck. Major contributors to the project included the Naval Historical Center, Florida BAR, National Park Service's Submerged Resources Center (NPS-SRC), Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Sanctuaries Program, and Naval Air Facility Key West.
In September 1997, NPS-SRC began a remote-sensing survey of Boca Chica Channel. Shortly thereafter, archaeologists representing the Naval Historical Center, NPS-SRC, Florida BAR, and NOAA's National Marine Sanctuaries Program initiated test excavations at the site to determine its overall condition and archaeological context. The wreck is comprised of a low ballast mound and shallowly buried, disarticulated wooden hull remains, including floor timbers, a section of futtock, exterior hull planking, and fragmented ceiling planks. One section of articulated hull was discovered beneath the ballast pile amidships and comprised the vessel's mainmast step. Numerous contemporary and intrusive artifacts were discovered in a diffuse surface scatter throughout the site. Diagnostic items included tin-glazed and unglazed earthenware ceramic fragments, bottle glass, iron and lead munitions, and iron ship's fittings. Analysis of the hull remains and artifact assemblage revealed that the site most likely represents the remains of a small Spanish or French colonial-built fishing or trading vessel that wrecked during the period of the American Revolution (1775-1783).
- 1974: Boca Chica Channel Wreck location related to Bill Muir, a local naval architect and historian, by an unidentified Navy chief stationed at Naval Air Station (NAS) Key West. The Navy chief reportedly recovers an intact Spanish olive jar, ceramic rim sherds and two sounding leads from the site; the location(s) of these items are currently unknown.
- 1974 - 1981: Muir conducts numerous visits to the wreck site; initiates cursory documentation of hull remains and recovers sample artifacts and ballast stones for identification and analysis. Muir speculates that the site might date to the late-sixteenth or early-seventeenth century.
- 1981: The U.S. Navy restricts access to the Boca Chica Channel Wreck as part of a security zone implementation.
- September 1986: The commanding officer (CO) of NAS Key West informs Florida State Archaeologist James Miller that certain restrictions will apply to the site if it is located within the base’s ordnance safety zone or security zone; however, the CO also states that archaeological investigations will be allowed if they adhere to Navy regulations. Navy authorization to excavate the site is granted to Captain William Frank, Director of the Key West Maritime Historical Society for the Florida Keys, Inc (KWMHS). Frank later files an admiralty salvage lien on the wreck.
- 1986 - 1991: Concern over Frank's salvage lien leads Muir to seek litigation. The court, influenced by Muir's early work on the site, rules in his favor and rejects Frank's claim. Shortly thereafter, the Navy restricts all access to the site and threatens arrest for anyone who attempts to visit the site.
- May 1991: Frank files a court action in response to the court's rejection of his salvage claim. This prompts Muir to file his own Admiralty salvage claim to prevent the wreck from being "exploited for commercial gain." The court upholds Muir's claim.
- November 1992: Muir reports the Boca Chica Channel Wreck to the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research; the site is assigned Florida Master Site File number 8MO1448.
- 1995: The Naval Historical Center develops a partnership with the Florida Division of Historical Resources to prepare management plans for U.S. Navy shipwrecks in Florida waters. During this process, Florida's state underwater archaeologist, Dr. Roger Smith, expresses concern about the Boca Chica Channel Wreck and suggests that Naval Historical Center investigate and take steps to preserve it. The Florida State Historic Preservation Officer recommends that the site be included in the Florida Historic and Archaeological Resource Protection Plan and evaluated for inclusion on the National Register of Historic Places.
- 1995 - 1997: Dr. Robert Neyland of the Naval Historical Center's Underwater Archaeology Branch contacts the Navy's Federal Preservation Officer and NAS Key West's cultural resources manager to organize and initiate a professional archaeological survey of the site. At Dr. Neyland's request, volunteers Commander David Whall, USN (retired) and Dr. Diane Silvia relocate the wreck site and initiate archival research efforts.
- September 1997: Phase I and II archaeological investigations take place at the site and its surrounding environs.
|Neyland, Robert S., and Barbara A. Voulgaris
The Boca Chica Channel Wreck: A Site Assessment. Naval Historical Center Underwater Archaeology Branch, Washington Navy Yard, D.C.