Dive Site: Benwood Wreck
City: Key Largo, Florida
Coordinates: 25.0524′ N, 80.3323′ W
Type of Dive: South Florida Boat Dive
Depth: 55ft Sand
Last Updated: 6/25/2016
History of the Benwood Wreck:
The Benwood Wreck lays northeast of French Reef in Kay Largo, Florida. The 360-foot Benwood was a Norwegian merchant freighter built in 1910. This wreck’s story of how it became is an interesting one that takes us back to the night of April 9, 1942 when the Benwood was on a routine voyage from Tampa Bay, Florida to Norfolk, Virginia with a load of phosphate rock.
That same day, the Robert C. Tuttle was traveling to Texas. This was during World War II and there were rumors of German U-boats in the area. Both vessels traveled completely blacked out to avoid the enemy. At 12:45 a.m., the Tuttle turned starboard (right) as the captain sighted a black object ahead which was believed to be a U-boat. The captain signaled with one blow of the ship’s whistle, “I intend to turn starboard.” There was no response from the Benwood. At 12:50 a.m., the Benwood sighted a black object and sounded the whistle twice indicating, “I intend to turn port (left).” There was no response from the Tuttle.
It’s believed the Benwood and Tuttle were unknowingly on a collision course with each other. Captain Skjelbred of the Benwood made a last-minute effort to avoid the Tuttle by ordering the engine full astern (fastest reverse). Moments later, the bow of the Benwood crashed into the Tuttle’s port side above the waterline. The collision caused the bow of the Benwood to collapsed upon itself. The Benwood quickly took on water and the crew was forced to abandon ship. The Tuttle sustained minor damage.
The day after the collision it was discovered the keel of the Benwood was broken and the vessel was declared a total loss. Her superstructure and cargo was salvaged. The salvaging on the Benwood Wreck prompted John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park to create a protection program in 1959. This helped to prevent further damage to the historical Benwood Wreck. After being salvaged, the Benwood was later used as target practice by the Army Air Corp, which became the US Air Force. She was then dynamited as she was a navigation hazard.
The wreck is protected under the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary which was formed in 1975.
Diving the Benwood Wreck:
The Benwood Wreck rests between 25 feet to 55 feet of water northeast of French Reef off the coast of Key Largo, Florida. Be very careful of the jagged, rusted, fire coral encrusted metal when exploring the Benwood Wreck. Between the history and its shallow depth, This wreck is one of the most popular dives in Key Largo. We like to refer to the Benwood Wreck as a “wreck of a wreck.”
This dive site is home to many Jawfish – we almost felt like we were exploring Blue Heron Bridge!