Off the coast of the island of Bimini in the northwest quadrant of The Bahamas sits the SS Sapona, a concrete hulled tanker that has called this little corner of the islands home since 1926. Resting in 15 feet of water, this aging hulk has been given new life and is now an adrenaline dive for Bahamians, Floridians, and other international thrill seekers.
Commissioned by the United States President, Woodrow Wilson, and built by the Liberty Ship Building Co., in Wilmington, North Carolina, the SS Sapona was built for battle during World War I. Unfortunately, the steamer was not finished until 1920, a few years after the end of the World War I, making us guess it was already on its way to an “island time” life long before it arrived in the Bahamas.
It was first used as a casino, with people ferried out to her offshore for an elegant evening of fun and a chance to woo Lady Luck. When the casino was shut down, she found a more useful, if not so fun, purpose being used to store oil off the shores of North Carolina. Her next owner, Bruce Bethel, would bring her to her forever home, the Bahamas. Bethel was an infamous rum runner in the Bahamas during Prohibition, and he moved her to Bimini, the little Bahamian island just across the Gulf from the United States, and its rum craving inhabitants. Stuck in the sand banks off Bimini during a hurricane in 1926, it became a perfect warehouse for Bethel booze throughout Prohibition. His intent was to make it a floating nightclub as well, but law enforcement caught up with him ending that grand plan.
Now permanently empty and stuck in the sand, the United States military began using it as target practice prior to World War II. The bombing and strafing, combined with salt air and time, has left little concrete on the hull. What remains of the hull, the Sapona’s steel rods, are like skeletal fingers and ribs that give every dive an eerie otherworldly feel.
The Sapona is a popular scuba and free diving site today with teeming colourful fish swimming in and around its old bones. Locals and tourists love climbing the ladder to the top deck and cannonballing into Bimini’s clear water. There are years and history behind her old hull and it’s one of the few places in the world you can dive a storied shipwreck in only fifteen feet of water.