Good morning and happy holidays! I hope everyone enjoyed their Thanksgiving yesterday. How many of you tuned in for the annual Macy’s Parade? I know I did!
If you are a history buff like me, then you are going to love the story of the Cartanza Senora, a former WWII freighter that has been transformed into one of the most popular diving sites in the Caribbean. Resting in about 45 feet of water off the coast of Buck Island, this maritime relic serves as a sanctuary for vibrant fish, colorful coral, and the occasional sea turtle or octopus. It’s also an ideal diving spot for adventure enthusiasts. Broken into three pieces, this haunting vessel tells a tale that began around 80 years ago.
The once majestic Cartanza Senora began her life as a WWII freighter. Measuring at 190 feet, the Cartanza was used to transport goods across the Atlantic. After the war, the vessel was outfitted as an agricultural cargo ship, bringing goods from South America to the Caribbean Islands.
Rumor has it that the crew of the Cartanza began to expand their export in the 1970’s and their agricultural additions were not completely legal. Near the end of the decade, the captain and crew scuttled the ship in the St. Thomas harbor, apparently because the Coast Guard caught wind of their nefarious activity. There isn’t much online to back up this claim, but from what I could find, it seemed like the crew had been tipped off that they were about to be boarded by the Coast Guard, so they abandoned ship and took their cargo with them.
The abandoned freighter was a navigational hazard for cruise ships coming into St. Thomas, so the Army Corps of Engineers were brought in by local authorities to decimate the wreckage. St. Thomas dive shops rallied against this idea because the wreck had become a popular recreational diving spot.
Led by dive shop owner Bill Letts, protestors took turns ‘camping out’ at the wreck to prevent the demolition. Bill Letts and others also hosted successful fundraisers, and they were able to secure the money for a crane, so they could relocate the Cartanza to a protected grave off of Buck Island.
Unfortunately, funding dried up, and the original relocation spot was no longer possible. On June 16th, 1979, the crane dropped the Cartanza in 85 feet of water, instead of the planned 40 feet, restricting its access to advanced divers only.
A decade later, Hurricane Hugo hit the Virgin Islands and rolled the Cartanza into shallower waters closer to Buck Island. And get this – because of Hurricane Hugo, the massive freighter had finally found its resting place exactly where Bill Letts had originally planned. Lying in about 45 feet of water in Shipwreck Cove, the Cartanza can be visited by all levels of divers and can even be seen from the surface.
The last time I went to Shipwreck Cove, we took the underwater scooters to get a closer look at the Cartanza. Knowing its history only added to the lure of this hauntingly beautiful wreck. Gliding just above it, I could see the hull adorned by clusters of coral, while little reef fish darted in and out of its massive frame. What was once an impressive WWII freighter is still full of life, only now as a marine ecosystem and a mecca for adventure seekers.
Do you know of any nearby shipwrecks and their stories? If so, please feel free to share below!
- Freedom Tour Travel. “Diving the Cartanza Wreck off St. Thomas in the USVI.” Freedom Tour Travel, Natalie, https://freedomtourtravel.com/diving-the-cartanza-wreck-off-st-thomas-in-the-usvi/.