Divers tasked with finding stash on the Mohawk Veterans Memorial Reef

KEY WEST, Fla. (June 20, 2012) -- The Pirate Museum founder Pat Croce pillaged his own museum for 17th century booty, raided his Rum Barrel's Pyrate Rum stash and snuck aboard the soon-to-be-sunk U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Mohawk to hide the treasures for some lucky diver's discovery.

The 165-foot World War II cutter will be deployed one last time on July 2 in full fighting trim with replica guns, depth charges and a lifeboat on deck, roughly 28 nautical miles west of Redfish Pass off Sanibel Island on Florida's southwest coast--an unusually decked-out burial at sea. "Mighty Mo's" final duty is as the Mohawk Veterans Memorial Reef, honoring veterans and creating a world-class fishing and diving experience in Lee County, home to over 40,000 veterans.

"It's not every day you see a ship of this caliber sunk with so much effort and attention to detail, and we wanted to ramp up the excitement by making it a true adventure for divers," Croce said.

Croce pirated authentic 17th century shot recovered from the former pirate stronghold of Port Royal, Jamaica, as well as an antique rum bottle from his St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum, which he moved from Key West to St. Augustine, Fla., in 2010. With a case of Pyrate Rum stolen from the Rum Barrel stash also up for grabs, the first intrepid diver to find the treasures can keep them and also claim dinner and drinks for two at The Rum Barrel and passes to The Pirate Museum via reef organizers.

The effort to sink the Mohawk and create the artificial reef is led by Reefmakers shipwrecker Joe Weatherby, who also sank the U.S.S. Vandenberg off of Key West in 2009, and Mike Campbell, executive director of Lee Reefs, a nonprofit foundation that works to enhance the marine environment and protect natural reef ecosystems. It came after time and salt water took their toll on the old ship and the cost of keeping her afloat proved too much for the Miami-Dade Maritime Museum, led by Captain Bill Verge.

"We want veterans who served on the Mohawk to feel honored," Weatherby said. "It's the right thing to do for American history, for the environment and the economy, and its means the Mohawk's legacy will live on in every diver's experience."

The quality of the reef itself, the diving experience, one-of-a-kind photo opportunities and marine wildlife interaction are central to its creation, Weatherby added.

The Mohawk will lie in 90 feet of water with a 35-foot clearance over top. Most divers will be able to explore the replica guns, a huge smokestack, crow's nest, bridge, deckhouse and massive propeller, while trained and equipped divers can descend the smoke stack into the Mohawk's enormous engine room where the giant engine's inner parts and reduction gear will be uncovered. Who will find Croce's treasures, that's anyone's guess.

Built in Wilmington, Del., in 1934 as an ice breaker, she was called to serve during WWII as part of the Greenland Patrol, protecting vital allied shipping throughout the war. The Mohawk fought in 14 U-Boat engagements and rescued hundreds of allied sailors torpedoed from the frozen North Atlantic. She is credited as the last ship to radio the weather to General Dwight Eisenhower before he green-lighted the D-Day invasion. After the war, the Mohawk was converted from steam power to diesel and functioned as a lightship, University of Delaware research vessel and Delaware Bay Pilot Boat. She languished in a New York scrap yard before being rescued 15 years ago by the Miami-Dade Maritime Museum, towed to Miami and converted to a museum. Six years ago, the museum was moved to Key West, Fla. But keeping her afloat proved too costly for the group, led by Captain Bill Verge, and the decision was made to reef her. As an artificial reef honoring veterans and providing Southwest Florida's newest diving and fishing attraction, the Mohawk should last 70 to 100 years.

Mohawk photo courtesy the U.S. Coast Guard


This contest is intended to be a non-competitive, recreational promotion. Pat Croce & Company, Rum Barrel Restaurant/Bar, St. Augustine Pirate & Treasure Museum, Reefmakers, and Lee Reefs do not condone the unauthorized collection of artifacts from underwater archaeological sites such as shipwrecks, or the destruction of maritime cultural resources and reckless use of underwater parks and preserves.

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Did you know?

  • In 1671, when Henry Morgan sailed from Port Royal, Jamaica to sack and plunder Panama, his fleet consisted of 37 vessel, ranging from 4-gunners to 22-gunners.

  • Captain Kidd received a letter of marquee from King William III to seize any French ships during his search to capture pirates. Instead, he captured an Indianman resulting in the beginning of his pirate career.

  • The cook onboard a pirate ship was usually a disabled pirate who was allowed to stay on the ship if he could make food that didn't kill the pirate crew.

  • In September 1718, following months of successful plundering raids, the pirate crews of Blackbeard and Charles Vane rendezvoused on Ocracoke Island (North Carolina) for a wild, weeklong bacchanal.


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