Half Moon Miami Scuba Dive Spot

Half Moon has led many different lives from the moment she was conceived on the drawing board until she wrecked on a shoal near Miami, Florida. She played a part in an international incident at the beginning of World War I, and was owned by a German count and an American Navy official. Although her life afloat ended as a near-derelict before being sunk in a storm, her days are far from over. The yacht's final role, given public interpretation and protection, can be established as a unique historical and ecological wonder to be shared by generations to come.

World Class Racing Yacht

Krupp Germania-Werft built Half Moon, christened Germania, in Kiel, Germany in 1908. She was designed by the well-known German yacht designer Dr. Max Oertz and was constructed of chrome-nickel steel. The 366-ton, two-masted racing yacht carried 15,000 square feet of canvas and was designated a "schooner yacht." The vessel was a wedding gift from Bertha Krupp, the daughter of the Krupp Germania yard owner, to her husband Count Gustav Krupp von Bohlen und Halbach, and the newlyweds spent their honeymoon on the yacht. As a racing yacht, Germania won the German Emperor's Cup and competed in the Cowes Regatta in England, as well as in the premier German yacht races at Kiel.

Germania had a sister ship named Meteor, which also was designed by Dr. Oertz and was owned by Kaiser Wilhelm II. When war broke out in 1914, Meteor and Germania were in England preparing for the Cowes Regatta. Concern for the yachts prompted German Prinz Heinrich aboard a destroyer to attempt to bring them home. He took Meteor in tow, since neither yacht had auxiliary power, and ordered the captain of Germania to set sail for Germany. Perhaps in haste, the prince neglected to inform Germania's captain of the severity of the situation. As a result, Germania stopped in Southampton to take on a supply of fresh water, unaware that war had been declared. On the morning of 4 August 1914, Germania was detained in port by British Officers of Customs as a prize of war and her captain and crew became some of the first German prisoners of World War I.

A German Aristocrat Becomes an American

After being condemned as a prize of war and deteriorating in port, Germania was auctioned in 1917 for £10,000 sterling to Mr. H. Hannevig, a Norwegian resident in London. Hannevig then transferred ownership of the vessel to his brother, Christoffer Hannevig, who renamed her Exen. The Hannevigs sailed Exen across the Atlantic to New York, where she remained for several uneventful years. Upon Hannevig's bankruptcy, his estate was forced to sell Exen. On 14 July 1921, former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gordon Woodbury purchased the yacht from Hannevig's estate for the sum of $10,000. He renamed her Half Moon, after 17th-century explorer Henry Hudson's ship.

Woodbury spared no expense in refurbishing the ship and outfitted her in 1922 to sail to the South Seas. Meanwhile, several articles appeared in the New York press concerning the yacht, its history, and Woodbury's intended use of the vessel. Subsequent rumors abounded that the yacht had belonged to the Kaiser himself. Woodbury had many photographs of his newly refitted yacht taken and proudly invited friends and relatives to come aboard.

Half Moon's voyage to the South Seas began with an unexpected calamity. In January 1922, an intense storm off Cape Charles, Virginia, badly damaged the yacht and she nearly sank with all hands, including her new owner. Fortunately, the ship and crew were rescued and towed into Hampton Roads by the Standard Oil Tanker Japan Arrow. Woodbury later described the episode as the ". . . worst experience of my whole life." The ship's quartermaster, John Stolvig, lost his life when he was washed overboard by violent waves that smashed the forecastle and lazarette hatches. The captain and the crew were publicly recognized for their seamanship in keeping the vessel afloat. Woodbury returned to New York to recuperate while repairs to his yacht were made at Newport News. Half Moon soon was put on the market and Woodbury's plans for a South Seas voyage came to an end.

Half Moon Arrives in Miami

After repairs, Half Moon returned to New York where her masts and spars were removed by Mr. B. Madsen, who had been contracted by Woodbury to look after the yacht. Madsen returned Woodbury's ensigns, as well as coins that he found under the masts. The vessel was sold again for $10,000 to Charles D. Vail, who apparently cut off the lead keel and attempted to sell the hull for scrap. However, by 1926, Half Moon turned up in Miami, where she endured the hurricane of 1926, but sank in the Miami River. As a hazard to navigation, she was raised soon afterward. By 1928, the yacht was acquired by Capt. Ernest D. Smiley, who used her as a fishing barge and cabaret. A small tender ferried customers to and from Half Moon, which was moored with heavy chains to an offshore reef. Capt. Smiley, his wife, and young son took up residence on the yacht, but in 1930 were caught in a storm and had to abandon the vessel at night after the seas became threatening. They were rescued from their tender and carried ashore; however, Half Moon broke free of her moorings and was carried towards her present location - a shallow shoal at the entrance to Bear Cut off Key Biscayne. When the vessel struck bottom, she did so with such force that raising her again proved hopeless.

Capt. Smiley and his wife abandoned Half Moon, but continued their maritime enterprises, operating glass-bottom boats around Miami and in the Bahamas. Meanwhile, the remains of the once-proud Kaiser Cup racing yacht slowly collapsed and settled into the shoal, entombed over time and home to generations of corals and fish.

Mystery of Half Moon

In 1935, the remains of an uncharted submerged object off Key Biscayne were noted on aerial photographs by the Nautical Charting Division of the National Ocean Service. Field inspection verified that a shipwreck was buried in the sand in shallow water at latitude 25° 43' 37.45" N and longitude 80° 08' 04.66" W. Local inhabitants identified the wreck as Half Moon, a steel sailing yacht that had grounded during a northeasterly storm five years previously. The location of the wreck was plotted on nautical charts as a hazard to navigation, and still is shown on present-day charts of the area.

Local diving explorers Terry Helmers, Tom Harshaw, and Bill LeBlanc came across the wreck in the summer of 1987. They subsequently found reference to a ship named ". . . Haroldine, which went ashore off Bear's Cut on the lump now marked by the bell buoy," in The Commodore's Story by Ralph Munroe, an early Miami landowner and yachtsman. During the following year, they made sketches and photographs of the site, including a test photomosaic. Helmers contacted Dr. Roger Smith, state underwater archaeologist, inviting him and Professor John Gifford, of the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, to visit the wrecksite in December, 1988. A videotape of the partially-buried steel wreck was made, and the group discussed the possibility that it might be the remains of Haroldine. Helmers also contacted the Maritime Archaeological and Historical Society (MAHS) in Washington, D.C., inviting the society to conduct a survey of the site in 1989. Historical research by MAHS revealed that Haroldine was a 200-foot-long, 4-masted wooden schooner that sank in 1898. Their subsequent inspection of the site, as well as a field trip by Dr. Gifford and his students, produced additional photography, video, and site plans. This fieldwork cast doubt that the wreck was that of Haroldine, which was a larger vessel built of wood.

Helmers discovered that the wrecksite appeared on a 1939 nautical chart, but not on the 1928 chart, suggesting that the wreck had occurred sometime between the two dates. He then located the 1935 survey work undertaken by the National Ocean Services, which first charted the wreck locally known as Half Moon. Further research in 1992 turned up newspaper articles published in the Miami Herald in 1926 describing the yacht Half Moon and indicating that its former name was Meteor or Germania. Helmers discovered that a series of ocean racing yachts named Meteor were owned by Kaiser Wilhelm II of Germany, but that none had ever been to Miami. His research suggested that the wreck probably was that of Germania, built in Germany before World War I.

Another exploration of the wrecksite was conducted by the Underwater Archaeology Society of Chicago in April 1992. Additional video was made, as well as a detailed photomosaic and a site plan. The shape of the hull and its overall length suggested that the vessel had been a large, narrow, and fast sailing vessel.

Last Life of Half Moon

In 1997, Helmers submitted a formal nomination to the Florida Secretary of State's office for Half Moon to be considered as a candidate for the state's seventh Underwater Archaeological Preserve. In response, underwater staff of the Bureau of Archaeological Research began a thorough search of historical sources, confirming the significance of Germania and its role in European politics and maritime affairs in the years prior to World War I. They corresponded with Dr. Gerhard Schön, a dentist in Germany who has been researching Germania for years in preparation for a book on the sailing yacht. Dr. Schön provided ship's plans of Germania, as well as constructional details that could provide a positive identity for the Half Moon as Germania. In addition, they contacted Dr. Jens Hohensee and Dr. Kristin Lammerting, both of whom are experts on early German ocean racing yachts. Kommodore Otto Schlenzka of the Kiel Yacht Club provided information on turn-of-the-century yacht races in Germany. Historical accounts of the Cowes races in England, in which Germania participated, came from the Royal Yachting Association, the Royal Thames Yacht Club, and the Royal Yacht Squadron. David Woodbury, grandson of former Assistant Secretary of the Navy Gordon Woodbury who purchased Germania and changed her name to Half Moon, provided photographs and news clipping from the 1920s, as well as correspondence relating to his grandfather's ownership of the yacht.

This new information, combined with an additional visit to the site in February 1999, helped to determine that Half Moon is an excellent candidate for a new state Underwater Archaeological Preserve. In May 2000, the site was carefully mapped and interpreted in order to prepare this public proposal for consideration of the establishment of the Half Moon Preserve.

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Beach, Michael J. 1999. The Half Moon Underwater Archaeological Preserve Project. Unpublished Master's Thesis. University of Miami, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science (RSMAS) pp. 21-24.

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