The S.S. Sapona was one of a fleet of concrete ships originally commissioned by former U.S. President, Woodrow Wilson, to serve as troop transport during WWI, because steel was in short supply. Said to have been designed by Henry Ford himself, it was built by the Liberty Ship Building Company in Wilmington, North Carolina, and is sister to the ship 'Cape Fear'.
Because the ship was completed after the end of the war, it was sold for scrap to Carl Fisher, one of the developers of Miami Beach. He used it briefly as a casino and then for oil storage, before it was purchased in 1924 by Bruce Bethell, a former British war captain and a liquor merchant out of Nassau. Bethell moved the ship to Bimini and used it used as a floating warehouse to store and distribute his liquor supply during the Prohibition Era, earning him notoriety as 'Bimini’s Rum King'.
During a hurricane in 1926, the ship ran aground and was damaged substantially. It was then used as a bombing target for training by U.S. fighter planes during World War II. However, after a group of five torpedo bombers mysteriously disappeared while returning from a run to the Sapona on December 5, 1945, all target practice on the Sapona stopped immediately.
The wreck sits in 15 feet of water, just a few miles off Bennett's Harbour in South Bimini, and most of the concrete on the hull has now been worn away by the bombing and weathering. However, you can still see some of the ship's inner workings and might find an interesting souvenir from the past as you swim among the multitude of tropical fish. The surrounding area is a prime fishing drop, and the wreck itself is both a navigational landmark for boaters and a popular scuba diving and snorkeling site. Some brave souls even dare to dive 40 feet into the ocean from atop the ship.
This underwater museum on Bimini’s powdery ocean floor holds many secrets. It is definitely worth visiting by history buffs who enjoy being in a setting that has so many interesting tales to tell.