Click the play button above to view a brief history of Regina. View a transcript (PDF 20KB) of this video.
Regina was a steel steamer built in 1904 in Belfast, Ireland, by the Workman, Clark & Co. shipyard for the Cuban Molasses Transportation Co., based in Havana. She was 247 ft. in length, with a 36 ft. beam, a 14 ft. draft, and was rated at 1,155 gross tons with a net tonnage of 669. Designed with a single deck and a single propeller powered by a triple-expansion steam engine producing 850 hp., the steamer also was rigged as a schooner for auxiliary power, and fitted with electric lighting.
Regina joined a growing fleet of large and small tankers carrying a specific liquid cargo: molasses. Shipped from several locations in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico to ports on the East and Gulf Coasts of the United States, molasses was used primarily by rum distilleries, but also by animal feed manufacturers. New Orleans was a principal port of the world’s molasses trade; cargoes were transferred to river barges for distribution inland to feed producers in the Midwest.
Converted to a tanker barge, Regina left Havana on March 5, 1940, under tow by the tugboat Minima, bound for New Orleans with a cargo of more than 350,000 gallons of molasses. Two days later, a cold front swept across the Gulf of Mexico from the northwest, accompanied by 8 to 12-foot seas, gale force winds, and freezing temperatures. Minima attempted to alter course toward the shelter of Tampa Bay, but before she could reach safety, her tow lines parted near Egmont Key and Regina drifted helplessly toward Anna Maria Island. In the late afternoon on Friday, March 8, the converted tanker grounded in heavy seas on a sand bar off Bradenton Beach. Pounded by the surf and wind, the vessel began to crack and break apart as nighttime approached. Regina’s crew of eight stayed aboard the stranded tanker, only 200 yards from shore but afraid to abandon ship in such turbulent conditions. As word of the disaster spread, local residents gathered on the darkened beach, where they built fires to reassure the crewmen that they had been seen.
The St. Petersburg Coast Guard dispatched a cutter and patrol boat to try and assist the stranded vessel but the waters were too rough. The Coast Guard Air Station also tried to reach the crew by air but they too were unable to land in the stormy seas; the plane dropped lifejackets and supplies, but they were washed ashore by the waves and wind. The plane did not give up as it continued to circle over the wrecked tanker, and soon was joined by a second airplane from the station. The Air Station advised the Coast Guard Cutter that the Bradenton Police believed the barge could be reached from shore, and arrangements were made to transfer a line-throwing gun to CG145, which proceeded to the dock on the eastern side of Anna Maria Island. On the island, gunner’s mate Frank Barnett was met by local men, who took him and the line-throwing gun across the island to the site of the wreck. At one o’clock in the morning Barnett twice attempted to shoot a line from the beach to the barge, but each shot fell just a little short.
At day break, Barnett and local men attempted to fire two more lines, but again they fell short. Eventually a small yachting dinghy was brought to the scene of the wreck, and Barnett endeavored to row out to the barge with life preservers collected from the beach. After two attempts he managed to reach the stranded crew.
Regina was a total loss; her cargo of molasses drained into the gulf and her stranded, battered hull became part of the underwater landscape. In 2001, the vessel was nominated to become Florida’s tenth Underwater Archaeological Preserve and in 2005 was listed on the National Register of Historic Places.