Bronze Pin Wreck

A low-profile shipwreck surrounded by seagrass
An iron frame from the vessel's hull projects above the sediment and ballast stones. Photo: Brenda Altmeier/NOAA

The Bronze Pin Wreck is situated in the sand and seagrass flats on the northern edge of Hawk Channel in 14 feet of water off Grassy Key. It is characterized by coral encrusted ballast stones, remnants of iron frames, and a partially buried wooden lower hull. These features aided in identifying it as a 19th century sailing ship.


During the mid to late 19th century, a wooden-hulled sailing vessel reinforced with iron frames, held together with copper-alloy pins, and sheathed in copper went aground along the northern edge of Hawk Channel, approximately 1 mile offshore of Grassy Key in the Middle Florida Keys. Due to the lack of artifacts located on site it is difficult to determine what kind of cargo the sailing ship carried. The vessel's close proximity to shore, and location in shallow water, allowed contemporary and modern wreckers to thoroughly salvage the site, leaving very little behind.

Vessels of this type typically did not navigate the shallow waters of Hawk Channel. It's likely that the ship first struck the outer reef, was severely damaged, and was then pushed far inshore by wind and waves. Florida Keys wreckers were masters at raising sunken vessels. The fact that this vessel was not raised suggests it was too damaged to be refloated.


Due to the warm, shallow waters in the Middle Keys, the superstructure and upper works of this shipwreck have deteriorated. Most likely, the ship quickly disintegrated as shipworms ate the wood and the remainder of the vessel was reduced by the highly dynamic environment. Although the upper works are no longer present, portions of the lower hull were extant as they were buried in sediment or covered with ballast. The exposed wooden structure in the stern contains cut-outs in the wood suggesting that the vessel was re-fitted with the copper-alloy bolts. Additionally, there is no consistent pattern between the iron fasteners and copper-alloy bolts, in the stern the two types of fasteners are paired together but at midships copper-alloy bolts are paired together. This inconsistent pattern suggests that copper-alloy bolts were inserted in areas that needed reinforcement.

The Bronze Pin Wreck is oriented southeast by northwest (130° magnetic north) with the bow pointing seaward. The majority of the site lies buried under sand and ballast. Copper-alloy fasteners, 12 rectangular iron reinforcing frames, and a vertical section of the standing rigging are the most prominent features on the site. The "Bronze Pin" was named after the exposed copper-alloy fasteners; due to their composition, these fasteners tend not to attract concretions. The iron reinforcing frames range in size from less than 2 feet to more than 6 feet in length. Two of these frames stand perpendicular to the sand. Other features recorded include concreted iron fasteners, ceiling and hull planking, wooden frames, and a hawsepipe. Additionally, copper sheathing was recorded on the site.

(Shefi et al., 2009)

Site Map

Archaeological drawing of the shipwreck
Bronze Pin Wreck site map. Credit: Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research