Diver swimming over a large historic anchor on a shipwreck site
Thiorva's anchor. Photo: Stephen Frink

The remains of a wooden-hulled sailing vessel lie at the tip of a reef known as Turtle Rocks, east of the Ocean Reef community, at the northern end of Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary. Its wreckage is scattered across the beautiful reef that claimed the vessel, as well as a sand and seagrass covered flat behind the reef in 10 to 15 feet of water. Prior to the designation of Key Largo National Marine Sanctuary in 1975, recreational divers recovered a plaque bearing the word "Thiorva" from the shipwreck. Archival research revealed that a vessel by that name had wrecked in that area.


Thiorva was a full rigged wooden ship built by J.W. Carmichael and Company in 1876 in New Glasgow, Nova Scotia. The vessel measured 186.6 feet long by 38.5 feet wide and had a 22.7 depth of hold. Thiorva was one of the largest vessels built by James W. Carmichael's shipyard at 1,174-tons. Carmichael had one of the most important shipyards in New Glasgow, and his businesses helped drive the local economy. In 1891, Thiorva was sold to a Norwegian company, which moved Thiorva to Moss, Norway and re-rigged the ship as a bark that required fewer sailors to operate. During its final voyage it left Pensacola, Florida for Geestemunde, Germany with a cargo of lumber and wooden barrel staves. Thiorva grounded on the reef on the eastern side of Turtle Harbor on September 29, 1894. The remains of the cargo and the broken hull were sold and the vessel burned.


Wreckage at the Thiorva site is scattered along a 100-foot section on top of the reef and across another 100-foot by 100-foot section of sand off the reef. Wire rope that was once standing rigging, iron fittings, parts of a capstan and pump along with one of its bower anchors can be seen. A team of divers from the sanctuary and Diving With a Purpose mapped the shipwreck site in June 2019.

Diver swimming over wreckage from a wooden ship
Piled rigging and fastenings resulting from the burning of Thiorva's hull. Photo: Matt Lawrence/NOAA
Diver with slate swimming over a shipwreck
Diving With a Purpose members mapping the Thiorva shipwreck. Photo: Matt Lawrence/NOAA