Winch Hole/M13 Wreckage

Panorama of shipwreck and parts on the seafloor with the blue ocean behind
Scattered iron fittings found between Molasses Reef's spur formations at the M13 Wreckage site. Photo: Matt Lawrence/NOAA

This shipwreck site within the Molasses Reef Sanctuary Preservation Area is known as the "Winch Hole" or M13 Wreckage for the mooring buoy adjacent to the wreckage. It is the remains of a wooden-hulled sailing vessel from the mid-to-late 19th century. Contemporary salvage is believed to have scattered the wreckage over a large area. Its signature artifact, the "winch," is actually a windlass used to raise the vessel's anchors.


Archaeological evidence has not conclusively identified this shipwreck. Two vessels that are likely candidates are Slobodna and Northampton. The Austrian ship Slobodna wrecked on Molasses Reef in March 1887. Built in Losinj in what is now Croatia in 1884, the 170-foot long fully-rigged ship was carrying cotton to Europe when it wrecked. Wreckers attempted to free the ship, but heavy seas kept it aground. At the same time, water entering its hold swelled the cotton, bursting the ship's hull. After the wreckers realized that they could not save the ship, they spent over a month recovering the cotton cargo.

Divers swimming next to a piece of shipwreck machinery
Divers explore the "winch," actually a windlass, that gave this site its name. Photo: Matthew Lawrence/NOAA

Similar to the story of Slobodna's loss, the American fully-rigged ship Northampton wrecked on Molasses Reef in May 1883 with a cargo of cotton and barrel staves. Built in 1852 in Bath, Maine the ship carried a variety of passengers, bulk commodities, and general merchandise between the United States and Europe during its career. Wreckers responded to the stricken ship and began removing bales of cotton and staves. Pumps deployed by the wreckers were unable to keep up with the inflowing water indicating the vessel's hull was compromised and that the vessel could not be saved. The salvage of Northampton's cargo took 18 days and involved 32 wreckers.


Archaeological drawing of the shipwreck
M13 wreckage site map. Image: Diving With a Purpose/NOAA

Divers visiting the "Winch Hole" might only see this mechanism and chain, but many other artifacts from the vessel's rigging are scattered nearby around the circular sand and rubble area. East of the windlass, near the M13 mooring buoy, lies a section of wooden hull that was only revealed to investigators after Hurricane Irma moved sediment in 2017. Nearby are a water tank, ship's pumps, longitudinal iron stringers, and several hawsepipes. Swimming down the sand channel from the M13 buoy, divers can find a collection of rigging and fittings from the vessel's bow including its catheads used to hold up its anchors. All of these artifacts are consistent with what might be found on either Slobodna and Northampton making a conclusive identification difficult. PAST Foundation mapped the "winch hole" section of this site in 2006. Diving With a Purpose and sanctuary staff partnered to map the M13 section of this shipwreck in 2018.

(Qualls, 2019 & Rodriguez, 2012)

Site Map

Archaeological drawing of the shipwreck
Winch hole wreckage site map. Image: PAST Foundation