Even Fluff, the fearless, sometimes intimidating Pekingese pet of Mrs. Mollie Wilmot, panicked when the 200 foot freighter slammed into the retaining wall and deposited its bow in the family’s beachfront swimming pool. The maid, dressed prim and proper and acting as a maid should in a fashionable Palm Beach villa once featured in Town and Country Magazine, announced calmly, “Madame, we have visitors.”
“Visitors from outer space!” screamed Mrs. Wilmot. “That’s what it looked like…a scene from Star Wars! Little men were scrambling over the side of the 500-ton mass of rusting metal with Spanish letters scrawled across its bow!” It was Spanish all right—Venezuelan to be exact—and the “little men” were the crew of the cargo ship, Mercedes, abandoning their vessel for fear of fire or further collision. A cargo carrier that usually called at Caribbean ports with food stuffs and assorted provisions, the Mercedes was blown off course in a turbulent sea, lost all engines and drifted aimlessly into Mrs. Wilmot’s seawall and swimming pool Thanksgiving Day, 1984.
“Just another Mercedes in the community,” cracked a local gendarme who admitted that the ship was marooned in one of the world’s wealthiest neighborhoods. It wasn’t long before the Coast Guard, state, local and marine police, reporters, sightseers and helicopters swarmed over the Palm Beach oceanfront, an area that prides itself in seclusion. Adding to the irony was Mrs. Wilmot’s next door neighbor, none other than Rose Kennedy whose North Ocean Boulevard beachfront estate went unscathed. The wreck didn’t even obstruct her view. “Intrude on the Kennedys” Mrs. Wilmot quipped. “It wouldn’t dare!”
It took over two months for the Florida State Legislature and local politicians to decide which funds to use to remove a derelict with no insurance. An abandoned Mercedes had never been a problem before in Palm Beach.
Palm Beach’s nightmare became Ft. Lauderdale’s dream: an artificial reef that recreational divers and fishermen have embraced. Sunk in 1985 by volunteers from the Broward County Artificial Reef Program, the Mercedes became a popular dive site. Within a short time, coral, algae, sponges and schools of tropical fish made their homes in the ship that was once a big pain in the neck and an eyesore for Palm Beach residents.
The wreckage rests in 50 to 90 feet of water–not far from shore–where most dive boats can reach it in less than 30 minutes. Even though it took a beating in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew broke the vessel in two, the twisted remains are still fun to explore. A variety of fish call the wreck home including snappers, groupers, grunts and jacks. A whale shark has been spotted circling the wreck from time to time. Divers are seldom disappointed when they visit this former Palm Beach ‘Mercedes.’