Island Wreck Dishes Recipe for Adventure

HMS Firequeen

HMS Firequeen, flagship of the admiral commanding Portsmouth, British Royal Navy. Wrecked off Nassau, she also sailed as Candace, Firebird, and Bahamian.

Take one lavish 200-foot steam yacht built in 1881 for a prominent English playboy. Let her stew from lack of use for two years, then steam her right into the British Royal Navy to become the flagship for the admiralty commanding Portsmouth.

Baste her with 40 years of service and then transfer her to Nassau in the Bahama Islands as a lighthouse tender. Let her simmer and sail in clear waters for seven years and then knead her through rough seas until the late 1930s. Finally, run her aground on a shallow reef off Nassau and allow her to marinate until she can be sunk to prevent a navigational hazard. Then what do you have? Ready to serve: an adventure on a shipwreck that has appeared in Seahunt, Flipper, Voyage From the Bottom of the Sea and Thunderball.

Bahamas Wreck Map

Bahamas Wreck Map

Resting in 30 feet of water less than a mile off Paradise Island, Nassau, the ship is scattered about, coral covered and captivating. Call her what you will: Candace, Firequeen, Firebird or Bahamian—she sailed under all of these names at one time or other.

In the beginning, a crew of 17 sailed the twin-masted, single-funneled beauty, Candace to first place in the International Regatta for Steam Yachts at Nice, France. Two years later, when the owner grew ill, he sold his yacht to the British admiralty where she became the Firequeen, a sound and seaworthy vessel that put steam into the UK fleet.

In 1920, after 40 years of faithful service in the British navy, the Bahamian Board of Trade acquired her for use as a lighthouse tender in Nassau and dubbed the vessel Firebird. After serving seven years, she was released from duty and lay idle at her mooring until purchased by a local merchant who chose a new name, Bahamian.

Reduced to a plain, general cargo ship, her stately masts were chopped off, while peeling paint and rust appeared on the hull. Finally condemned after eight years of service, the failing derelict had one tune of glory yet to play. Tied to the wharf, waiting to be stripped of her engines and fittings, the dock master received a call that nearly 100 Bahamians were marooned on a small island 20 miles away. They were awaiting rescue from a hurricane with raging winds heading their way, but none of their small boats could hold more than a dozen people.

Bahamas Wreck Diver

Bahamas Wreck Diver

The captain of the Bahamian was summoned and quickly assembled a crew, cranked up the engines and headed into rough seas hoping the old vessel would hold up for one more voyage. It was a rocky trip, but the seasoned craft made it safely to the island, loaded everyone aboard and made it safely back to port.

Although the ship was eventually sunk using explosives so it wouldn’t threaten local boat traffic, it remains an engaging shallow water wreck. The listing deck affords peepholes where lobster, groupers and dog snappers hide among inner recesses. Coral encrusted bollards, pulleys and chains draw grunts, tangs, parrotfish and other reef dwellers that feed on the heavy growth.

Engines, boilers, hatches and deck plates continue to provide backdrops for film makers on a wreck whose history is as good as any of their story lines.

About Ellsworth Boyd

Ellsworth Boyd, Professor Emeritus, College of Education, Towson University, Towson, Maryland, pursues an avocation of diving and writing. He has published articles and photo's in every major dive magazine in the US., Canada, and half a dozen foreign countries. An authority on shipwrecks, Ellsworth has received thousands of letters and e-mails from divers throughout the world who responded to his Wreck Facts column in Sport Diver Magazine. When he's not writing, or diving, Ellsworth appears as a featured speaker at maritime symposiums in Los Angeles, Houston, Chicago, Ft. Lauderdale, New York and Philadelphia. "Romance & Mystery: Sunken Treasures of the Lost Galleons," is one of his most popular talks.
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6 Responses to Island Wreck Dishes Recipe for Adventure

  1. Dear Mr. Boyd,

    WOW! What a history that ship had…..different names, different missions, different crews…..and then to be sunk. I gather that you are fond of that area, near Paradise Island.

    You have written another most interesting account of a ship which is now “sleeping” in 30 feet of water!

    Dr. Robert J. Shockley

  2. Thanks for your nice words. Yes, that’s why I liked this story…the different names and owners of the ship. And, that it rescued some islanders before it was dismantled for scrap metal. It was a beautiful vessel for many years before it aged and was turned into an island cargo carrier.

  3. Ethan Allen says:

    Great article Professor, and how ironic that you should write about a historic yacht just as I get my first paying job as head tour guide onboard the oldest yacht in existence, “El Primero”. The El Primero was built in San Francisco in 1893 for the heir to the Southern Pacific Railroad. The ship has weathered two world wars, the great quake in 1906 and was a patrol boat inWW2. Four sitting Presidents have sailed aboard her including Teddy Roosevelt, Taft, Harding and Hoover. The actor John Barrymore once stated that when not in Hollywood, he could be found on the El Primero. The ship has been owned by prominent businessmen and once was sold as the result of being lost in a Poker game to the first commissioner of the Port of Tacoma. The El Primero is docked at the Foss Waterway Seaport (maritime museum) in Tacoma and when she arrived it was the first time she had been back at her old homeport in fifty years.

  4. Hi Ethan: Nice going! That is exciting! You are the head tour guide aboard the El Primero! Its history –built for the heir to the S. Pacific Railroad, having 4 presidents visit it over the years and also John Barrymore, is quite historic. Let us know what it’s like to be the tour guide. Good luck and smooth sailing!

  5. Art Phelan says:

    Isn’t the location and recovery of the latest lost airline within NUMA’s perview?

  6. Ellsworth Boyd says:

    If it isn’t found soon, Numa might just get a call to the rescue.

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