Outdoor Activities in Biscayne National Park

The park provides a multitude of recreational opportunities in the greater Miami area including fishing, diving, snorkeling, wildlife watching, boating and more.


Outdoors in Biscayne National Park

Biscayne National Park’s Maritime Heritage Trail offers an exciting opportunity to explore the remains of some of the park’s many shipwrecks. Six wrecks, spanning nearly a century and a wide variety of sizes and vessel types, have been mapped, brochures have been produced and mooring buoys have been installed. The newest addition to the trail is the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse. Snorkeling is great around the base of the light, but the structure itself is not open to the public.

Access to the sites on the trail is by boat only. Erl KingAlicia and Lugano are best suited to SCUBA divers, while the other sites can easily be enjoyed while snorkeling. Mandalay in particular offers an unparalleled opportunity for snorkelers to experience a shipwreck in a beautiful natural setting.

Arratoon Apcar

  • Built: 1861 – Scotland
  • Sank: February 17, 1878 – Fowey Rocks
  • Route: Havana to Liverpool
  • 261 foot, 1,480 ton, iron-hulled screw steamship
  • Location: 25º 35.498N, 80º 5.728W

Arratoon Apcar was built by James Henderson and Son of Renfrew, Scotland in 1861. This iron-hulled steamer measured 262 feet long, had a 35-foot beam, displaced 1480 tons, and was powered by a 250 horsepower engine.

The ship was named after the founder of her original owners (Apcar and Co.), an Armenian family who established a furniture business in Bombay, India. In 1872, the Apcar family acquired a much larger vessel, which they also christened “Arratoon Apcar,” while the original ship was sold to H.F. Swan and registered in London.

The original Arratoon Apcar met its demise steaming to Havana on the evening of February 20, 1878, when Captain Pottinger miscalculated his position and ran aground at Fowey Rocks. Interestingly enough, lighthouse construction was well underway at that sight, and the steamship narrowly missed the platform where several workers were encamped. The crew attempted to de-water the ship for three days, after which point they manned their lifeboats and headed ashore. The nearby Tappahannock rescued the captain and all 24 of his crew. By March 12, foul winter weather had made the coal-laden ship a total loss.

Today, the wreck of Arratoon Apcar lies in ten to twenty feet of water near Fowey Rocks. The coral-encrusted lower hull and iron beams of the vessel can still be seen, along with some evidence of other structures, including remnants of the rudder and mast. The shallow depth of the wreck and the abundance of fish make it an attractive site for diving or snorkeling.

Fowey Rocks Lighthouse

The Cape Florida light at the southern tip of Key Biscayne was built in 1825. Fifty years later, the light served little purpose and was extinguished. Ships did not need to be warned of the island, but rather of the knife-edged reef that lay 5 miles offshore. Iron-pile lighthouses further south in the Keys had been quite successful at marking the reef, so the Light House Board contracted to have one built at Fowey Rocks, southeast of Cape Florida.

Construction began in 1875 when a staging platform was built at the site. Materials were initially delivered to Soldier Key, then ferried out to the site as needed. Severe weather hampered the construction of the light for many months. Workers frequently stayed in tents on the staging platform in order to avoid wasted travel time. Twice during construction, workers became keenly aware of how important the light would be when ships headed straight for their camping platform suddenly ground to a halt on the nearby reef! Arratoon Apcarwas one of these ships, and it too is now part of the Biscayne National Park Maritime Heritage Trail.

The most time-consuming part of the construction was building the foundation and lower decks. Due to the aforementioned weather delays, this part of the process took over a year. Once the base was constructed, the remainder of the structure went up fairly quickly, with parts having been pre-fabricated in Delaware. The keeper’s dwelling itself is a two-story octagonal building in the Second Empire style. It was painted white with green shutters. Rising from the center of the house is a 50′ tall enclosed spiral stairwell leading up to the service room, the watch room and the lantern room. The tower is capped with a copper roof and ventilator ball.

The original first-order Fresnel lens was built in Paris and shipped to the United States in 1876. That year, it formed the centerpiece of the Light House Board’s display at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia, before being transported to Florida for installation at Fowey Rocks. It was lit for the first time in the summer of 1878. A few years later, a larger exhibition by the Light House Board at the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair also featured the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse in the form of a scale model and a watercolor painting. In her book Lighthouses of the Florida Keys, author Love Dean quotes the Light House Board as describing the Fowey Rocks Lighthouse as standing “in lonely grandeur with waves gently lapping at its base in the clear bright light of the subtropical day, with nothing in sight except a few vessels…”

That is lovely prose, but in reality Fowey Rocks Lighthouse is within sight of both the park’s northern islands and Cape Florida. The original Fresnel lens is now on display at the U.S. Coast Guard’s National Aids to Navigation Training Center in Yorktown, Virginia, and it has been replaced with a modern solar-powered light visible some 17 miles out to sea. Though now part of Biscayne National Park, the light itself is still maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard as the “Eye of Miami.”

Erl King

  • Built: 1865 – Scotland
  • Sank: December 16, 1891 – Long Reef
  • Route: England to New Orleans
  • 305 foot, 2,178 ton, steel hull, three-masted auxiliary steamship
  • Location: 25º 25.479N, 80º 7.463W

Erl King was a 306 foot iron-hulled three-masted steamer built by A. and J. Inglis Shipbuilders and Engineers of Glasgow, Scotland in 1865. This barkentine-rigged steamship had a 34 foot beam and displaced 2178 tons. The ship’s name is an English translation of the German Erlkonig, which was a mythical mischief-making elf in German literature. Erl King was primarily a cargo ship, but also had first-class accommodations for 50 passengers.

Robertson and Company of London were the first owners, but Erl Kingsailed for several other firms under charter, and was captained by John Pinel while trading between China and Australia for the first few years of service.

Erl King ran aground at Tennessee Reef on January 18, 1881, but was removed, repaired, and returned to service. On December 16, 1891, she ran aground on Long Reef while on the way to New Orleans from Swansea, England. The steamer Feliciana noted that she was “afloat with two anchors out,” apparently while the crew was attempting to conduct repairs. Insurers from Key West reported that cargo was being salvaged, but the ship itself was doomed. Some of her machinery, as well as 200 tons of cargo were saved. Hull plates were reportedly used as scrap metal during World War II.

The outline of Erl King’s hull and remains of its cargo can now be seen in 18 feet of water on Long Reef. All that remains of its cargo are barrel-shaped concrete objects that were once wooden barrels filled with dry concrete mix. The wooden barrels have long since been consumed by shipworms, leaving the concrete casts we can see today.


  • Built: 1883 – Scotland
  • Sank: April 20, 1905
  • Route: Liverpool to Havana
  • 345 foot, 2,795 ton, iron-hull, three-masted steamship
  • Location: 25º 24.705N, 80º 7.660W


  • Built: 1882 – England
  • Sank: March 9, 1913 – Long Reef
  • Route: Liverpool to Havana
  • 350 foot, 3,770 ton, single screw, iron-hulled cargo steamship
  • Location: 25º 26.639N, 80º 7.171W

The British steamer, Lugano, from Liverpool, was headed for Havana with general cargo that included fine silks, wines, rice, and other foods valued at $1 million. She was also carrying 116 passengers, including 12 women and children. All of the passengers except 2 were Spanish immigrants en route to Cuba.

On March 9, 1913 in high winds and heavy seas and significantly off course, Captain P. Penwill grounded on Long Reef. The tug Rescue was radioed, and safely took the passengers of Lugano to Key West while the Captain and crew remained aboard. Cargo was removed, and the hold was intentionally flooded to prevent further pounding on the rocks. By March 20th, seven large loads of cargo had been removed and taken to Key West. Wreckers were busily pumping water out of Lugano so that her boilers could be re-lit, allowing her own pumps to dewater the hull. By March 22nd, their efforts succeeded, but even with the ship’s pumps working night and day, the ill-fated vessel was still lodged on the reef and listing heavily to port. On March 27th, The Miami Herald reported there were over 75 wrecking boats attempting to save the cargo. The ensuing confusion and foul weather made it easy for unscrupulous salvors to slip away and stash cargo on nearby reefs. Much cargo was stolen by the Key West wreckers of Dr. Lykes, including linens and 350 cases of brandy. Rumors of the thefts prompted U.S. Customs to dispatch officials to monitor the wreck.

By April 4th, the crew had abandoned Lugano, which was again full of water. The Lee Brothers, wreckers from Miami, were later contracted to deliver the ship to Key West for $17,000.00. The estimated value of the saved cargo was $150,000.00. Lugano was three stories deep below the water line and was the largest boat to ever go on the rocks of the Florida reefs up to that time.

All efforts to refloat Lugano were abandoned on April 15th. Two days of high winds pounded the already battered vessel until it was considered a total loss. Wreckers removed nearly everything, leaving only the hull. A settlement on May 28, 1914, gave the primary salvors $64,126.67, the secondary salvors $14,084.30, and the remaining salvors $2,228.18. The schooner Dr. Lykes’ share was forfeited because of discrepancies between cargo collected and cargo delivered.

In February, 1917, the yacht Ada M struck Lugano, which was the first report of a ship hitting this wreck. A warning to mariners was issued on January 13, 1920 stating that the wreck of Lugano was a danger to navigation. The wreck was estimated to be 3000 tons and had a broken mast and stack visible under water.

Lugano now lies 25 feet underwater on Long Reef in Biscayne National Park.


  • Built: 1928 – United States
  • Sank: January 1, 1966 – Long Reef
  • Route: Bahamas to Miami
  • 112 foot, steel-hull, auxiliary schooner
  • Location: 25º 26.530N, 80º 7.301W

On New Years Day, 1966, the schooner Mandalay ran aground on Long Reef. The wreck now lies in the eastern part of Biscayne National Park and is one of the best shallow dive spots in the park.

John G. Alden Naval Architects, Inc. designed Mandalay, originally named Hardi Biou, for Dr. Henry D. Lloyd of Brookline, Massachusetts. The 110’ 6” long, steel hulled schooner was built by George Lawley & Son, Corporation in 1928, at a cost of $177,000. The schooner was sold in 1931 and renamed Valor, and subsequently had 5 other owners under that name. Michael Burke, owner of Windjammer Cruises, Inc., purchased, refitted, and renamed the vessel Mandalay in 1965, for use as a luxury cruise ship.

Mandalay was beautifully outfitted in mahogany, brass, and ivory, and had a teak deck. Aft quarters were a suite of 2 rooms with an adjoining bath for the owner, 3 single staterooms, each with a bath, and a large guest room with an individual bath. Forward of the main mast were a large saloon and living room, 3 officer’s staterooms with a bath, and ample forecastle for 6 men with a washroom and shower. All bathrooms had hot and cold water and all waste connected to a complete sanitary system. There were electrical lights and fans and other electrical equipment, and every stateroom had individual ventilation.

In late 1965, Mandalay was headed toward Miami with 23 vacationers and 12 crew, returning from a 10 day Bahaman cruise. Passengers had retired to their rooms after celebrating the arrival of the New Year, 1966, and Captain Asmund [Jim] Gjevick, a 26 year old Norwegian, went to sleep about 1:00 AM, leaving a novice seaman at the helm. All were awakened when Mandalay was driven hard aground on Long Reef. Later, Captain Gjevick admitted he had miscalculated the distance from Fowey Rocks, causing Mandalay to be 20 miles off course. At the request of Capt. Gjevick, an SOS was sent by A.E. Lundquist, President of the Coca Cola Bottling Co. of Boston at 3:45 AM, which brought Coast Guard helicopters and patrol boats to the scene. Flares were dropped by the helicopters, and fired by Mandalay crew to illuminate the rescue operation that took place in windy conditions with 10 foot waves. Three helicopters lifted 24 persons, one by one, and flew them to Homestead Air Force Base. The only injury was to L. Quinn Hal, an Indianapolis real estate man, who cut his hand.

Scavengers stripped the vessel, taking the ship’s compass, sextant, chronometers, passenger cameras, watches, and purses, and the owner’s personal gear. Tons of lead ballast blocks, taken by small outboard motorboats and melted into lead diving weights, were resold at $1.00 per pound. The ½ ton anchor and stud link chain were also taken. On the Sunday after Mandalay was grounded she was “picked to her skin and bones” by average work-a-day boat owners, before salvage tugs could arrive. The tugs failed to pull the ship off the reef, and so the masts were removed, by contract with the owners, for eventual use in the re-creation of a Spanish Galleon called Golden Doubloon. Today the skeleton of Mandalay, “red carpet ship of the Windjammer fleet”, can be found embedded on Long Reef in Biscayne National Park.

19th Century Wooden Sailing Vessel

Very little is known about the site commonly called the “Schooner Wreck,” and, in fact, it is not clear whether the ship actually was a schooner or if the term was generally attributed to a shipwreck of unknown type or origin. The site contains little evidence of cargo and, like most of the historic wrecks in Biscayne National Park, the ship was likely salvaged after sinking.

The ship’s stone ballast is basalt, though its exact origins are unknown. Ballast is not a unique marker for a ship’s origin or even for its last port of call, as it was commonly loaded and offloaded as needed. Ballast was often moved from one ship to another and was frequently shared after offloading between two or more ships for ongoing voyages. The presence of rigging elements and iron fasteners throughout the site, as well as the size of the ballast piles and remaining wooden structural elements, points to a small to medium sized sailing vessel from the 19th century.

She probably represents a fairly typical working sailing vessel from the Florida Keys. Her port of origin, destination, and the fate of those on board are, at this point, unknown. You are reminded that this site, like all our shared resources in Biscayne National Park, is protected by law. Please use moorings. Do not disturb or remove anything from the site. Theft or disturbance of archaeological resources in a national park is punishable by severe civil and criminal penalties. Remember: Take Only Pictures, Leave Only Bubbles.

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