The Capsize of the Prinz Valdemar

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The end of the Florida Land Boom: 1926.

In the middle of the nineteen twenties, a single ship ran aground on a sandbar and capsized. No-one was killed; no-one was hurt but this simple accident brought about the end of the infamous Florida Land Boom.

Prinz Valdemar

The Miami River entrance to the harbour

Since the beginning of the decade, investors had flocked to South Florida. They could buy land cheap and sell it again and make fabulous profits.

How could they go wrong?

South Florida had gorgeous weather, no inheritance or income tax and the areas was becoming known as ‘America’s Playground’.

But the Florida East Coast Railroad was becoming exhausted. The trains had been hauling lumber and construction materials to the south of Florida for a few hectic years.

Trains and tracks needed repair. So the FECR placed an embargo on delivering to the state. South Florida no longer received the building materials it needed, or the accessories such as glass for windows, door knobs and knockers – and all the goods it needed to complete homes, hotels and commercial buildings.

Although this threw the industry into disarray, the people of South Florida were resourceful – why not bring the goods they needed by ship? One solution was to take all the rundown ships – the ones that were due to be dismantled – and fill them with construction materials for their final voyages. The captains of these ramshackle boats were told to unload the goods, then ditch their vessels.

Many ships headed to Florida. The port of Miami was always busy, but now there were clusters of additional craft anchored just outside the port awaiting access. In addition, the citrus crops had been fantastic that year and there was so much more shipping traffic relaying the golden and fresh – but perishable- Florida oranges to the north. Dock workers took advantage of this heighten traffic and decided to strike for more pay and to add to the chaos, cars and trucks were still travelling down to Florida bearing people who wanted to stake their claim in the land boom.  This meant that people were sleeping in their cars or in tents – the area just didn’t have enough hotel or rented accommodation to house them.

Enter a group of developers who decided to purchase an old, run down Danish schooner. It was located in New York and the group had the idea of making it into a floating hotel and sending it down to South Florida where rooms were so badly needed. Of course, before sending the ship, the Prinz Valdemar, to the south, they loaded it up with the much-needed construction materials.

This seemed like an excellent plan.

The ship was huge by the standards of the day. It was 241 feet long and had four tall masts. In fact,it was the largest ship ever to try to gain access to the Miami harbour. The harbour officials decided that she should wait outside the harbour until the seas were perfectly calm so the Prinz Valdemar waited for one week. Then on 10th January, 1926, tugs started to tow her up the channel towards the harbour. The ship ran aground on a sandbar. As she did, she toppled over sideways. The eighty men aboard had plenty of time to jump into the water and they were rescued by the Coastguard.

But effectively, the ship had cut off access to and from the port.

Lying on her side, her tall masts prevented anything but the smallest craft from entering or leaving the port. About a hundred ships were anchored offshore waiting to bring in construction materials. Ships inside the harbour were unable to get out. When the authorities tried to move the Prinz Valdemar, it proved to be impossible.  So they started cutting an additional channel. Two of the dredges being used hit reefs and broke down.

The answer was to cut the masts from the ship.

The masts were 100 feet long so this was no easy task but eventually they were removed. Gradually, ships started to move in the channel again. Then the situation became even more like a cartoon.

Almost unbelievably, a steamer called the Lakevort ran aground. This meant that the channel was now closed again. A few freighters tried to get their way through and struck reefs and were grounded. Hollywood could have invented no better comedy of errors.

What happened to the Prinz Valdemar?

Eventually the water was pumped out of the hold of the ship and tugs dragged her upright and took to to a mooring alongside Biscayne Boulevard where she was converted into an aquarium, then a restaurant and then a bar. Then she was fitted out with new (but shorter) masts, coloured lights and brightly coloured flags and was on display at Bayfront Park until it was dismantled in the fifties. THis time,it was securely moored – in concrete.


Jackie Jackson, also known online as BritFlorida, is a highly experienced designer and writer. British born and now living in the USA, she specialises in lifestyle issues, design and quirky stories. You can see a wide range of articles here, or visit her website Tastes Magazine. See The Writer’s Door for more information.

Author: Jackie Jackson

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