Just off the shore of Bradenton Beach, the remains of a steel molasses barge lie hidden under the waves and half buried in the sand, just as they have been for the last 74 years. While walking on the beach, you may have passed within less than 100 yards of this historic site, but never noticed the wreckage of Regina.
Regina was built in 1904 for the Havana based Cuban Molasses Transportation Co. by an Irish shipyard known as Workman, Clark & Co. When completed, the steel steamer totaled 247 feet in length, with a 36 foot beam (the width of the ship as measured at its widest point) and 14 foot draft (the vertical distance measured between the waterline and the bottom of the ship’s hull). Regina joined the growing molasses trade, as its use by both rum distilleries and animal feed manufacturers increased. Large and small tankers alike carried the thick, syrupy cargo from locations in Cuba, the Dominican Republic, and Puerto Rico to ports in the eastern US, including some along the Gulf Coast.
Regina left Havana, Cuba, on March 5, 1950, with a cargo of over 350,000 gallons of molasses on board. The vessel, now converted to a tanker barge, was being towed by the tugboat Minima on a course for New Orleans, the principal port of the world’s molasses trade. From here the molasses could be transferred to river barges and distributed to feed producers throughout the Midwest, but neither ship would reach this destination.
A cold front swept across the Gulf of Mexico, bringing with it strong winds, 8-12 foot waves, and freezing temperatures. Those aboard Minima planned to seek shelter from the storm in Tampa Bay, but before they could reach safety, the towing cable attaching the tug to Regina was torn apart in the storm. Regina and the eight crew members on board began to drift helplessly towards Anna Maria, before running aground on a sandbar.