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The Arctic Discoverer | Photo © 2015, www.abandonedfl.com

The Arctic Discoverer

Location Class:
Built: N/A | Abandoned: N/A
Status: Abandoned
Photojournalist: David Bulit

The Arctic Discoverer

According to arcticdiscoverer.com, the R/V Arctic Discoverer began her career in 1958 as the A.T. Cameron, a Canadian Fishing Research Vessel and Icebreaker. Over the years, her name was changed to the Arctic Ranger. In the winter of 1987-1988, the Columbus America Discovery Group purchased the ship and changed her name once again to the Arctic Discoverer.

Arctic Discoverer
The A.T. Cameron, now known as the Arctic Discoverer

The Ship of Gold

In 1857, the S.S. Central America aka “The Ship of Gold”, a 280-foot steamship carrying 21 tons of gold and with over 550 passengers was bound for New York. Back then, weather forecasting wasn’t very scientific. Little was known about hurricanes and predicting if the breeze coming through would subside or turn into a storm.

On September 9, a breeze began kicking up swells. There was no alarm since the ship was large and well-equipped for one even if a storm was coming. As hours passed, the wind intensified and by the following day, the ship was in the middle of a hurricane. The ship remained watertight and operational until September 11, when it began to take on water through the drive shaft and broken or open lights.

The following day, The Marine, a vessel with 10 crew members and its captain appeared over the horizon and began rescue efforts. 153 lives were saved but in the end, the S.S. Central America sank off the coast of South Carolina along with about 450 people and 21 tons of gold. This loss contributed to the Panic of 1857.

S S Central America
Drawing of the S.S. Central America
The Expedition

In 1983, Tommy G. Thompson organized an expedition to find the ship and promised his investors a big payday if the mission succeeded. Five years later on September 11, 1988, with the use of the old Canadian icebreaker dubbed “The Arctic Discoverer”, it was announced that the shipwreck had been found… but the big payday never came.

The Crime

It was reported that Tommy sold some bars and coins for $52 million but his investors nor his crew have seen any of it. Even though multiple books have been written about the expedition, the amount of gold recovered is unknown but it’s estimated to be about $150 million worth. U.S. Marshals are attempting to track down Tommy for refusing to pay investors and his crew and to find the whereabouts of 500 gold coins from shipwreck which are known to exist.

As for the ship, U.S. Marshals auctioned it off on May 11, 2013, and sold it for $50,000. Salvaging crews have found documents, ship logs, photographs, and other artifacts on board. The company has begun selling items on eBay including the ship’s bell, speaking tube, and navigational lights, and will continue to dismantle the ship and sell the parts. As of 2024, the Arctic Discoverer is still there listing against the old docks.

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David Bulit is a photographer, author, and historian from Miami, Florida. He has published a number of books on abandoned and forgotten locales throughout the United States and continues to advocate for preserving these historic landmarks. His work has been featured throughout the world in news outlets such as the Miami New Times, the Florida Times-Union, the Orlando Sentinel, NPR, Yahoo News, MSN, the Daily Mail, UK Sun, and many others. You can find more of his work at davidbulit.com as well as amazon.com/author/davidbulit.

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