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Slobodna Historical Occurrence

Slobodna Historical Occurrence
Ships Origin
The Slobodna was a 19th century Austrian built wooden sailing schooner constructed in 1884 by N. Martinolich at the Lussinpiccolo shipyard in Hungry and was registered under the name of S. Millinovich at the Adriatic Sea Port of Castelnuovo. Following World-War I in 1918, the Austro-Hungarian Empire broke up and the region along the coast of the Adriatic Sea soon became known as Yugoslavia. As a result of the war the city known as Castelnuovo later became known as Herceg-Novi due to the demographic changes.
Wrecking Occurrence
The Slobodna left the New Orleans port in 1887 bound for an undetermined port known as Revel. It carried 4500 bales of cotton and other numerous cargos. On the morning of March 16th, 1887, in the vicinity of the Middle to northern Florida Key's the vessel experienced severe weather. At approximately 9:00 am that morning the captain aboard the salvage vessel City of Key West spotted the Slobodna ashore on the most extreme outer part of the Molasses Reef system in Key Largo. At around 10am Captain Baker proceeded to board the vessel to offer assistance, but at the time the captain of the Slobodna satisfied that the vessel could be freed without assistance. The vessel had all square sails backed on the ship and the crew was moving all chains from the forward to the stern of the ship. After several failed attempts by Captain Millinovich of the Slobodna to free the vessel he accepted assistance from Captain Baker later that afternoon. The City of Key West moved alongside the Slobodna and preceded to board the boat placing a 3,000 pound anchor with 30 fathoms of chain and 85 fathoms of new 8 inch Hawser stud link chain onboard the ship. A line was run out from the Slobodna by the City of Key West in a South to South-East direction where a small anchor was let go in 8 fathoms of water attached to the stern of the Slobodna's hawser to prevent further grounding. Salvors from the City of Key West engaged in pumping out water from the hull of the Slobodna using two pumps. Late that evening it was noted that heavy strain was put on the hawser due to the high tides structurally weakening the winch. On the next day the merchant schooner Rapid was pulled alongside the Slobodna for the purposes of lightening the ships load. Numerous workers engaged in pumping, breaking out cargo, shifting items, readying for the next high tide. At 2:45 pm a heavy squall developed from the South, South-West bringing heavy seas and swinging the Slobodna broadside upon the reef by the apparent breaking of the hawser and the dragging of the anchor due to the severe weather and ruff sea's. The wind blew extremely hard from the northwest, causing numerous riggings to twist on deck. The slack on the hawser was taken in and a heavy strain was put upon it. It was then discovered that the ship had 15 feet of water in its hold and the Master of salvage operations was satisfied that the vessel had bilged. The Master as a last attempt to save the ship requested the workers pump for one more hour endeavoring to gain on the water, but failed. The vessel pounded heavily upon the rocky substrate and took on more water as all attempts were made to save her. At approximately 5 pm that evening all attempts to prevent the ships sinking were abandoned.
Salvage workers then began to unload the contents of the Slobodna and were placed aboard salvage cargo vessels. There were 335 men involved with operations using 41 vessels, two of which were steamers, engaged in the general salvage efforts which continued for 30 days. Nearly all the cargo was saved including 1650 bales of dry cotton, 584 partly wet bales, 1306 wet bales, and 62 1/2 loose bales of cotton all of which are documented by the Federal Admiralty Records. The operation was labor intensive and extremely dangerous. The wet bales of cotton weighed into the tons making recovery and transport of these items extremely hard. During the latter parts of the salvage efforts much of the vessels bottom hull had become crushed so badly that most of the unrecoverable cotton were caught between deck beams. The workers were ill-prepared for such diving activities lacking the necessary appliances for working underwater. All salvage recovery and hoisting had to be done by hand. Many salvage workers would free dive naked in order to retrieve the cotton that was submerged. The hull was filled with a pulpy mass of loose cotton, broken ties, and dunnage which made it extremely dangerous to dive through. In all about 1700 bales of cotton were salvaged by diving in 6 to 18 feet of water.
There are many accounts of vessels falling victim to the Florida Keys shallow reefs. Numerous vessels have been documented as wrecked by similar occurrences as did the Slobodna. Such vessels include the "Amazon", "St. James", "Mississippi", and "Mary E. Riggs", all of which took on similar salvage efforts.
Documented Location
On April 6th 1887 a letter was written by F. R. Maloney informing Captain A. A. Fengar of the United States U.S. Revenue Service that the Slobodna was stranded on an outlying reef equidistant between Pickles and French Reef beacon, lying in 15 feet of rocky bottom substrate. Rodriguez Key bearing by compass North West by West 3/4 west at about 4 1/2 miles distance. Tavernier Key bearing West by South 1/8 South about 6 5/4 miles. The ship was listed off-shore and lying on her port bilge heading South West. Testimony obtained by salvage workers suggest that once the vessel settled into the sea bed it never moved from that location.
Structural Modifications and Salvage
During the salvage efforts the lower deck beams were cut away as result of the removal of cotton. The topmast was cut away to enable vessels to move alongside the Slobodna. The vessels lower masts; bowsprit, lower and topsail yards were left intact. Following the wrecking event, salvage workers removed several structural articles from the vessel. The steering gear was removed leaving the rudder intact with other numerous riggings saved from the ships wreck site.