Built in 1891 in Bergen, Norway, the S.S. Nicaragua met its demise on October 16, 1912 when it sank off the shore of Padre Island during a fierce storm that sank ships all over the Gulf of Mexico. Since then the wreck of the Nicaragua has acquired a sort of mystique, along with numerous legends claiming that she was a treasure ship or perhaps a gun runner supplying arms to Mexican revolutionaries.
How the Nicaragua sank
Five days before she sank, the Nicaragua left Tampico carrying cotton and other miscellaneous cargo. According to the captain of the ship, the Nicaragua encountered a raging storm while cruising due east of Padre Island, during which time the rudder chain was broken by the pounding waves and raging current. Being at the mercy of the storm, the ship ran aground in a section of the island known as the “Devil’s Elbow” for the swift convergence of current that occurs in this particular area. Captain Eschevarria and nine of his crew members abandoned the ship during the storm aboard one of the ship’s life boats, sustaining brutal abuse from the sea for five days before being rescued by the U.S. Coast Guard near Port Aransas. The remaining twelve crew members had remained in the ship to wait out the storm, after which they rowed to shore and attempted to walk 54 miles down the coast to Port Isabel. On October 29, six very ragged and footsore crew members arrived at the Port Isabel life boat station, reporting that four of the other crew members were on their way down the island and that two others, being too ill to move, were left at the wreck.
The mission to rescue the remaining crew members of the Nicaragua
An expedition sent from Port Aransas was successful in finding the two abandoned crew members, but their good luck did not last. After proceeding several miles north, the sea became too rough for the 30 foot rescue boat to navigate in. The captain of the expedition ordered the anchor dropped, and five of the crew members were sent ashore where they contrived crude shelters out of driftwood. The remaining crew members stayed aboard the rescue vessel for two days and nights, being battered and beaten so badly by the sea that they could not cook, and so suffered from hunger and cold until the storm passed. After a mission of mercy that had kept them at sea for five perilous days, the expedition successfully returned to Port Aransas.
The Nicaragua today
The remains of the wreck of the Nicaragua can still be seen today about 100 yards from the beach on Padre Island National Seashore, but years of cruel treatment at the hands of the sea has reduced her to little more than rusted iron framework encrusted with barnacles and covered in bright green sea lettuce. Efforts to salvage the wreck have been attempted numerous times with very little success, finally resulting in the wreck being abandoned and consigned to the Gulf of Mexico. The legacy of the Nicaragua still lives strong however. A number of stories have emerged concerning the ship and what it might have been carrying or what its mission really was. Allegations that the Nicaragua was carrying recovered treasure or smuggling weapons or other contraband will never be proven, yet remain popular beliefs that persist on to this day.