I visited the last remains of Eagle Tire Co. recently, and they looked awfully good to me. The Eagle Tire Co. is not a tire dealer operating in the Florida Keys. That would be a bit difficult, since the "operation" is located six miles off Islamorada, Fla., in the Atlantic Ocean, lying 115 feet on the bottom. Yes, it's a shipwreck or, better put, a ship intentionally sunk as an artificial reef.
I've dived this old freighter many times over the years. It was an early example of ships sunk as an artificial reef for scuba divers to explore and sport fishermen to do their thing. No one calls it Eagle Tire Co. anymore—it's the Eagle, period.
I was lecturing—boring?—the other divers on the way out to the wreck about the history of the Eagle, and no one, not even the captain, knew much about it.
Which made me wonder: What did the owner of Eagle Tire Co. get for the $20,000 he paid—equal to $44,000 today—to put his firm's brand on the oft-renamed derelict freighter Aaron K? Pictures of the Dec. 19, 1985, sinking show the Eagle Tire Co. name proudly emblazoned on its port side.
Today, it's just the Eagle, and no one seems to remember Eagle Tire Co. For that matter, I can't even find Eagle Tire Co., or what happened to it in the ensuing 28 years since the ship was sunk. So maybe the fact the wreck has been rebranded isn't so bad.
The second life of the Eagle has been more fascinating than its first. The ship was built in Holland as the Raila Dan and launched in 1962. It was renamed five times, typically when it was resold, before becoming the Aaron K.
The freighter spent its relatively short life hauling cardboard and newspaper between Miami and Venezuela. She caught fire 125 miles off Miami on Oct. 6, 1985, lost her entire superstructure to the blaze and was towed into the Miami River.
The Florida Artificial Reef Association quickly bought the wreck for $30,000, and Joe Tietelbaum—owner of a marine terminal in Miami and Eagle Tire Co.—donated the 20 Gs to get it prepared and hauled to its final resting place.
The ship drifted off the planned sinking site, and it was decided to put it down quickly. The $874 worth of explosives made for a great show when they went off. Unfortunately, the ship rolled to its side on the way down, devaluing it for diver penetration.
Hurricane Georges split the Eagle in two in 1998, which makes it look more like a "real" shipwreck. There's a lot of sea life on it, eels, fish, coral and a couple of Goliath groupers, big boys more than 6 feet long weighing in the neighborhood of 500 pounds.
No tires though. Not even the Eagle Tire name.
Noga is a contributing editor to RPN and its former editor. He can be reached at [email protected]