THE WRECK OF THE COQUIMBO
By David J. Castello
was 5:50 on a chilly winter morning in early 1909, three years
before the Titanic sank and eleven years before Boynton Beach
was incorporated, that the residents of Major Nathan Boynton's
famous seaside Boynton Beach Hotel were rudely awakened by a cacophony
of foghorns blasting just offshore about a third of a mile south
of present-day Ocean Avenue.
Those that tumbled out of bed and rushed down the beach could
hardly believe the sight that loomed before them in the early
morning shadows. It was the frozen silhouette of a ship. A large
sailing ship. The kind that had ruled the seas during the previous
century. Classically built, she was equipped with two square rigged
masts forward and a schooner rigged mast aft. The ship was the
Norwegian barkentine "Coquimbo" and she had run hard aground on
Boynton's off-shore reef after taking on a full cargo of long-leaf
pine lumber in Gulfstream, Mississippi.
Huddled aboard were fifteen men: three Swedes, one Dane, one
Finn and ten Norwegians including their leader Captain Hanson.
Word spread quickly among Boynton's early settlers and by midmorning
they rushed on bicycle and foot to cross a canal, now known as
the Intracoastal, on a hand-pulled skiff.
A "breeches buoy" was quickly erected and all fifteen men were
safely transported to the beach were they spent two cold, blustery
months camped under make-shift tents constructed from the ship's
sails as they awaited a steam tug to arrive from Key West. The
tug finally showed and pulled on the stranded vessel for days.
It was to no avail. The Coquimbo wouldn't budge an inch and by
May the relentless pounding of waves began to break up her hull.
Within days a veritable bonanza of long-leaf pine including 4
x 4s, 4 x 10s and 6 x 12s (some reaching a length of thirty feet)
washed up along a one mile stretch of Boynton Beach. Men and their
families scrambled to pull the bobbing wood out of the surf and
stacked them in enormous heaps that reached as high as fifty feet.
Fortunately, the early settlers were a tightknit group and each
family's collection remained unmolested. Shortly thereafter, a
U.S. Marshall arrived and declared that all of the wood would
have to be auctioned. However, he permitted the Boynton men to
mark their piles and they were allowed to buy them at extremely
The remaining lumber was bought by a salvager from Key West who
had been informed of the wreck by the unsuccessful tugboat captain.
He constructed a miniature railroad that ran from the beach to
the Intracoastal and, using six oxen to pull a small car, delivered
it to a waiting barge where it was used to construct homes in
Key West. In 1909, Key West was on its way to becoming the largest
city in Florida (Miami didn't begin her rise to glory until after
The Coquimbo's wood auctioned to the Boynton settlers was used
extensively and some of it still exists today. The most notable
surviving structure is the Early Attic furniture store on East
Ocean Avenue, which was the site of the original Boynton Beach
Women's Club. Some of the foundation timbers are reputedly 12
x 12 and still in excellent condition.
The Coquimbo's bell was transferred to the steeple of the First
Methodist Church and called the faithful to Sunday service for
sixteen years until the building was razed in 1925. At last report
the bell was hanging outside of another place of worship: St.
Cuthbert's Episcopal on Martin Luther King Boulevard.
PAGES FROM BOYNTON BEACH HISTORY
THE BAREFOOT MAILMAN (1885-1893)
THE BOYNTON BEACH HOTEL (1896-1925)
THE WRECK OF THE COQUIMBO (1909)
NATHAN S. BOYNTON (1837-1911)
BOYNTON'S INDIAN MOUNDS (1000BC-1700AD)
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