This January marks the 40th anniversary of the Blackthorn sinking in Tampa Bay. In 1980, the USCGC Blackthorn, a 180-foot buoy tender, collided with the tanker Capricorn near the Sunshine Skyway Bridge, where 23 lives were lost of the 50 crew members. It is considered the Coast Guard’s worst peacetime disaster.

A memorial stands in Blackthorn Memorial Park in Saint Petersburg, Florida just a few miles from where the collision took place.

Less than a month after the collision took place, the Blackthorn was raised and moved out as an artificial reef located in the Gulf of Mexico in 80 feet of water as part of Pinellas II artificial reef on July 30, 1981 (just roughly 600 feet from the Sheridan).

The Blackthorn was 180 feet by 37 feet with a maximum cruising speed of 13 knots. Currently, the Blackthorn is broken into two pieces and is a very popular dive and fishing site.

Early next year, several statues are being added to the Circle of Heroes Memorial, a collection of statues representing different service men and women from the U.S. military, honoring U.S. veterans, located 10 miles off the Pinellas County coast in 40 feet of water.

The statue representing the U.S. Coast Guard, was a Seaman Apprentice named William Ray Flores, who tragically and heroically lost his life along with 22 others on the Blackthorn. During the disaster, Flores threw life jackets to his shipmates as the cutter sank and strapped the life jacket locker door open so remaining life jackets would be released, and then provided aid to the wounded aboard the sinking cutter – all costing him his life. This statue is to be added to the Circle of Heroes around February of 2020.

Adventure Outfitters offers several local dive opportunities including the Circle of Heroes and the Blackthorn wreck. A 3-Tank Wreck Trek to see the Sheridan, Blackthorn and Seafood Barge is scheduled for Jan. 18. On Jan. 4, Adventure Outfitters will charter a trip to see the Circle of Heroes memorial.