Thursday, February 07, 2008

 

Marine mystery like a magnet

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Cape Cod Times
By Doug Fraser
February 97, 2008


WELLFLEET — The scavengers have already been at work. Despite signs placed by the National Park Service warning of $10,000 fines for taking anything from the shipwreck's remains, there are wood chips and the shadows left by removed planking.

The bones of a ship that washed up or were exposed on Newcomb Hollow Beach in the late-January storm are still on the beach, a larger-than-life mystery from the Cape's past. It's tempting for onlookers to want just a small piece to call their own.

It's not the first time the wreck has been assaulted. Straight cuts across one 6-inch-thick plank betray where, years ago, someone sawed off a piece of wood.

But that scar is the only evidence of a saw Ian Ellison could find yesterday. A specialist in large timber construction methods and building history, the Brewster man believes the wreck is from the late 1700s. Yesterday, he pointed to the marks left by shipyard workers who shaped the large ribs and planks of the ship using special axes.

"It would have been a large crew," Ellison said. He supposes that from idiosyncrasies in the scars left by those swinging the axes, one man was left-handed and that some stood on the beam, others to the side as they worked.

The absence of a keel and the fact that the large ribs curve then run flat has led Ellison and schooner expert Douglas Lee from Rockland, Maine, to think the vessel may have been a flat-bottomed barge.

Although local marine historian Bill Quinn thought the vessel could have been the wreck of the Logan, a schooner converted into a coal-carrying barge, the absence of a keel makes Lee doubt that. Lee also thinks the timbers are too uniform to be hand-hewn.

"It is amazing to see something like this so completely exposed," said Nathan Lipfert, the curator at the Maine Maritime Museum. Lipfert believes the vessel is from the 1800s. After examining a set of photos of the wreck, he thought it was a coastal schooner, common in these waters, possibly with two or three masts, and a little over 100 feet long.

All of the experts agreed the wreck is actually lying on one side. Lipfert suggested that the ribs are actually the sides and supports for a lower deck, and that a keel was below the current timbers at one time, but has been lost.

Shortened ribs around one portion of the wreck could mean that the ship had a large centerboard that would have been retracted in shallow waters. Several other features point to a late-1800s vessel, including grooves in the wood that indicate openings where rock salt would have been poured into the space between the inner and outer hull as a preservative.

"That's typical of 19th-century ship construction of a better quality vessel," said Lipfert, cautioning that his assumptions were based on photographs rather than first-hand observations.


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