The remnants of a shipwreck turned up on South Beach near Wasque last weekend, following a series of winter storms that have pounded and eaten away the south-facing shoreline of the Vineyard in recent weeks.
The large piece of what appears to be the hull of a ship was spotted about 100 yards east of the Norton Point Beach opening by Skip Bettencourt, who saw and photographed it. The ship remnant is about 35 feet long and four feet wide.
Paul Schultz, assistant supervisor for The Trustees of Reservations, first saw the wreck on Monday and has watched it almost daily. Mr. Schultz speculated that it might be a piece of the Mertie B. Crowley, a six-masted schooner that ran aground and was wrecked on Wasque 100 years ago last January.
The wreckage on the beach is clean and free of seaweed, which suggests it has been buried in sand for a long time and did not wash ashore. Mr. Schultz said he believes it was uncovered through beach erosion during ocean storms and extreme astronomical tides over the last several weeks.
The 296-foot Mertie B. Crowley ran aground on Sunday, Jan. 23, 1910. There was a dramatic rescue by local Edgartown fishermen and all on board were saved. Pieces of the ship have been sighted over the years, but this is the first time in many years that something so large has appeared, Mr. Schultz said. This week he carried a copy of a newspaper article on the Mertie B. Crowley on the dashboard of his truck.
Yesterday, Will Geresy of Chappaquiddick rode in Mr. Schultz’s pickup truck to go out and see the wreckage. He recalled seeing a 50-foot long oak timber in the surf in the Wasque area about 10 years ago one afternoon in late autumn. Mr. Geresy said he thought it was a ship’s keel. “It was full of wooden pegs. The next day, I went back and it was gone,” he said.
There is no way to be certain if the wreck is the Mertie B. Crowley or one of the many other vessels that have sunk in the vicinity. Mr. Schultz said he cannot tell whether there is more structure underneath this wreck, hidden by the sand. Another piece has been seen at low tide, but Mr. Schultz said he is not sure whether the two are from the same ship.
Yesterday Skip Bettencourt’s photographs were e-mailed to Gannon and Benjamin Marine Railway in Vineyard Haven. The boatyard has been building wooden boats since 1980. Nat Benjamin, who has designed, built and repaired many schooners, took a moment away from his work to look at the photographs. He said it was hard to tell much from the picture.
The apparent shipwreck is made up of planks, side by side, each one four inches thick and eight inches wide. The planks appear to be attached to frames with dark treenails (wood nails). There is a slight curve to the whole assembly as though it were part of a hull.
Mr. Benjamin’s first response was: “I think we could rebuild that.”
Then he added that he thought it might be part of “some old coastal schooner.”
The Norton Point barrier beach on the Chappaquiddick side has been washed over repeatedly. The wreckage sits about a quarter mile from the Chappaquiddick side, about 100 yards from the opening between Katama Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
Other wrecks have resurfaced on the Vineyard shoreline. In April of 1994, a group of Islanders found and recovered the remnants of what was believed to be the 95-foot schooner Basile at Lucy Vincent Beach. Parts of that vessel, buried in the sand for 81 years, were recovered through excavation work by Mal Jones, Dan Whiting and Sandi Atwood of West Tisbury.