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19th-century ship revealed by storm erosion in Florida

ST. AUGUSTINE, FLA. – Shortly after the Caroline Eddy left Florida in 1880 with cargo bound for the coast, a powerful hurricane nearly tore it apart, throwing the crew, hanging off the rigging, adrift for two days before the wreck does not run aground.

Over 140 years later, a couple walking along Crescent Beach this month noticed wooden beams and bolts sticking out of the sand in parallel formation after another tropical storm, Eta, hit the beach with high waves and mighty winds.

Maritime archaeologists believe it may be the bones of Caroline Eddy, preserved for over a century by a blanket of sand.

“He was sitting here under a sand dune the entire time, and all of a sudden it was thanks to Mother Nature,” said Chuck Meide, a marine archaeologist with the St.Light’s Marine Archaeological Program, based in St. Augustine, Florida.

Since the discovery, Meide and his team have worked to record and identify the remains, digging small holes in the sand that expose parts of the ship at low tide.

But documenting the ship is a race against time and waves. Two weeks ago, low tide exposed a nearly five-foot view of the exposed woods; the next day, a 20-foot section was visible. But the sand has since shifted, completely covering the ship.

With measurements, notes and thousands of photos, his team plans to create a three-dimensional digital model of the ship.

“We will never see the wreck all open at the same time here on the beach, but we will see it on our computer screen,” he said on Tuesday as a small crowd gathered around the demarcated area where archaeologists worked. The children were screaming and splashing in the waves; someone brought Gatorade and cookies for the team.

At around 3 p.m., the waves started to turn at the edge of the site and the crew carefully piled sand on the woods for protection. If the ship were to be fully excavated, a process that could cost millions, it would crack and collapse within days.

So far, researchers have found remains of a “very sturdy, very sturdy” ship, with timbers measuring in feet and inches, suggesting it was built in the United States, Canada or in Britain, he said.

In the hull, archaeologists found iron bolts and fasteners, wooden fasteners called tail tails, and a few bronze spikes used on the ship’s outer copper sheets, which were not popular until the 1830s. Its estimated size corresponds to the records of Caroline Eddy.

“She’s built strong enough to be a lumber ship, has the right fasteners to be an 1800s ship, and the right lumber for an 1800s ship,” Meide said. “Caroline Eddy is our prime suspect.”

Records show the Caroline Eddy was built in 1862 as a US Army supply ship during the Civil War and then sold to a merchant, Meide said.

He set sail for New York or Philadelphia on August 27, 1880, with a crew of Captain George W. Warren and seven sailors, but struck a hurricane which filled him with water and tore off his mast, steering wheel and his bridge. cargo, The New York Times reported.

“The captain was run over at the wheel and stunned, and when he came to himself he did not see any of the crew around him,” the Times reported. The captain, he continued, “was about to dive overboard and drown as one of the sailors called him from the rigging, where everyone else had taken refuge.

“It was a sea like a mountain,” Captain Warren later told the Memphis Daily Appeal. “It was a very large sea, a sea bigger than what I want to see again.”

The ship was lucky. Another ship, the SS City of Vera Cruz, was reportedly wrecked in the storm and sank near Cape Canaveral, killing nearly 70 people. Residents of St. Augustine tell stories of bodies washed up on the shore in luxury clothing and jewelry, Meide said.

The Caroline Eddy’s floating cargo – lumber – was probably “the only thing that saved the ship,” he said.

After striking a sandbar, the crew built a raft to cross the remaining two miles to shore near Matanzas Inlet. They sold their cargo in St. Augustine for $ 425 and the wreck for $ 110, according to the Times. Archaeologists believe that the wooden skeleton in the sand is all that is left, turned into a sand trap over time in the beach dune system.

While some wrecks can be definitively identified, usually by items in their cargo, like serial numbers on weapons, it can be more difficult to identify stranded wrecks that are stripped of artifacts, Meide said.

“It’s kind of like it’s a crime scene investigation,” he says. “We put all of these facts together that we can identify from all of our forensic testing.”

The team will analyze ship logs and send timber samples for isotopic analysis to see if the timbers came from near Maine, where the Caroline Eddy was built.

The unexpected discovery of the ship was in part possible due to the erosive effects of Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017, which left the coast vulnerable to nor’easters and tropical storm Eta, said Mr. Meide.

Only about 15 years ago, the dunes at Crescent Beach were about 12 feet high, he added. Today, the sand near the wreck is roughly at sea level and submerged at high tide.

Don Resio, professor of ocean engineering at the University of North Florida, said several days of waves and wind during Tropical Storm Eta would have provided the best circumstances for “the perfect storm for erosion” near the sea. ‘Entrance.

This fall, the Northeasters coincided with “royal” astronomical tides, said Katie Nguyen, a meteorologist with the Jacksonville branch of the National Weather Service.

“The result was several series of erosion-causing events along Florida’s northeast Atlantic coast,” Ms. Nguyen said.

Erosion along the state’s coast, accelerated by climate change, may mean more archaeological finds being revealed in the area. St. Augustine alone has half a dozen offshore wrecks, including one from 1764, Mr. Meide said.

“There is a lot of history buried on our beaches and offshore,” he says.

Steven D. Singer, a diver who wrote two books on Florida wrecks, said there had been nearly 4,000 documented wrecks along the coast, including Spanish galleons, Civil Wars ships and revolutionary and ships attacked by German submarines.

“They all have a story to tell,” Singer said.

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