Boston Dumping Ground exploration Project

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ss sarah reemsOne of the largest artificial reef areas in the United States if not the world lies in an area east of Boston Massachusetts referred to as the lightship dumping grounds. During the Great Depression of the 1930’s the US government embarked on a program to help provide employment for the masses of people left unemployed after the stock market crash of October 1929. This program established in June of 1933 by president Roosevelt, was referred to as the Works Progress Administration. The Works Progress Administration created many different projects throughout the country, these projects varied to include road, dam and bridge building as well as many academic projects such as cataloging various types of prevalent architecture throughout the country. Even artistic projects such as painting and playwriting were undertaken. One of the more notable projects was the building of the Grand Coulee Dam in Washington State. At the time of its construction the Grand Coulee Dam was one of the largest manmade structures in the world. One of the projects instituted during the program was to rid Boston harbor of all the derelict ships that had accumulated in the various backwaters of the harbor over the past 30 to 40 years. This project took place between 1930 and 1942. In all a total of 64 ships were removed from the harbor and scuttled in the Atlantic Ocean east of Boston Light in and area known as the Lightship Dumping Grounds. During the depression the concept of artificial reefs was completely unheard of still half a century away. After the project was finished an amazing array of ships lay at the bottom of the ocean. The ships scuttled in the dumping ground represented most of the various types of ships in existence during the late 1800’s and early 1900’s. Included in the various types of ships were; wooden coal schooners, wooden hulled cargo and passenger steamships, wooden hulled tugs, various types of barges, a great lakes freighter, an iron hulled cargo ship, four iron hulled steam trawlers, five lighters both powered and unpowered, two dredges and a steel hulled US Navy Eagle Boat which was a WWI version of a destroyer escort. The first ship to be officially scuttled in the program was the SS Coyote a 267’ wooden hulled cargo ship built during the First World War, she was sent to the bottom in January of 1932. Several ships were scuttled prior to the Coyote before the program was officially started. The last ship sunk was the freighter Restless in October of 1942.

The Boston Dumping Ground Exploration Project is Quest Marine’s longest running shipwreck research project. Initial research began in the spring of 1988 with fieldwork starting in the spring of 1990. Our objective was to located as many of the scuttled ships as possible, record their correct locations and document their existing condition. In the end we would have an accurate inventory of the large cross section of vessels that were in existence at the time and scuttled as part of the public works project. As we started to conduct research on the project both academically and in the field we began to realize that this project would become quite complicated very quickly. Three key factors would come to play that would have an effect on the project in general. The first being the highly inaccurate recorded positions of the scuttled ships. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers recorded the positions of the various ships as they were sunk. Unfortunately none of the positions were recorded accurately. Approximate ranges and bearings were taken to fixed points ashore. This was done with out a great deal of care resulting in

position errors ranging from one to six miles. The other two factors contributing to the difficulty of the project were the large number of wrecks in the same area caused by marine casualty and the ever-growing number of additional vessels scuttled in the area also. Illustrating this last point all to clearly one day in June of 1998 while out conducting field work in the dumping ground we observed a vessel being scuttled approximately two miles away. We immediately steamed over to the location and when we arrived the vessel had just landed on the bottom. A massive amount of bubbles along with debris was still coming to the surface, clearly marking the location where the vessel had sunk. As best as can be ascertained to date approximately 100 ships lay in the old lightship dumping grounds an area approximately six miles wide by ten miles long.

Work continues on the dumping ground project and will no doubt continue for many years to come. As we answer questions about the ships in the area of the dumping ground, more questions constantly arise. In recent years Quest Marine has teamed up with Northern Atlantic Dive Expeditions, of Salem Massachusetts to work together in solving the mysteries of the dumping ground. The old saying two heads are better than one is really true when it comes to research and exploration. Allot can be accomplished thru teamwork. Our alliance with Northern Atlantic Dive Expeditions and Captains Heather Knowles and Dave Caldwell have resulted in additional discoveries in the dumping ground and will continue to do so in the future.

Here we will introduce you to some of the wrecks in the dumping ground that we have located and explored:
S.S. Coyote
S.S. Southland
U.S.S. Eagle Boat 42
F/V Ocean
Steam Lighter Reliance

The Coyote was one of many wooden hulled cargo ships built during the First World War for the Emergency Fleet Corporation of the War Shipping Board. Designed by noted naval architect Theodore Ferris, the Coyote was a 276’ three island Cargo ship built at the Foundation Shipbuilding Shipyard in Kearny New Jersey. A number of wooden and cement hulled ships were built during the first world war in an effort to make more steel available for naval and larger merchant ship construction. Launched in the spring of 1918, the Coyote saw service at the very end of the war carrying supplies to Europe. Later in her career she sailed for United Fruit Corporation of Boston carrying Bananas from South American ports to New England. Her wooden hull succumbed rather quickly to the effects of salt water and she sank at her berth in Boston Harbor during the 1920’s. After she was refloated her deckhouses were removed along with her rigging and most of her machinery. In January of 1932 she was the first ship to be towed out of the harbor and scuttled in the lightship dumping ground, as part of the Works Progress Administration program.

Today the Coyote lies upright with her hull intact in 170’ of water. Her main deck can be reached at 150’. Two large water tube boilers lie amidships inside the hull. The propeller shaft extends aft through cargo holds three and four and the ships massive four bladed propeller is still in place at the ships stern. Visibility is generally quite good on the Coyote. In years past the wreck was inhabited by a school of large codfish, a sight more rare today.

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Another large steamship built of wood during the First World War was the S.S. Southland. Launched from the yard of M. Mitchell Davis and Sons in Solomon’s Maryland as the Sarah Weems in the fall of 1917, and built for the Baltimore and Carolina Steamship Company of Baltimore Maryland. The Sarah Weems would carry both passengers and cargo between her homeport of Baltimore and various ports of the south. Stops along her route included Charleston South Carolina, and Miami Florida. Her cargo often included produce from the farms of the south. The Sarah Weems was 206’ long and displaced 1521 gross tons. Powered by a single six hundred horsepower triple expansion steam engine, she averaged ten knots. A single coal fired water tube boiler supplied steam. By the fall of 1925 the Sarah Weems had become surplus to the needs of the Baltimore and Carolina SS Co. and the ship was sold in October of that year to Mr. Morris Levinson of New London Connecticut. After purchasing the ship Mr. Levinson briefly renamed her the Sarah Weaver, three months later in January of 1926 she was renamed for a final time Southland. After the ship was sold to Mr. Levinson her homeport became New York, however she continued to trade on the same routes as she had previously. One month after the ship was renamed Southland she was sold again to Mr. John Greco of New Haven Connecticut and her homeport became Portland Maine. Like the Coyote the Southland’s wooden hull did not stand the rigors of working in the Atlantic Ocean well. Although only 13 years old by 1930 she was no longer considered seaworthy. The Southland’s owners decided to rid themselves of the ship by the cheapest means possible and in so doing had her towed out to sea and scuttled. The tug Eileen Ross of the Ross towboat fleet towed the ship from Nantasket beach where she had been laid up out to the dumping grounds and set the hull on fire. The Eileen Ross stood by until the burning ship slipped beneath the waves.

Today the remains of the Southland sit upright on a sandy bottom in 165’ of water. The fire set when the ship was scuttled consumed the vast majority of the upper part of the ships hull and the entire superstructure. Lower portions of the ships hull are flattened out on the sand with ships fittings scattered throughout the wreckage from bow to stern. The large boiler sits amidships and rises 15’ off the bottom. Aft of the boiler the triple expansion steam engine still connected to the propeller shaft rests upright on its foundations. The propeller shaft extends all the way to the extreme stern of the ship. A four bladed steel propeller is still in place on the end of the shaft. Forward of the boiler two cargo winches rest on the exposed framework of the lower hull. Two hawse pipes and a large pile of chain, lying in the sand, identify the ships bow area.

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During the First World War it became apparent that the pace of construction normally associated with the building of naval escort vessels would not meet the demand for ships needed. There was a considerable demand for ships smaller than traditional destroyers that would have a range of action greater than the 110’ sub chasers then in service and better sea keeping ability for open ocean escort and sub hunting duties. U.S. Shipyards were stretched to capacity building naval and merchant ship tonnage. All of the labor skilled in the various shipbuilding trades was already employed at the nations traditional shipyards. In June of 1917 President Wilson summoned auto-builder Henry Ford to Washington, in the hope of convincing him to serve on the U.S. Shipping Board. It was thought the with his knowledge of manufacturing and mass production techniques Mr. Ford would be able to contribute his knowledge to the nations needs. Ford accepted an advisory role on the Shipping Board in November of 1917.

A solution to the problem was to develop a ship that could be built by unskilled labor cheaply and in a mass production style. The final product of this idea was the U.S. Navy’s Eagle Boats. These ships were designed to be built on a production line by workers not familiar with shipbuilding. Henry Ford provided some input into the vessels design to make it more feasible to mass construct. Secretary of the Navy Joseph Daniels asked Ford if he would take on the task of constructing the ships, as no shipyard space was readily available in both Navy and commercial yards. Ford accepted the challenge and built a new plant for constructing the ships in Detroit Michigan. Much of the ships machinery was built at the Ford Highland Park plant in Detroit. The hulls were built in an assembly line style at the new shipyard Ford built on the Rouge River. The first Eagle Boat to be launched took to the water in July of 1918. Eagle Boats were 200’9” long, had a 33’ beam and displaced 615 tons. Top speed with their single 2500 horsepower geared steam turbine was 18 knots. Armament was minimal, consisting of two 4” 50 caliber guns, one 3” 50 caliber gun and two .50 caliber machine guns. They were also fitted with depth charge racks. Crew complement consisted of five officers and fifty-six enlisted men. By the time the armistice was signed in November seven Eagle boats had been launched but none had seen service during the war. Another fifty-three were launched in 1919; all were built at the Ford plant in Detroit. The Eagle Boats saw service in the post war years of the 1920’s on various missions across the globe. Some were transferred to the Coast Guard in 1919 and used during prohibition to chase rumrunners.

The Eagle Boat number 42 was launched on May 17th, 1919 and remained in Navy service until June of 1930, when she was sold to a Boston junk dealer. After being stripped of all usable metals the hulk of the 42 was towed out to the dumping ground on the morning of June 15th 1931 and scuttled supposedly eight miles east of Boston Light. The actual position proved to be approximately 3 miles from the reported location. Captain Eric Takakjian located this wreck in August of 1996. The ship broke in half when it sank and the stern section landed about a mile away from the bow. The broken portion of both hull sections are buried in the mud. Both hull sections are upright and relatively intact on a mud bottom. The bow section rests in 240’ of water with the highest part reaching 210’. The stern section protrudes up at a steep angle out of the mud. The very top of the stern reaches up to within 180’ of the surface and the lower portions of the wreck disappear into the mud at 220’.

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As the First World War drew to a close, people and businesses throughout the world looked to get back to a normal way of life. Not the least of which was the Bay State Fishing Company of Boston. Seeking to replace some of their aging beam trawlers with more modern equipment, they began to look for shipyards to fill their needs. The venerable Boston firm had the steam trawler Wave built at the Quincy Shipyard in 1913, before the war. Bay Sate wished to add more vessels like her to their fleet, equipped with the latest fishing technology of the day. They turned first to the Globe Shipbuilding Company of Superior Wisconsin. The result of which was the modern steam trawler OCEAN of 301 gross tons. The Ocean was a steel hulled trawler, 135’ in length and powered by a 450 horsepower triple expansion steam engine. Considered one of the largest and most modern trawlers of her day, the OCEAN with her 21-man crew would provide many years of dependable service for the Bay State Fishing Company.

As time wore on the OCEAN along with her fleet-mates WAVE, MIST and GALE became obsolete. Fishing vessel technology had advanced over time and by the late 1930’s diesel powered trawlers had begun to make their mark on the offshore fishing grounds of Georges Bank and Nantucket Shoals. By April of 1938 the OCEAN had been retired from commercial fishing for several months. She was about to be replaced by a modern diesel trawler of the same name. Stripped of all usable equipment the old trawler was towed out of the harbor by the tug Powow on April 26th 1938, and scuttled east of the Boston lightship.

Today the OCEAN lies in the deeper portion of the dumping ground. Resting upright on a mud bottom in 275’ of water, the wreck has 25’ of relief with the pilothouse roof at 250’. In a sense the ship is still serving the commercial fishing community of New England, as gillnets are frequently present on the wreck today. The wreck is also popular with hook and line cod fisherman. Species common to the site are cod, Pollack and haddock.

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Steam Lighter RELIANCE
At one time lighters were a common sight in harbors along the Eastern Seaboard from Virginia to Boston. Lighters performed the function of loading and unloading ships at anchor in crowded harbors. Sometimes they could be seen working cargo on the outboard side of ships that were tied to a berth. Lighters often delivered coal for ships bunkers, as well as mail and other general supplies. Lighters could be either powered or un-powered, un-powered lighters were often referred to as “stick lighters”. Common to most lighters was a mast and one or two very long cargo booms that were tall enough to reach the deck of a ship they were servicing. Powered lighters came in two basic styles, covered and open deck lighters. Covered lighters most often delivered mail and perishable goods. The steam powered open deck lighter was the real workhorse of many of the harbors. They would be called upon to perform a multitude of cargo handling jobs throughout the port. As the age of containerization came in to it’s own, less and less cargo was shipped in the break bulk fashion. This signaled the beginning of the end for the steam lighter. The last of the steam lighters in existence in the United States was those owned by Petterson Lighterage and Towing Co. of New York N.Y. Petterson’s lighter VICTOR, built in 1929, served New York Harbor into the early 1970s.

The Reliance was built in Bath Maine in 1903 as an open deck steam lighter with her deckhouse and machinery aft. She was a wooden hulled ship of 251 gross tons and powered by a 400 hp steam engine. Equipped with a separate boiler for her hoisting gear, which was all operated with steam powered winches. The Reliance with an overall length of 109.8’ was typical of many of the lighters of her day. Built for the Boston Sand and Gravel Company, she was assigned to work out of Portland Maine for the first few years of her life. In late 1913 the ship was reassigned to work out of Boston. For the next several years the Reliance handled cargo in Boston Harbor and worked on various construction projects. Sometime in late 1921 the ships owners decided to remove the ships steam engine and main boiler, converting the vessel into an un-powered stick lighter. Removal of the ships machinery increased the vessels gross tonnage from 251 to 274. With the engine and large boiler gone, the former machinery spaces were converted to cargo carrying holds.

By 1933 the Reliance at 30 years old was showing her age. Her wooden hull after many years of service was no longer seaworthy. The Boston Sand And Gravel Company had more than gotten their moneys worth from the old ship and the time had come to dispose of her. With the anchor windlass, cargo winch and donkey boiler removed, the Reliance was towed out to the dumping grounds on August 3rd 1933. Set on fire and left to sink the old lighter eventually settled to the bottom of Massachusetts Bay. There she would lay un disturbed for the next seventy-two years. Captain’s Heather Knowles and Dave Caldwell of Northern Atlantic Dive Expeditions located the wreck of the Reliance in July of 2005.

Today the wreck rests upright on a sand bottom in 120’ of water. The lower portion of the ships hull is somewhat intact although splayed open at both the bow and stern. Two large cast iron hawse pipes lie in the sand forward of the bow. Anthracite coal is scattered throughout the midship portion of the hull. Towards the stern the propeller shaft packing gland and shaft log are clearly visible on the centerline of the wreck. At the very stern a large wooden rudder lies in the sand. The former propeller aperture is clearly visible where it was filled in with new oak timers in late 1921. Visibility on the wreck is generally good due to the hard sand bottom.

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We will continue to add to this section in the future as we introduce the reader to additional wrecks of the Boston Dumping Grounds. | 508-789-5901