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The NOAA Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary today released the first image of historic shipwrecks, the schooners James A. Palmer and Louise B. Crary. The two vessels were bringing coal to Boston when they collided and sank together 100 years ago this week. The side scan sonar image clearly shows the hulls of the two large sailing vessels still locked at their bows. The wrecks are off the Massachusetts coast located within the boundaries of the sanctuary managed by the Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
According to the Crary captain's testimony as reported by the Boston Globe and Herald immediately following the accident, poor seamanship on the part of the Crary's first mate, who was at the helm, led to the unfortunate collision during the clear evening of December 17, 1902. The bow of the Crary plowed into the port side of the Palmer, leaving both vessels fatally damaged. Reports show that the vessels disappeared from view quickly, with some crew unable to abandon the ships before they sank.
Out of the 21 crew members from both schooners, only 15 made it into one of the Palmer's lifeboats. Among the lifeboat group, four died from exposure and one committed suicide by jumping overboard. Lack of communications prevented rescuers from learning of the crash, and the lifeboat drifted for four days until a fishing boat spotted it off Cape Cod.
The Palmer was the largest four-masted schooner ever built (274.5 ft.) while the Crary was a similarly sized five-masted vessel (267 ft). Both vessels were colliers (coal carriers), which plied regular routes between the coal-producing region in the mid-Atlantic and the energy-dependent northeast. In 1902, a record December cold snap and a series of coastal storms created a serious energy crisis in the Boston area. The Palmer, based out of Portland, Maine, and the Crary out of New York City were two of a fleet of vessels that were bringing coal to the beleaguered city.
The Palmer-Crary shipwrecks were originally located by John Fish and Arnold Carr of American Underwater Search and Survey (AUSS) over 15 years ago in their search for the steamship Portland, however good images were not available at that time. As with the Portland wreck, the AUSS team generously provided the wreck coordinates to the NOAA Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary. A series of summer and fall research cruises were used to image both wreck sites.
The location of the wrecks within the sanctuary's boundaries provides protection unavailable in other federal and international waters off Massachusetts. Sanctuary regulations prohibit moving, removing or injuring, or any attempt to move, remove or injure any submerged cultural or historical resources, including artifacts and pieces from shipwrecks. Anyone violating this regulation is subject to civil penalties.
Congress designated the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary in 1992 as "an area of special national significance." Virtually the size of the state of Rhode Island, the sanctuary stretches between Cape Ann and Cape Cod in federal waters off of Massachusetts. The sanctuary is renowned as a major feeding area for marine mammals, particularly humpback whales, and supports an ecosystem of diverse wildlife. For more information and images of the shipwrecks, please contact Anne Smrcina at the Gerry E. Studds Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary.
The NOAA National Marine Sanctuary Program (NMSP) seeks to increase the public awareness of America’s maritime heritage by conducting scientific research, monitoring, exploration, and educational programs. Today, 13 national marine sanctuaries encompass more than 18,000 square miles of America’s ocean and Great Lakes natural and cultural resources. In addition, the NMSP is conducting a sanctuary designation process to incorporate the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands Coral Reef Ecosystem Reserve into the national sanctuary system.
NOAAs National Ocean Service (NOAA Ocean Service) manages the National Marine Sanctuary Program and is dedicated to exploring, understanding, conserving and restoring the nation’s coasts and oceans. NOAA Ocean Service balances environmental protection with economic prosperity in fulfilling its mission of promoting safe navigation, supporting coastal communities, sustaining coastal habitats and mitigating coastal hazards.
NOAA is dedicated to enhancing economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and providing environmental stewardship of our nation’s coastal and marine resources.
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