Sandy Exposes 90-Year-Old Shipwreck on Fire Island

While the storm devastated the popular vacation spot, it also unearthed a decades-old schooner buried beneath the sand dunes.

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Cheryl Hapke / USGS

The presumed remains of the Bessie White, a wrecked schooner long buried under Fire Island's dunes, now rests fully exposed on the beach following Hurricane Sandy.

When Superstorm Sandy pummeled Fire Island, a popular vacation spot a couple hours’ drive from New York City, as much as 80 percent of the island’s homes were flooded, prompting Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone to declare it “devastated.” But in addition to this recent ruin, the hurricane also unearthed wreckage from a different era. The skeleton of a shipwrecked schooner was discovered on a Fire Island beach after the storm left it exposed, OurAmazingPlanet reported.

The ravaged vessel was discovered about four miles east of Davis Park, along the Fire Island National Seashore. The National Park Service believes the four-masted vessel is the Bessie White, lost at sea about a mile west of Smith’s Point during heavy fog in 1919 or 1920, according to OurAmazingPlanet. Its crew escaped on two boats, and although one capsized, the entire crew—as well as the ship’s cat—was able to make it to shore alive. The 3-year-old ship, which was carrying coal, went aground and its remnants were ultimately buried under Fire Island’s dunes.

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Although parts of the ship have poked through the sand in the past, the had never been this dramatically exposed, Davis Park’s public affairs official, Paula Valentine, told OurAmazingPlanet. During Sandy, the dune that concealed the vessel eroded by about 72 feet, a coastal geologist estimated.

Still, the identity of the wreckage has not been confirmed. Experts from the Long Island Maritime Museum suspect the wooden schooner could also be a post-Civil War cargo ship that was built before 1880, but research is ongoing, according to Newsday.

(PHOTOS: Flooded, Uprooted, Burned: The Tracks of Sandy on the Shore)

“There’s so little of it left we may not be able to determine which ship it actually is, but we may be able to learn more about its age,” Valentine told OurAmazingPlanet. “It’s just a rare treat to see something so exposed.”

Earlier this year, Hurricane Isaac unearthed the remnants of a World War I vessel on an Alabama beach. Conversely, a drought in the south led to the discovery of a sunken ship from 1882 on the Missouri River, Archaeology News Network reported in August.

Fire Island is a barrier landmass off Long Island that, like other coastal areas, faced the brunt of Sandy’s wrath. Several oceanfront houses on the island—a popular summer getaway destination—were swept away during the storm, the Wall Street Journal noted.

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