Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mystery ship revealed deep in sand on Ore. Coast

Wind, heavy rain and high surf have uncovered an historic treasure along the Oregon Coast. A mountain of sand slowly shifted day after day, eventually uncovering the 35-foot-long bow of a wooden-hulled vessel.

“It’s kind of awesome to think about this thing, it has been sitting there buried underneath the sand, and we're just now learning about it,” one onlooker said.

The bow's sides protrude up from the sand below a towering foredune. They're more than a foot thick. Vertical timbers that run through the walls are lined on both sides by planking. All are tied together with iron bars and pins. There appear to be square portholes cut through the sides every six feet or so.

Curved chair-sized ribs rise out of the sand on the insides anchored by more iron bars, but the top deck is gone. It was a two-deck vessel. A schooner at least for a time. But its use is unclear.

While exciting for locals and historians, there is a problem with the unveiling; the sand that used to cover the wreckage provided a barrier and preserved it for the last century. Now, that protection is gone.

Scientists are unsure how much of the boat is still covered in sand. They think there may still be about 15 feet of it underneath the shoreline.

The bow points west to the ocean, which is unusual for shipwrecks. It's on a legally fuzzy dividing line between Oregon State Parks and U.S. Bureau of Land Management jurisdiction. There are no plans at this point to save it.

BLM officials said they can not physically move away the sand. Instead, they’ll have to wait for it to wash away naturally.

"It seems to be from the late 1800s and early 1900s. There's some evidence it was a sailing ship, but then there's some evidence it was converted to a coastal barge," said Steve Samuels, BLM's cultural resource coordinator.

Some have speculated the bow is part of the Czarina that foundered on the Coos Bay Bar and drifted north toward Horsfall 98 years ago. But that ship was metal-hulled. Others have suggested it's the lumber-carrying C.A. Smith, which ran aground and broke up at the North Jetty in 1923.

But there may not be much time for on-the-sand research.

Come March 15, the end of the spit, the dry sand portion and upland will be closed for the six-month snowy plover breeding season. There won't be special permits for archaeologists. Come September, they will have the short window before winter to learn all they can about the ship.

"We would appreciate any marine architects with historical knowledge to contact us. It might have been something that was built here, but we don't know," Samuels said.

And locals, too, are encouraged to share their historical knowledge and stories. - kgw

First there was that strange swarm of earthquakes, and now beaches are being washed away revealing ghosts ships and forests.

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