Shipwreck Calendar

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This feature by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

May 13, 1998. All rights reserved.

Shipwrecks, A Realistic View

"O hear us when we cry to thee/ For those in peril on the


Today’s plethora of Titanic tales has undoubtedly helped

spark interest in shipwrecks of every shape and size. Those after

a less romantic, but doubtless more accurate, take on sea disasters

than that offered in the Oscar-sweeping movie might set sail for a

slide lecture at East Jersey Old Towne Village in Piscataway. On


May 13, at 7 p.m., Dan Leib of the New Jersey Historical Divers


will build on the current fascination in his discussion of New Jersey

shipwrecks of the past 100 years — what kinds of ships, why they

sank, and where they can be found — all, thankfully, sans the

decorative Leonardo DiCaprio.

Familiar as we are with today’s highly developed Jersey coast, it

is surprising to learn it was once a desolate and dangerous area.

Ships of all kinds traveled along the coast, many moving to or from

the New York Harbor area, then as now a busy destination. For a


of reasons — storms, war, fire, broadsiding, and foundering —

untold numbers of vessels traveling the Jersey coast sank. In 1846,

one storm alone destroyed eight ships in an hour’s time.

In a telephone interview, Leib says that except for a concentration

of wrecks in the harbor area, most are fairly evenly spaced along

the coast. And that’s where the New Jersey Historical Divers


comes in. Based near Asbury Park, in Avon-by-the-Sea, and dedicated

to the preservation of shipwreck history, the 10 members of this


all divers, investigate and confirm the identity of wrecked ships.

The group formed six years ago to look into what was then known as

"the Manasquan wreck." By the time they finished, they had

identified the remains as the Amity, a U.S. vessel that went down

in 1824.

Leib says they like to go after "wrecks with unusual handles,"

like "the 120 wreck" (denoting its location by degrees outside

the Manasquan inlet) or "the Sea Girt wreck." Their standard

approach includes thoroughly mapping a shipwreck site and studying

artifacts recovered there, in hopes of discerning their purpose and

details about their manufacture. Ultimately — since finding the

name on a shipbuilder’s plaque is uncommon, to say the least —

all this information contributes to identifying the ship itself.

Leib, the group’s treasurer and a full-time commercial artist


in documentation graphics and technical illustration, refers to a

cross-section of applicable skills among members. They use their own

mapping equipment and boats, and use the services of amateur


when the need arises. Findings of the Historical Divers Association

are recorded in their journal, available by subscription, and members

make presentations to interested groups around the state.

Every type of vessel is there to be found, Leib says — from barges

to battleships, tugs, privateers, and warships of foreign registry.

Because nautical charts may show only navigational hazards, most


sites "reside in the little black books of charter captains,"

he says. As sport diving grew popular in the 1950s, divers were able

to learn from these mariners the whereabouts of "hangs," or

wreck sites that had hung up the fishermen’s nets.

As for the condition of shipwrecks found off the Jersey coast, Leib

describes them in one word: flat. Unless they were made of metal,

he says, "most of them flatten out as they fall apart." His

group retrieves only what is necessary to identify a shipwreck and

what they believe is representative of its cargo. The association

hopes to open a shipwreck museum somewhere on the coast, where


will be able to see what the Historical Divers have salvaged as well

as artifacts donated by collectors.

Back on the desolate New Jersey coast of long ago, how were potential

shipwreck victims saved? And how was valuable cargo retrieved before

a ship went down? This will be the topic on Wednesday, May 20, when

Dan Leib returns to East Jersey Olde Towne Village to talk about the

history of "lifesaving stations" in New Jersey.

The organization that is now the U.S. Coast Guard began in the 19th

century as a volunteer group; in 1871 it became the U.S. Lifesaving

Service, instituted to protect life and property involved in offshore

disasters. In 1915, the U.S. Lifesaving Service merged with the


Cutter Service to become the U.S. Coast Guard.

In the 19th century, the paid professionals who were part of the U.S.

Lifesaving Service established hurricane-resistant stations along

the coast at about four-mile intervals, and regularly patrolled New

Jersey’s beaches. This was their job, for which they drilled regularly

to meet the high expectations. They lit flares to signal ships in

distress that help was on the way, then, depending on the severity

of the disaster, they mustered the crews of other stations to help.

Leib’s May talks are the first in a summer series on maritime topics

that runs through August. With sessions on model ships, tall ships,

and an August exhibit of shipwreck artifacts, the series should


the maritime and historical interests of area families — except,

possibly their pre-teen girls. They reportedly prefer shipwrecks that

carry the ghost of Leonardo.

— Pat Summers

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Shipwreck Calendar

Ships and Shipwrecks, East Jersey Olde Towne

Village ,

River Road, Piscataway, 732-745-3030. All events are free with


New Jersey Shipwrecks, Dan Leib of the New Jersey


Divers gives a slide lecture on shipwrecks of the past 100 years.

Wednesday, May 13, 7 p.m.

Historical Divers, Dan Leib gives a slide lecture on the

history of lifesaving stations. Wednesday, May 20, 7 p.m.

Model Ships. Opening reception for the Model Ship Display.

At 3 p.m., Mike Wicke gives a workshop on "Navigation and Duties

of an 18th-century Sailor." Sunday, June 7, 1 p.m.

The Art of Building Model Ships, a lecture by Tom


Sunday, June 14, 2 p.m.

New Jersey Shipwreck Artifacts. Opening reception .


August 9, 2 p.m.

Wreck of The New Era, Dan Leib on the ship that wrecked

off Deal Beach in November, 1854. Wednesday, August 19, 7 p.m.

Wreck of The Morro Castle, Dan Leib talks about the ship

that beached off Asbury Park in 1934. Sunday, August 23, 7 p.m.

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