A Captain’s Guide to Cape Ann Shipwrecks

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The waters North of Boston can be hazardous to a sailor’s health.

Evidence of their treachery can be seen on every page of “Shipwrecks North of Boston” by Capt. Raymond Bates Jr.

The book is subtitled “Volume Two: Cape Ann,” because it complements an earlier volume by Bates that also identifies ships that were lost at sea.

“The first book encompassed from Winthrop north to Magnolia, including all of Salem Bay,” Bates, of Marblehead, said.  “The second book is Magnolia, around Cape Ann to the mouth of the Essex River next to Crane Beach.”

Bates, a commercial diver since 1968, has visited a half-dozen of these wrecks on the ocean floor, and hopes his book will lead others to explore on their own.

In 53 short chapters, the latest volume of “Shipwrecks North of Boston” tells the stories of ships that met their demise on this stretch of coast over three centuries.

The earliest wreck was the Watch and Wait, which set sail with 23 people on board on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 1635, and eventually ran into a gale.

“There were two ministers who were sailing from Ipswich to Marblehead, to establish a church in Marblehead,” Bates said.

One of those ministers, Anthony Thacher, eventually gave his name to the island where he washed up when the ship was wrecked in the storm.  Thacher and his wife, the only survivors, lost all five of their children in the tempest.

The last wreck in the book was a small tanker, the Chester A. Polig, which was headed from Everett to Newington, New Hampshire, on Jan. 10, 1977, when it was snapped in half by a wave, 6 miles offshore.  The stern section settled in 60 feet of water, where Bates visited that spring.

“A variety of fish such as cod and hake claimed her as their new home,” Bates writes in the book.

In addition to describing the fates of 53 ships, Bates lists information about hundreds more that were wrecked off Cape Ann.

He got information from several archives, but relied mostly on accounts in local newspapers, which started reporting on shipwrecks in about the 1730s.

When the information is available, Bates records the cargoes these ships were carrying, which were usually something basic like lumber or cobblestones.

“It’s not the treasure ships of divers’ fascinations,” he said.  “These were workhorses.”

The real reward in these shipwrecks off Cape Ann lies in the opportunity they provide to make contact with history, which is what drove Bates to write his books.

“I love maritime history, and this is the culmination of years of going through the archives,” he said.  

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Source: The Eagle Tribune

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