Wreck of British Freighter Emerges Off Orleans


By Mary Ann Bragg


A British freighter carrying 230 tons of frozen blueberries when it sank off Orleans in 1939 has begun to emerge about 400 feet offshore, according to a marine surveyor and the state’s director of underwater archaeology.

New sonar images show the Lutzen — known as “The Blueberry Boat,” according to shipwreck historian William Quinn — is in about 20 feet of water with both the bow and the stern visible in the sand, marine surveyor John Perry Fish of Cataumet said.

“It is slowly emerging,” said Fish, who conducted the sonar mapping on September 26 with marine surveyor Mark Munro, of Griswold, Connecticut, working with maritime archaeologist Calvin Mires and Victor Mastone, director of the state’s Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources.

Fish’s company uses shipwrecks to test its equipment, which is used to search for downed aircraft and underwater obstructions.  The Lutzen has been covered with sand off and on since it ran aground but had become very visible again in recent years, Fish said.

The 77-year-old shipwreck is one of 3,500 recorded along the Massachusetts coast, Mastone said.

“They are windows to the past,” Mastone said.  “People tend to be fascinated.”

The sonar images will be added to the state’s shipwreck records, he said.

The Lutzen is one of more than 1,000 wrecks “piled up” on the sandbars off the Atlantic coast between Provincetown and Chatham, leading to those 50 miles of sea being called an “ocean graveyard,” according to the National Park Service.

Orleans claims the Lutzen as one of its own, because of where the wreck occurred, Orleans Historical Society member Jay Stradal said.  The historical society is in negotiations with a Plymouth museum to return to Orleans the salvaged remains of another shipwreck, the Sparrow-Hawk, which went down in 1626 off Nauset Beach, Stradal said.

The wreck of the Lutzen, also on the Atlantic side of Nauset Beach, is located almost directly east of the northernmost tip of Strong Island, putting it just north of the border between Orleans and Chatham, based on coordinates provided by Fish.

On Feb. 3, 1939, the 339-ton Lutzen grounded in a fog but did not hit the shoreline hard and was lying easily in the sand, Quinn wrote.  When the crew tried to launch a dory in the surf, the boat capsized and one crew member was lost, he wrote.  The ship had been on its way from Saint John, New Brunswick, to New York City.  The cargo of blueberries, though, is what makes the wreck notable.

“The 155-foot freighter sat on the beach for a few days while some attempts were made to pull her off, but a northeast storm tossed her high and dry on the sands, so some local laborers were hired at 75 cents an hour to unload the cargo of blueberries from the ship,” Quinn, who died in 2014, wrote in his book “Shipwrecks Around Cape Cod,” published in 1973.

The next day, the tide tipped the Lutzen over, and any thoughts of salvage were abandoned, he wrote.

But the cargo, which had been landed on the beach, couldn’t survive for long.

“The well-being of frozen goods depends a great deal upon the temperature,” Quinn wrote. “A warm spell set in and half the cargo was lost to thawing.  Many of the berries ended up in Outer Cape blueberry pies.”

The Lutzen was registered with Lloyd’s insurance company in the early 1930s as a steam trawler, Mastone said.

In an online photo album, the Lutzen is described as part of a fleet of six trawlers built by the Canadian Car and Foundry Company Limited for the French navy, to act as minesweepers in the English Channel during World War I, Mastone said.  The Lutzen appears to have been later converted to a freighter, Mastone said.

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Source: Cape Cod Times


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