In 1989, Capt. Bob Miembresse of the dive boat Down Deep took Atlantic Divers offshore to explore a wreck in 155 feet of water. We were searching for the recently lost tug Brian C. Due to additional efforts, we subsequently discovered the lost tug. During of our searches, we stumbled across a small snag that we originally believed to be the missing tug. As it turned out, to our surprise we found another older wreck within a few miles of the Brian C.
Angelo Patane and Greg Modelle were the first to make the plunge on this unexplored snag. Narcosis set in and construed their interpretations of what they dived. In fact, Angelo left a porthole by the anchor thinking it was steel and was convinced he was diving a barge. One thing he didn't miss were dozens of lobsters that nearly burst his mesh bag. Greg described a wooden steamship with a massive engine and large prop.
After my dive, I confirmed Greg's assertion that indeed it was a old wooden steamer. I also plucked a few of those loose portholes and gave Angelo back the one he left on the bottom. Through out the day Captain Bob's little dog Max kept sitting on my gear and getting under foot. When asked by Bob what we should call the wreck, there was no hesitation on my part. "Max's Wreck" I exclaimed. This past summer we returned to the wreck and were able to nail down the true name; The Montgomery.
The sister ship of the Montgomery is also sunk off New Jersey. Originally called the Lang, after a supposed ship Yohanna Lang that nearly sank in that location. This wreck has assumed several other names including the NE Boiler and the Copper Wreck. Discoveries have included portholes, large and small brass spikes, and some bottles. One of the most exciting finds included a inscribed gold pocket watch recovered by diver Gary Astin which dated from the early 1800s. Perhaps new clues will be uncovered to positively identify this small snag soon.
Great Wreck Hunting!
Read Gary Gentile's tale of Max's Wreck Identification
As I have written elsewhere, most shipwrecks are identified not by the recovery of a singular item such as a bell or plaque on which the name of the vessel is stamped, but by a preponderance of evidence. Here are two recent examples.
In Shipwrecks of New Jersey: South, I wrote about an unidentified wreck that was known locally as Max's Wreck. I compared the historical account with the wreck's location, description, and condition, and suggested the possibility that it could be the Montgomery. This merchant vessel was purchased by the Union Navy for service in the Civil War. After the war, she was returned to merchant service. In January 1877, the Montgomery sank after a collision with the Seminole.
The historical location was close to the actual position of the wreck. The wooden hull and machinery matched the description of the vessel's construction. The degree of collapse was consistent with that of a wreck that had lain on the bottom for more than a century and a quarter.
The clincher to the vessel's identity came in 2009 when Gene Peterson found a brass pump in the wreckage. He and Harold Moyers, skipper of the Big Mac, secured three liftbags to the pump - and were unable to lift it. Attached to the pump was a long length of lead pipe which was buried in debris and entangled in a net. They had to cut the artifact free before the liftbags floated the pump to the surface.
Stamped on the 100-pound pump were the words "U.S. Navy Yard, New York." This does not make identification absolutely positive, but it certainly adds a corroborative if not definitive piece to the puzzle: one that is consistent with the history of the vessel's wartime service, when repairs and maintenance were conducted by the Navy department.
Additionally, Moyers recovered a bottle that was embossed "Karl Hutter Lager." The manufacture of this rare bottle is contemporary with the Montgomery.
Another wreck that has been identified by similarities is the YP-389. I covered this World War Two gunboat in both Shipwrecks of North Carolina: North and The Fuhrer's U-boats in American Waters.
In June 1942, during a running gun battle that lasted for an hour, the YP-389 was shelled and sunk by the U-701. Six sailors were killed in action, and many of the remainder were wounded by shrapnel. The survivors floated on the Atlantic swells throughout the night, until a Coast Guard vessel rescued them in the morning.
The wreck site was discovered in 1973 by a Duke University expedition that was searching off the Diamond Shoals for the Civil War ironclad Monitor. The side-scan sonar survey located more than a dozen targets during the course of a weeklong search. Examination of the side-scan images established that one of the sites was the Monitor. The other sites were relegated to the scrap heap because they were not relevant to the mission's only goal.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration obtained the coordinates of the other sites from Duke University. In 2009, NOAA dedicated three weeks of expensive shipboard operating time on surveying these deepwater sites by means of remotely operated vehicle (ROV). One of the wrecks was tentatively identified as the YP-389. The entire wreck was videotaped, and a photomosaic was created from frame captures. The photomosaic provides an overhead view from bow to stern, and clearly shows a deck gun that was mounted on the deck. Along with wreck-site dimensions that were scaled off a multi-beam sonar image, the gun lends credence to the supposition that the wreck is the YP-389.
The location of the site is being kept from the public that paid for the survey. According to NOAA, the wreck lies at a depth of 300 feet.
One might wonder why NOAA spent taxpayer's money to conduct shipwreck surveys that do not serve any useful function for American citizens. The reason is NOAA's secret mission to expand its National Marine Sanctuary Program in order to increase its control over public property and resources. Congress created the NMSP for the express purpose of preserving areas of biological interest. On its own, NOAA has established a territorial imperative that goes far beyond the pale of its Congressional mandate.
NOAA wants to expand the boundaries of the Monitor National Marine Sanctuary and change its name to the Battle of the Atlantic National Marine Sanctuary. This newly designated Sanctuary will be thousands of times larger than the core Sanctuary on which it is formed, perhaps to encompass the entire Eastern Sea Frontier. During World War Two, the ESF was an operational area that extended from Maine to Florida to a distance of approximately 200 miles from shore.
If NOAA gets its way, it will eventually control every shipwreck off the American eastern seaboard.
In light of NOAA's current enforcement policies, and more restrictive policies that it is proposing, wreck-diving could then become a thing of the past.