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Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The "The Sinking Of The Sindia: Part I - The Tragedy" Story

This is the location along the Ocean City boardwalk where
the sailing ship, Sindia, is buried 150 yards from the beach.
It was an ordinary day.  Sitting on my grandson's bike on the boardwalk of Ocean City, New Jersey (formerly called Peck's Beach) between 16th and 17th streets reading the historical sign telling of the sinking of the 329-foot, four-masted sailing ship called the Sindia on December 15, 1901.  
The sign which tells the fate of the Sindia.
Click to enlarge photographs. 
The ship was just about at the end of a five month, 10,000 mile voyage from Kobe, Japan to New York City when it was caught in a violent winter gale off the coast of Cape May, NJ and was driven aground by fifty-mile-an-hour winds in Ocean City.  The steel hull was cracked and eventually completely buried in the sifting sand no more than 150 yards from the beach.  It now lies broadside to the shore and buried with the ship and most of the ship's cargo of silk, porcelain, camphor, bamboo matting, wax, fine china and 1,200 tons of manganese stone ballast.  Since the ship was carrying an estimated 1,300 cases of Christmas cargo from the far east, the Sindia was considered a treasure wreck and numerous attempts were made to recover the cargo.  
A photo taken of the Sindia after running aground.
A wooden boardwalk was built from the shore to help in the recovery, but the constantly shifting sand caused all attempts to end in failure.  The Sindia was launched in 1887 at Belfast, Ireland and was classified as a barque because of the configuration of the sails.  John D. Rockfeller's Anglo-American Oil Company had purchased the ship a year before the ship ran aground.  The Sindia was one of the last of the great commercial sailing ships to travel the high seas.  The Captain of the ill-fated ship was Allan MacKenzie.  There were rumors that the ship's crew of 33 was drunk when it ran ashore.  Theory was that they were celebrating the Christmas season a bit early.  Tough to believe since they had been battling the winter storm for four days before it ran aground.  
People gathered to view the wreck.
Luckily the Ocean City life saving crew, under the direction of Captain J.M. Corson of the Ocean City Lifesaving Station and Captain A.C. Townsend of the Middle Lifesaving Station, saved all on board.  Corson and and Townsend with their crew of 15 men braved the hurricane force winds and torrential winds in their boat and finally reached the ship.  They made three more trips to ferry all the crew to safety that day.  A British naval court conducted six days of hearings and found Captain MacKenzie guilty of failing to exercise proper and seamanlike care and precaution and suspended his license for six months.  
An old postcard showing the Sindia.
He never mastered a vessel again, since he died in his native Scotland before his suspension ended.  The last surviving member of the crew, David Jackson, died in 1970 in Philadelphia.  Treasure hunters attempted to salvage the cargo since there was a rumor that the ship's hold contained rare and valuable items looted from Buddhist Temples during the 1900 Boxer Rebellion, but they evidently weren't successful.  
This view of the ship before it totally disappeared under the sand.
The wreck didn't disappear overnight.  It took years and many more storms before the hull became buried under 20 feet of sand in the mid-1980s.  The area in front of me today, where the ship ran aground, was designated an official historical site by the State of New Jersey in 1969.  Some of the items that were reclaimed from the ship before it went to rest under the sand are now housed in the Ocean City Historical Museum.  Tomorrow I will take you with me as I take a tour of the Sindia room.   It was another extraordinary day in the life of an ordinary guy.  PS - A few more photos of the Sindia follow.








 

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