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‘Ships Bottom’ Shipwreck Confusion

By THOMAS P. FARNER | Nov 21, 2018

In January 1903, several events took place on Long Beach Island that helped to inspire a series of stories and a book that would create much of what is known as “the lure of Long Beach.” Winter on the Island was a time of quiet. The hotels at Beach Haven and Barnegat Light were closed, and even avid outdoorsmen stayed home. The auto causeway was in the future, and only the railroad bridge linked LBI to the mainland. Most winter activity centered on the Island’s seven life-saving stations, opened and manned from fall until late spring. From them men patrolled the beaches, prepared to aid those in distress.

The story of the Remedios Pascual begins in 1885 in Nova Scotia, where the three-masted, 216-foot full-rigged ship was built and named the Stalwart. By October 1902, it had been renamed and left Buenos Aires bound for New York City, carrying a cargo of bones destined to become fertilizer.

Early on Jan. 3, the ship was off Ship Bottom. The official report reads, “At 3:15 a.m. this ship went ashore 1½ miles N of station, in a thick fog, and was immediately sighted by surfman on Patrol, who burned a Coston signal and then hastened to station and notified the keeper. There was a SE gale with a rough sea at the time, which caused the vessel to go well up on the bar and lie near the beach.”

One of the first papers to report the stranding was the Jan. 3 Asbury Park Press, whose mistakes would confuse the Island’s town name for years to come.

“Ships Bottom via Atlantic City. The Spanish ship Remedios Pascual, bound from Buenos Ayres (sic), South America, to New York with a cargo of hides and coffee, came ashore here at 1 o’clock this morning in a heavy fog which followed a southeast gale of 65 miles an hour.

“It is feared the ship, a big three-master, will break up. She is now half full of water; her masts are coming out and her rudder is gone.

“The life saving crew of Station No. 20 at Ships Bottom took off the crew of 21 men early this morning in the breeches buoy.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer was able to discover, “From what could be made out from Captain Ganato’s report, the ship was thought to be further down the coast and a greater distance from shore. The watch had been kept out for the Jersey light houses, but owing to the heavy storm which had been blowing most of the afternoon the ship’s course was altered and the man at the wheel believed he was heading in a different direction from that which he was following. When the ship struck on the bar she was sailing before a 30-mile breeze and drove hard ashore.”

When the ship struck, “Panic stricken, the crew were thrown from their bunks and came on deck in their underclothing. The rush of waters into the hold was uncontrollable. The surf was breaking about the vessel almost up to the decks. … Lifeboats were unslung and prepared for an emergency. Hearing the breakers rolling in on the beach, Captain Ganato was able to calm the fears of his men, assuring them that shore was not far distant, and the men then went willingly to work to take in the sail, which relieved the strain on the vessel. Pumps were started, but no impression could be made on the water in the hold.”

Capt. Isaac W. Truex and the life-saving crew arrived with the breeches buoy. First a light line called a whip would be fired over the ship. It would be pulled by those in distress attached to a heavier line to which were tied instructions to fasten the heavy line to the highest point on the ship, so that its zip line arrangement could be used to rescue the crew. Unfortunately, in this case there were problems.

The report states, “Station crew took the beach apparatus abreast the wreck and fired two lines, the second one landing among the crew, who hauled off the whip, but, not understanding its use, made it fast improperly. Surfmen then returned to station, hired horses, teamed surfboat to shore, and at daylight pulled off.”

The New York World picked up the story.

“The breeches buoy apparatus was rushed out from the station and an effort was made to fire the life lines out to the luckless Spaniard. But it was in vain. The crew were in such peril that they could not leave the rigging to which they clung for life, to make fast the lines. … If they were to be saved the life-boat was the only recourse. The sea was frightful, but it did not deter the life-savers. They got out the sturdy boat and manning it with a volunteer crew they rushed into the roaring breakers, and she rode out upon the heaving sea in safety.

“Then came the struggle to reach the ship. The oarsmen bent to their work and succeeded in getting alongside. There was the greatest danger that the lifeboat would be crushed against the sailing vessel’s sides as it swung into the lee and got close enough for the members of the crew to jump. There were twenty-one men on board and it was not safe to crowd them all into the small boat.”

The next step was quickly decided. “Half of them were taken on the boat, and then the men made for shore. They reached it safely and once more put out for the Spaniard, which still stood the shock of the waves. Again, they reached the three-master and took the last man off in the person of Captain Juan Morsta. The second load got ashore without accident and the shipwrecked sailors were sent up to Barnegat.”

The crew had been saved on Jan. 5. The Press of Atlantic City reported, “The Life Saving Crew from the Ship Bottom Station, and several of the members of the crew, went out to the ship yesterday, but the life crew reports that there is very little hope of saving the vessel. The motion of the ship has caused her seams to spread and yesterday afternoon five (feet) of water was registered in the hold. The wrecking tub, North American, went to the assistance of the stranded vessel yesterday afternoon and lighters are expected to reach the scene of the wreck this morning. An effort will be made to get the ship off the shoals by the crew and the crew of the tug, but they will first take out a great part of the cargo on the lighters before they do anything toward getting the ship from her cradle of sand.”

The New York Sun explained why the breeches buoy system had failed.

“Boatswain Juan Pugol created a sensation in staid old South Street by his piratical get-up of buccaneer beard, gory silk sash and enormous brass earrings, but he proved to be gentle. … He explained why the crew didn’t haul on the three life lines that the Ship Bottom life savers shot to them. They couldn’t read the printed directions attached to the lines and they didn’t see how they were going to (get) ashore by lines so light. Meanwhile the life savers were wondering why the Spaniards didn’t pull on the light lines and drag out the heavy one on which the breeches-buoy is carried. … The piratical-looking boatswain brought ashore the ship’s cats, Madame Cervantes and Cervera. … The cats were given to the life savers and Madame Cervantes promptly added a litter of kittens to the family.”

The Jan. 8 New Jersey Courier carried the death notice for the ship.

“The ship lay about 200 yards from the beach, and squarely across the outer bar. She hogged badly on Saturday, also carried away rudder, sternpost and after end of keel. The mizzen topmast also carried away, but rest of sails and rigging were left intact.

“Wrecking steamer North America on Sunday started to lay anchors in an effort to save the craft, but the chances seemed against it. Capt. H.S. Jones of Beach Haven, agent for the North American Insurance Company, had charge of the wreck. Two casks of wine that were aboard had the heads knocked in so as to keep it away from wreckers and crew. ‘A durned shame to waste all that good red liquor,’ some of the wreckers complained.”

Today the remains of the Pascual lie about one hundred yards off the Ship Bottom beach with reports that bones are still visible. The ship’s wheel is on display at the New Jersey Maritime Museum in Beach Haven.

Next Week: Another wreck?


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