Tuesday, June 08, 2010

The Concrete Ship

Great Cormorant
Originally uploaded by ammodramus88
On this day in 1926, a storm hit Cape May. A concrete ship hulk, which had been intended to find its final harbor as part of a ferry dock, broke away from its moorings in the storm and ran aground not far off Sunset Beach. The ship could not be salvaged afterward and has been crumbling into the sea ever since.

Though the idea of a concrete ship seems to defy the laws of physics, a number of these vessels were built during World War I and II. The S. S. Atlantus was seaworthy enough to bring troops home from Europe and transport coal in New England after she left her home port of Brunswick, Georgia, in December 1918. She was retired in 1920, only to be resurrected by the prospect of a ferry service connecting Cape May with Delaware. Then the storm put paid to that notion. It wasn't until 1964 that Cape May-Lewes ferry service finally became a reality.

After the S. S. Atlantus ran aground, she became a curiosity for tourists and a landmark for birders. The concrete ship took her place among the birding topography of Cape May along with the bunker, the magnesite plant, and the beanery. She became known as a good place for a seawatch, and a good spot for Great Cormorant, Purple Sandpiper, or staging migrant Red-throated Loons (in the appropriate season). Unfortunately, she continues to decay into the bay; I guess it's a mark of the time that I've spent birding that the concrete ship is obviously reduced from what she was when I first met her.

For lots more about concrete ships in general, see the concrete ships site. The S. S. Atlantus is also given her own page there. For the stop-and-go history of ferry service between Cape May and Delaware, see the history page on the official Cape May-Lewes ferry site.

Rest in peace, S. S. Atlantus. We'll miss you when you're gone.


Jim said...

Funny how often people are disoriented by the idea of a concrete ship, but don't think twice about steel, which is far more dense. Of course when it comes to harm, steel is a lot more sound.

Jennifer W. Hanson said...

Apparently the concrete ships were produced precisely because steel was in short supply during wartime. But yes, steel isn't terribly light either.

Thanks for stopping by!