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Vineyard Sound

Description: Tanker; Steel
Dimensions:   length - 504 ft.    width - 68.2 ft.   depth - 39.2 ft.
     Tonnage:     gross - 10448        other -
Propulsion: Electric, steam; Single propeller
Machinery: 6000 Horsepower motor
        Cargo: 120000 barrels of Number Two Fuel Oil

The Shipwreck

  Date Sunk: February 18, 1952
         Cause: Foundered.
     Location: Chatham, east side of Monomoy Island
Coordinates:    Latitude, 41o - 35' - 10"N   Longitude, 69o - 57' - 45"W
        Loran: 13867.7 and 44914.0

    Pendleton arrived off Boston late in the evening of February 17th, 5 days out of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Progressively worsening weather had delayed the tanker 2 days and now poor visibility and a rising gale convinced Captain John J. Fitzgerald to further delay his arrival. Setting a course of approximately 075o True, Pendleton stood off the shore at slow speed to await more favorable weather.
    However, conditions deteriorated and by midnight an East-Northeasterly gale was blowing, attended by heavy snow and seas 60 to 70 feet in height. At 05:40 the next morning the vessel took a heavy lurch accompanied by a loud explosive sound. Another lurch and a still louder sound racked Pendleton before she broke in two between number 7 and 8 cargo holds, trapping 8 men on the bow and 33 men on the stern.
    Fireman Frank Fateaux, on watch in the boiler room, reported that a large wave hit the vessel. As she rolled from the impact, a second wave struck near amidships before the vessel split in two. Fred Brown of Portland, Maine, reported the noise was "like the tearing of a large piece of tin. It's a noise that sends shivers up and down the spine and jangles every nerve." Carol Kilgore of Portland was awakened by the noise. Dressing hurriedly he ran up on deck as fast as he could. "When I got there", Kilgore said, "I couldn't believe my eyes. The bow was gone."
    The tanker had been riding well for 15 hours before she broke. "She sort of raised up and trembled", Chief Engineer Raymond L. Sybert said, "there was a loud noise. I ran into the engine room and on the way down I heard a terrific noise like an explosion. The vessel rolled hard and there was a severe list to port." Sybert signaled all hands into the engine room and a crewman with a flashlight was sent to try to reach the bridge. He reported there was a gap of water and thought the ship had busted. Sybert stopped the engines and went to have a look, but couldn't see the bow. He then ordered all watertight doors closed, except those between the fire and engine rooms.
    No SOS distress was dispatched from the bow, where the radio room was located. Circuit breakers to the forward part of the ship, kicked out at the time of the break. Capt. Fitzgerald was at the helm when the tanker split. "He was the best skipper anyone could want to work under", a crewman later stated. "Whatever it was that happened no one can blame Captain Fitzgerald."
    With no way to communicate with the bridge, Chief Engineer Sybert took command. They were not in a sinking condition, the bulkheads were holding, they had power and the half-ship could be steered from an emergency rudder control in the stern. Sybert assigned watch details including lookouts at each end of the boat deck. Drifting in a southeasterly direction, the beach was sighted at about 2:00PM.
    Meanwhile, Coast Guard officials had their hands full. Earlier that day another T2 tanker, the Fort Mercer, had broke in two 30 miles southeast of Chatham. Distress calls had been dispatched and Coast Guard vessels conducted rescue operations. Fort Mercer's bow was eventually sunk as a navigational hazard and it's stern towed to Block Island.
    At approximately 2:55PM radar operators at the Chatham Lifeboat Station reported two objects on their screen. At 3:00PM a momentary improvement in visibility allowed lookouts at the Station to visually sight the bow of a tanker, whose identity was still unknown. It wasn't until 4:00PM that an aircraft involved in rescue operations of the Fort Mercer, flew low enough to read Pendleton's name.
    Aboard Pendleton her crew listened to reports of the Fort Mercer rescue on a portable radio, but they weren't sure if anyone knew what was happening to them. As a result of this and fearing his ship might breakup in the thundering surf, Chief Sybert opted not to try to run the tanker's stern aground on the outer Cape. Whenever the tanker came close to land Sybert ordered the propeller turned slow astern keeping his vessel offshore where seas were more moderate, protecting her weakened bulkheads.
    At the Chatham Station the Officer-in-Charge reported to the Search and Rescue Center that Pendleton was drifting rapidly to the southward and the situation on the stern section was critical. It was drifting directly for the Chatham bar, "where it would be in danger of capsizing with the loss of all on board".
    Shortly before 6:00PM, a 36 foot motor lifeboat CG-36500, in command of Bernard C. Webber and manned by Andrew J. Fitzgerald, Edward B. Massey and Richard P. Livesey departed the Chatham Lifeboat Station. Everything was fine until they hit Chatham Bar then all hell broke loose. "When we hit the bar I thought we smashed up" said Bernard Webber "the other men were knocked to the deck time after time. I thought several times I had lost my whole crew. They looked like goner's but they managed to hold on."
    Meanwhile, Chief Sybert had ordered Pendleton's engines engaged in order to miss the bar. However, when Sybert learned, from a radio news report, that a motor lifeboat was on it's way, the engines were secured to await rescue. "We waited all day for rescue" Frank Fateaux reported, "We hoped for the best but our spirits were pretty low until we saw a glorious sight. It was the light of a single light bobbing up and down in the rolling sea…we watched spellbound".
    With little more than dead reckoning, his compass having gone overboard crossing the bar, Bernard C. Webber had navigated his tiny lifeboat through 40-foot seas up to Pendleton's stern. Considered an extraordinary feat of seamanship in such conditions it has gone down as one of the most heroic rescues in the annals of the United States Coast Guard. The four crewmen of CG-36500 were later awarded the Coast Guard's Gold Lifesaving Medal, comparable to the Congressional Medal of Honor, for their selfless heroism in the rescue of Pendleton's survivors.
    Thirty-two of the tanker's thirty-three stern survivors were rescued, only the ships cook, ordinary Seaman George C. Meyers perished. West Virginian George Meyers was no "ordinary" seaman. Weighing in at 350 pounds he was affectionately called "Tiny" by his freinds.
    It was like a watery hell as red flares, dropped from circling aircraft, illuminated the scene. A rope "Jacobs" ladder was hung down the starboard side of the stern. The crew could climb down the ladder but would have to jump the last few feet, the next to bottom rung was missing. Meyers helped hand down half of his shipmates to the waiting Coast Guard lifeboat before the last three, including himself, were forced to jump. He got on the lifeboat but fell off as a wave caught the craft. Several men tried to pull Meyers aboard but were unsuccessful due to his excessive weight and the violent tossing of the boat. Soon thereafter another wave caught the lifeboat and crushed Meyers against the tanker's hull.
    Pendleton's stern continued to drift in a Southerly direction before grounding off Monomy.
    There were no survivors from the tanker's bow. One by one-mountainous seas swept them from the vessel as rescuers watched helplessly, unable to work in close to the vessel due to shallow water and high seas.
    In the early evening hours of February 18th, Pendleton's bow grounded on Pollack Rip Shoal.

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Dive Site Conditions

    Depth in feet:   maximum -    minimum - 25
Visibility in feet:     average -

   Until 1978 Pendleton's rusting hulk was visible above water poseing little hazard to navigation. However, the great blizzard of that year toppled this structure forcing the Coast Guard to demolish what was now a hidden navigational menace.
Today portions of the tanker's wreckage rise to within 25 feet of the surface. Some large machinery can be found including the ships generator. Wreckage lies twisted and scattered with little structure remaining for penetration. Testament to the fury wrought by Mother Nature and mans destructive force.

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Historical Background

Constructed:    year - 1944   where - Portland, Oregon
                      builder - The Kaiser Company, Swan Island Yard
Construction details: T2-SE-A1 type tanker, commonly refered to as a T2 tanker, built on the longitudinal framing system with 9 cargo holds, Nos. 2 - 9 inclusive, being divided by two longitudinal bulkheads so that there were two wing tanks, port and starboard, and a center tank; tank No.1 was divided by a center line bulkhead into two tanks. The vessel was of partially fabricated, welded construction.
Crew: 41    Master: Captain John J. Fitzgerald
Owners: National Bulk Carriers Inc
              Boston Agents -- J.F. Moran Co., Milk St

Home or Hailing Port: Wilmington, Delaware
Former Name(s) and date(s):
Official number: 245142      Country: U.S.A.
Other Comments: Coast Guard Records in Washington, D.C., revealed that of the 523 welded T2 type tankers built between 1943 - 1945, 10 had been lost due to "shell fracture".
*  January 9, 1952 - Last regular Coast Guard inspection in Jacksonville, Florida.
*  January, 1951 - A 3 way fracture was found in the bulkhead between #4 starboard and center tanks, which was not repaired.
*  July, 1951 - Grounded in the Hudson River. Aground for an entire day on the section between No. 6 and 9 tanks (where the vessel later broke).
*  December 31, 1947 - Crack arresters were installed on deck, port and starboard and on the bottom, port and starboard and a further bilge keel modification was made, these latter modifications in accordance with Maritime Commission Plan No. T2-SE-A1-S11-1.
*  December 3, 1946 - Dry-docked at Mobile Alabama, the bilge keels were scalloped in way of the shell.

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    On the morning of February 24th, the salvage tug Curb owned by the Merritt-Chapman and Scott Corp., of New York, put a man aboard Pendleton's bow and reported finding the body of one man in the forecastle of the tanker. Later identified as Herman G. Gatlin, seaman, no other bodies were ever recovered.

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Boston Daily Globe; February 19,20, 1952
Fishable Wrecks and Rockpiles; Coleman & Soares 1989
Merchant Vessels of the United States; 1952
Shipwrecks Around Cape Cod; Quinn, 1973
The Fisherman, magazine; September 15, 1988
The T2 Tanker Page (see link below)
United States Coast Guard, Marine Board Investigation; Sept. 25, 1952

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   These files are under construction. Any information, specifically dive site related, would be greatfully appreciated.  

Send comments to: Chris Hugo

Copyright 2000 by Christopher C. Hugo
Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources
All Rights Reserved

For more information see also;

by, Peter L. Reagan

USCG Marine Board Reports

The T2 Tanker Page