The Shipwreck |    Dive Site Conditions
Historical Background   |    Salvage (if any)    |    Sources


Port Hunter

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Vineyard Sound
Lightship

Description: Freighter; Steel
Dimensions:   length - 380.5 ft.    width - 49.1 ft.   depth - 25.7 ft.
     Tonnage:     gross - 4062        other -
Propulsion: Steam; Single propeller
Machinery: (1), 3 cylinder, triple expansion engine, cylinder diameters 27", 45", 74" with a stroke of 48", 442 Nominal Horsepower; 2 single ended boilers, 8 Corrugated furnaces
        Cargo: $5 million in clothing - sheepskin jackets, woolen underwear, rubber boots, olive drab shirts; $2 million in railroad car parts - wheel sets, 200 tons of high carbon steel in the form of railway billets; Swedish steel; Pig lead; War Supplies - 3 million rounds of ammunition, motorcycles, machine guns, phosphorous bombs, trucks



The Shipwreck

  Date Sunk: November 2, 1918.
         Cause: Collision.
     Location: Nantucket Sound, Hedge Fence Shoal.
Coordinates:    Latitude, 41o - 29' - 43"N   Longitude, 70o - 33' - 15"W
         Loran: 14097.7 and 43930.7

    Chartered by the Furness, Withy Company of Boston and with a general cargo, including war supplies and ammunition for the American Mission fighting in France, Port Hunter's first stop was New York City to join a convoy. Germany's prowling U-boats were an ever-present danger. Although armed with a deck gun on her stern, the freighter stood little chance in the Atlantic crossing if left unprotected by a screen of warships.
    The early morning hours of November 2nd found Port Hunter approaching the western entrance to Nantucket Sound, between Martha's Vineyard and Falmouth. Here the passage narrows and is divided by Hedge Fence Shoal. At about the same time, the tug Covington was entering the Sound from the opposite direction, towing Consolidated Company barges No.'s 10 and 24.
    At 1:48AM shortly after Port Hunter cleared the westerly tip of the shoals, Covington came into collision with the freighter. The tug struck Port Hunter about 50 feet aft on the port bow, opening a gash 15 feet high and 7 feet wide. The force of the impact threw 20 men from their bunks. Water poured through the freighter's torn hull plates, flooding the forward compartment almost immediately. The ship's pumps could do little to stem the rising tide and as the steering compartment filled Port Hunter began to settle by the bow.
    The freighter would have gone down in deep water if not for the quick action of Covington's skipper, who maneuvered his tug to push Port Hunter onto the western slope of Hedge Fence Shoal. Boats rushed to the scene and rescued the freighter's crew. Within two hours of the collision Port Hunter had sunk with only part of the bow and a section of the foredeck above water.

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Dive Site Conditions

Depth in feet: maximum - 85; minimum - 25
Visibility in feet: average - 20

    Except for the bridge and engine room sections, the Port Hunter is largely intact. Listing to port on the fine, white sandy slope of Hedge Fence Shoal. Depths vary depending on the amount of sand build up. Only 20 feet of water covers her bow. Less than 100 feet aft on the port bow the "V" notch made when Covington dealt the fatal blow, is visible in the freighters hull plates. Drifting sand has engulfed most of her mid-section, which was blown apart by salvers looking for a rumored contraband gold cache. Fortunately for divers, strong tidal currents keep the stern section free from sand.
    Covered by 50 feet of water, a deck gun can be found on Port Hunter's stern. At a depth of 85 feet the vessels rudder and propeller shaft can still be seen, salvers removed the propeller.
    Due to strong tidal currents it is advised to explore this wreck only at slack water.

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Historical Background

Constructed:    year - 1906   where - Newcastle, United Kingdom.
                      builder - Hawthorn Leslie & Co. Ld.
Construction details: 2 steel decks, steel shelter deck; Water Ballasted, Cellular Construction of Double Bottom, aft; 6 Cemented Bulkheads; Flat Keel.
Crew:     Master: Captain William Stafford (1917)
Owners: Commonwealth & Dominion Line, Ld.
Home or Hailing Port: London, England
Former Name(s) and date(s):
Official number: 123689      Country: U.S.A.
Other Comments: Engines and Boilers constructed by Hawthorn Leslie & Co. Ld., Newcastle

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Salvage

    Contemporary accounts of the freighter's loss report that the Government waited 3 months before awarding salvage rights. Red tape and carelessness were blamed for the delay.
    However, the "Waterfront News" column of the Boston Globe reported daily progress of salvage operations, which were hampered by rough seas. Many local fishermen illegally removed material from the forward holds, which at the time were only a few feet underwater. Quahog rakes and grapnels were used to "fish" out small objects. Amongst the material recovered were leather jackets, olive drab shirts, woolen underwear and other Army garments. The Government put a halt to this practice and confiscated much of the material.
    It wasn't until February 12, 1919, that a New Bedford firm began official salvage operations. Within 5 months, 200 men and a number of support vessels had removed most of Port Hunter's cargo. After auction the Government realized a $4 million loss from the original $5 million in clothing.
    Of the heavier objects little is said. In 1936 a Vineyard diver reported 800 sets of freight car wheels and 1400 tons of steel billets still aboard the freighter, another report said there were only 200 tons of billets.
    In 1949 divers salvaged the propeller.
    In 1958 James Green of Boston owned the wreck. The following year a group of divers removed items from the ship, which were put on display at the Dukes County Historical Society in Edgartown.
    In 1961 a syndicate of investors was formed to recover $200,000 - $300,000 worth of scrap metal still aboard the wreck. One of the investors was Boston tax attorney John S. Bottomly, who expected a 5 to 1 return on his initial investment. However, before a diver could be put in the water funds ran out. Bottomly decided to go it alone after the other investors dropped out and in the spring of 1962 work began. Bottomly's plan was to use a suction dredge to move sand, which had engulfed sections of the hull. Scrap metal would then be removed using a large electromagnet.
    It was about this time that Bottomly heard a rumor that 400 pounds of gold had been welded to the inside deck plating of the engine room. The freighter's first mate revealed, in a death bed confession, the contraband cargo was being smuggled to France where a huge profit was expected. In their search for the gold Bottomly's team blew the engine room apart. But for their efforts all they got was the scrap value of copper condensers and the engine's solid brass pistons.
    Adverse weather conditions limited salvage work to little more than 3 hours/day. Many times, sand removed one day was replaced the next and at $2000/day the costs soon mounted.
    Although hundreds of tons of metal were eventually removed, as of 1964 no profit had been realized. The bottom had dropped out of the scrap metal market. Bottomly had only made $3000 from what had thus far been sold. With expenses more than 15 times greater than his return, there was no economic sense to recommence operations.

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Sources:
Fishable Wrecks and Rockpiles; Coleman & Soares, 1989
Lloyds Registry of Shipping; 1918-19
The Fisherman, magazine; February 18, 1988
West Wind Explorer, newsletter; Peter Reagan, November, 1998
Wrecks Below; Luther, 1958
Yankee Magazine; September 1963, January 1964

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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