Vanderbilt's Luxury Yacht ALVA

by, Peter L. Reagan
1995-96, all rights reserved

Fog Factor

      Saturday, July 23, 1892, the Metropolitan Steamship Company freight steamer H.F. Dimock left New York at 6 pm laden with freight and a few passengers on a twenty hour trip to Boston via Long Island Sound. Captain A.B. Coleman was in command of the 300' long 2,625 GT Dimock and her crew of 27 officers and men.

      The Alva, named for William K. Vanderbilt's wife, was designed by St. Clare J. Byrne as a three-masted bark-rigged screw steamer with a steel hull. The Harlan & Hollingsworth Company built the Alva at Wilmington, Delaware, and launched her October 15, 1886. The Alva had an overall length of 285', and a length on the waterline of 252'. Her measurements were as follows, extreme beam 32.25', depth 21.5', and draft 17'. Her tonnage was 1,151.27 gross and 600.55 net.

      Late Saturday afternoon, the Alva departed Bar Harbor bound for Newport. Captain Henry Morrison, a sturdy Englishman, was in command of the Alva. The Alva's crew totaled 52 men, including officers. Proceeding South, Sunday morning, the Alva encountered a dense fog off Monomoy Point. Immediately, the Alva's crew sounded her steam whistle. The Alva anchored at precisely 6:30 am to wait for a clearing. Although he did not know it at that time, Captain Morrison had anchored the Alva in Pollock Rip Channel, about 4.1 miles East of Monomoy Point Lighthouse.

      At 8:20 am, a tremendous crash followed by the sound of flying timbers and deck fittings instantly brought everyone to the Alva's deck with little more than the clothes on their backs. Captain Morrison went forward to examine the damage and found a mortal wound in the Alva's port side. He gave the order to abandon ship. Eventually, everyone made it from the Alva to the Dimock, which had anchored about 500 yards from the Alva.

      At W.K. Vanderbilt's direction, the tug Rescue of the Merritt Wrecking Company steamed Eastward through Nantucket Sound and reached the Alva's side late Tuesday afternoon, July 26, 1892. On board the Rescue were a full wrecking crew under the command of Captain E. Sharpe, the company's chief wrecker and diver. They decided the Alva could not be saved and Thursday, August 4, 1892, the Alva was sold at auction for $3,500.00 to Perkins & White, contractors from Boston. Within a year, the Alva was declared a menace to navigation and blown up.

      More than a century after the first divers visited her, the Alva remains a wonderful dive site. Only reachable by boat, the run from Cape Cod to the Alva takes about an hour. After crossing Handkerchief Shoal and rounding the sometimes treacherous Southern tip of Monomoy Island, continue four miles Easterly toward the end of Pollock Rip Channel. Nearing Pollock Rip red nun No. 4, you are within a 1/4 mile of the Alva at latitude 41o -33 North and longitude 069o -54 West.

      The Alva lies upright on a white sand bottom with her bow heading in a West-Northwesterly direction. Her high profile bow is the most prominent feature. The maximum depth is about 45', with about 35' over the tallest remaining structure. Visibility is typically at least 20' to 30'. At times, visibility can be 50' or more.

      For photography and sightseeing, there is abundant marine life. Fish such as striped bass, cunners, tautog, sand sharks, etc. abound. Kelp and encrusting animals cover remains of the blown up hull and machinery. For wreck divers, there are no areas for penetration, but some nice artifacts can still be found (such as the unique rectangular brass porthole recovered by Doug Maier on May 26, 1996).

      Winter 1995/96 shifted a little sand here and there, uncovering some parts and burying others, but not much has changed on the Alva since last year. Starting from the aft end, the most prominent feature is a large steam windlass. Moving Westerly along the starboard side, you pass four lifeboat davits that appear like arms reaching out of the sand, sort of beckoning the strong currents at this site to slow. But, the currents persist and you pull-and-glide your way past the remains of machinery spaces and owner's quarters. Continuing forward, you see the chain locker with its large exposed links and follow the path to the massive anchor clearly visible a little off to the starboard side of center. Approaching the foredeck at the bow, you can squeeze past the remains of a marine head into a tight compartment that often holds a few large lobsters... almost always just out of reach. Dropping down to the sand, you can pass under the Alva's sharp bow which still stands proud of the bottom. While there, you look up and see a beautiful profile of this once elegant beauty set against a background of glimmering sunlight and bountiful fish.

      Less than seventeen years after the Alva's demise, the Dimock sunk another ship in almost the identical location. The Dimock's second victim was the 297' passenger steamer Horatio Hall.

UPDATE, 2001

   While searching for the wreck during the summer of 2000, Peter Reagan reported shifting sands have completely buried Alva's remains. We'll keep you posted.

Divers recover a toilet from Alva's crew's quarters

Nearby are other fun shipwreck dives... check out the Aransas, Horatio Hall, and Pendleton
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This Page was Last Updated 07/04/02

Copyright 1997 by Peter L. Reagan; MetroWest Dive Club
All Rights Reserved