Joy Line Steamer ARANSAS

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

Haulin' Brass

    Built at Wilmington, DL in 1877 for the Southern Pacific Railway, the Aransas was a 241.0' long passenger and freight steamer. Her iron hull had four bulkheads. She had twin screws and her steam engines produced 650 indicated HP (350 nominal HP). For those of you who like to know such trivia, other significant information for this ship includes: Official No. 105749, call sign "JSRV", typical crew 36, beam 35.5', depth 16.5', and tonnage 1,156.78 gross and 678.73 net. The Aransas' original home port was New Orleans, LA. After sale to the Joy line, her home port changed to New York City around 1900. In 1904, the Aransas began a regular run between Boston and NYC. It was on one of these routine trips the Aransas career came to an abrupt end.

    Under command of Captain Ezra C. Rood, the Aransas left Boston soon after 5 pm Saturday evening May 6, 1905. The balance of the crew for this trip included First Officer C.P. Crocker, Second Officer D.C. Merritt, and 26 other personnel. From her berth at the South Boston end of the Congress Street Bridge, she headed to NYC. On this trip, the Aransas carried 37 passengers and a 600 ton cargo that included a variety of brass scrap material.

    Half way across Massachusetts Bay, Captain Rood slowed the Aransas' speed due to fog. Around 1 am, she cautiously approached the Easterly end of Pollock Rip Channel in thick fog and calm seas. She was now about 1.5 miles Southeast of the Pollock Rip Lightship.

    Patience, a Reading RR tug, had three coal barges in tow, each separated by a 200' long hawser. Last in that string was the Glendower. The Patience and her barges were en route Westward to Philadelphia. From the Aransas, a barge was sighted dead ahead and she frantically reversed her engines. The barge Glendower struck the Aransas nearly amidships on the starboard side. The Glendower was practically uninjured, but the Joy Line steamer sank in about 15 minutes. Settling by the bow, the Aransas rapidly filled with water, and at 1:30 am, Sunday, May 7, 1905, she was gone. Miss. Anna Field, a 25 year old Boston waitress, was the only fatal victim.

    The Aransas was explosively cleared decades ago, and now rests upright and sanded-in on a flat, hard, white sand bottom in 55' of water, 4.9 nm East of Monomoy Island off Chatham. Her position is latitude 41-35 North and longitude 69-52 West. Her low profile rises little more than five to six feet above the sea floor. Twin propulsion shafts with propellers lay almost flush with the sand and facilitate natural navigation from the boiler section, the Aransas' most prominent feature, toward the aft end of the ship. Little remains of her bow, which aims South - Southeasterly, so use a wreck reel if you want to explore in that direction. Visibility often exceeds 30', with cool Spring temperatures commonly yielding visibility of 50' or more. As Summer bottom temperatures rise toward the upper 50's, visibility can sometimes drop toward the 15'-20' range.

    As of May 1996, early season divers found little had changed on the Aransas. The net covered starboard prop is now mostly sanded over, but the port prop and both prop shafts remain almost fully exposed. Recently revealed in the machinery space, forward of the prop shafts and aft of the boiler, are some large brass valves and other interesting encrusted bits of history. Sand has also shifted away from the cargo area forward of the boiler revealing still more of the Aransas' past, right down to a hard packed conglomerate. Here, an artifact hunter's tool bag should include a hammer and chisel (to gently crack items loose from the conglomerate) and a table tennis paddle on a lanyard (to uncover sanded-in objects).

    Marine life on and around the Aransas is not as prolific as on other Cape Cod ship wrecks, due in large part to its relatively small structure protruding above the bottom. Nevertheless, it is a lovely wreck to visit. Fish typically include hake and cunners, with striped bass and tautog sometimes present. A variety of encrusting animals can also be found, ranging from anemones, to sponges and hydroids. In 1993, a massive (this one was big enough to hurt you) lobster was in residence near mid-ships, always just out of reach. While there are not many lobsters to be had on the Aransas, there are a couple of commercial lobster boats in this area that seem to relish the prospect of diver harassment, or endangerment as the case may be. A word to the wise here is to always surface next to the dive boat and promptly report any significant problems to the Chatham Coast Guard Station on VHF FM channel 16 or call 508/945-3830 or *24 (cellular call to USCG Rescue Center).

    Probably the best artifact dive in Cape Cod waters, the Aransas constantly yields parts of her cargo for sharp-eyed divers. (Note, the Aransas is in Federal waters and, to the author's best knowledge and belief, has long since been abandoned by its owner(s). Thus, it's not likely anyone would object to the recovery of a few mementos by sport divers. But, unless you take the time to properly secure a clear title to your finds, ownership could be questioned.) If you do retrieve Aransas artifacts, please don't take more than you can adequately clean and preserve.


    Nearby are other fun shipwreck dives... check out the Alva, Horatio Hall, and Pendleton


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