By Lauren Wanko
This isn’t what crews expected to find while installing protective steel sheet pilings into Brick Township’s beaches.
“To their surprise, they uncovered what we think is an old ship,” said Brick Township Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Joseph Gilsenan.
An old ship that dates back to the early to mid-1800s, says New Jersey Shipwreck Museum’s Dan Lieb. Crews made the discovery while driving the pilings into the sand.
“They came upon a hard object, which broke one of the heads. They changed the heads and continued to drive part of the steel and that head broke,” said Brick Township Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator Joseph Pawlowicz.
Twenty feet into the sand they found this.
“We don’t know if it’s a full ship, how large a ship it is. It all has to be investigated,” Gilsenan said.
Local officials say there’s no way to tell how much material was unearthed and how much is yet to be discovered.
Lieb says this device, called a windlass — used to lift up anchors and haul in heavy lines — indicates a tremendous amount of the wreckage may be largely intact.
“This device is normally on the deck of a vessel,” he said. When asked if there could be a lot of material 20 feet underneath the beach, he said, “A boatload.”
There’s also a chance this vessel could be the Ayrshire, says Lieb, which wrecked in front of the Chadwick Beach Life Saving Station in 1850 not far from where this debris was discovered.
“Could be one of the most historically significant shipwrecks in New Jersey, if not the U.S.,” Lieb said.
That’s because as the Ayrshire was sinking. The Francis Life-Car was used for the first time. Four people could fit in this metal device.
“It basically looked like a lifeboat with a roof on it, what you would run it out to a wreck and back-clothes line style,” Lieb said.
There were 202 souls on board. All but one survived. Still there’s a good chance it’s not the Ayrshire.
“It might be one of 11 other vessels known to wreck on that short stretch beach,” said Lieb. “It’s been estimated that there are 7,200 shipwrecks off our coasts, about 100,000 wrecked off coasts of U.S. That means New Jersey has more than 7 percent. That makes New Jersey one of the highest concentrations of wrecks in the world.”
That’s because of the amount of major shipping lines all sailing to the Port of New York.
“In order to go to New York, you must get close to land,” Lieb said.
Bad weather often pushed those vessels onto the beaches. The Department of Environmental Protection tells NJTV News the steel sheet piling project has not stopped except in the small section where the debris was found. A marine archaeologist will use ground penetrating radar to make a determination on the discovery. The DEP still expects the piling project to be near completion by the end of the month.