NEW YORK (AP) — A piece of weathered wreckage that washed up in New York after Tropical Storm Ian last fall has sparked the interest of experts who say it is likely part of the SS Savannah wreck and has broken up. in 1821, two years after becoming the first ship to partially cross the Atlantic Ocean under steam.
The 4-square-meter piece of wreckage was spotted in October off Fire Island, a barrier island that hugs the southern shore of Long Island and is now in the custody of the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society. He will work with National Park Service officials to identify the wreckage and display it to the public.
“It was pretty exciting to find it,” said Betsy DeMaria, a museum technician at the park service’s Fire Island National Seashore. “We’re definitely going to have some subject matter experts take a look and help us get a better picture of what we have here.”
It can be difficult to identify the wreck with 100 percent certainty, but park service officials said the Savannah is a leading candidate among the known wrecks on Fire Island.
Explorers have searched for the Savannah for over two centuries, but have found nothing that can conclusively link them to the famous ship.
However, the newly discovered wreck “could be” part of the historic wreck, said Ira Breskin, a senior lecturer at the Maritime College of the State University of New York in the Bronx. “It makes perfect sense.”
The evidence includes 1- to 1.3-inch (2.5 to 3.3 centimeters) wooden keys holding the wreck’s planks together, consistent with a 100-foot (30.5-meter) ship, officials said of park in a press release. Savannah was 30 meters long. In addition, officials said, iron spikes from the wreckage suggest a ship built in the 1820s. The Savannah was built in 1818.
Breskin, author of “The Business of Shipping,” noted that Savannah’s use of steam power was so advanced for her time that the start of her transatlantic voyage on May 24, 1819, is commemorated as National Maritime Day. “It’s important because they were trying to show practically the feasibility of a steam engine to cross the pond,” he said.
Breskin said a nautical archaeologist should be able to help identify the Fire Island wreck, which appears to have come from the savannah. “It’s plausible and important, and it’s living history if scientists confirm it is what we think it is,” he said.
Savannah, a sailing ship equipped with a 90-horsepower steam engine, traveled primarily under sail across the Atlantic, using steam power for 80 hours of her nearly month-long passage in Liverpool, England.
Crowds cheered as Savannah sailed from Liverpool to Sweden and Russia and then back to her home port of Savannah, Georgia, but the ship was not a financial success, in part because people were afraid to travel on the hybrid ship. Savannah’s steam engine was removed and sold after the ship’s owners suffered losses in the Great Savannah Fire of 1820.
The Savannah was carrying cargo between Savannah and New York when it ran aground off Fire Island. It broke later. The crew made it safely to shore and the cargo of cotton was saved, but the Augusta Chronicle & Georgia Gazette reported that “Capt. Holdridge was badly hurt by the overturning of the boat.”
Explorers searched for the Savannah for the next two centuries, but found nothing that could be conclusively connected to the famous ship. However, the newly discovered wreck “could very well be” part of the historic wreck, Breskin said. “It makes perfect sense.”
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