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Secrets under the Sand: Shipwreck Discovered on Nantucket’s South Shore

Following the discovery of a shipwreck on Nantucket’s South Shore on December 2, Egan Maritime Institute is working closely with a group of scientists, historians, and archeologists to survey the site and finalize plans for a citizen science project.

On Thursday December, 8, David Robinson, Director and Chief Archaeologist from the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archeological Resources (BUAR), and Graham McKay, a BUAR Board member, Marine Archaeologist & Boat Builder, visited the site along with Egan Maritime’s Education Director Evan Schwanfelder, Chief Curator at the Nantucket Historical Association, Michael Harrison, and Town of Nantucket’s Preservation Planner, Holly Backus. This group of experts surveyed the site and began the process to archive this significant discovery.

“David and Graham, from the Mass Board of Underwater Archeology, are an incredible resource for our Island. They have an extensive knowledge of the best practices in marine archeology and the history that is hidden just under our feet and under the water” Said Schwanfelder.

Over the past two months, Robinson and our team have been hard at work researching the wreck. “As with most historical archaeological research, exploring the available literature, archival, photographic, and archaeological evidence we collectively assembled for the site to try to arrive at a conclusive determination as to whether or not the wreckage is from the tern, Warren Sawyer, was a bit like pulling a thread on a sweater. The more interesting information I looked at, the more that I found” shares Robinson. Ultimately, Robinson’s report determines that based on the weight of available evidence that the vessel remains on Miacomet Beach are likely to be those of a relatively small section of Warren Sawyer‘s hull from its lower bow. 

Photos by Mike Campbell and Katie Kaizer 

The Schooner Warren Sawyer wrecked near the location of remains on Miacomet Beach on December 22, 1884. “Her unfortunate end on the island’s south shore in 1884 is one of Nantucket’s most complete and remarkable stories of shoals, storms, and rescue. The Surfside Life-Saving Station saved the crew, wreckers salvaged most of the cargo, the shipwreck site has been known to reveals itself about every 20 years” shares Charles Allard, Director of Egan Maritime’s Shipwreck and Lifesaving Museum.

However, based on the state of the observable hull at the time of survey and an inconsistency in the type of fastening hardware recorded for that ship, we cannot claim it to be this wreck with complete certainty.  Furthermore, there were other wrecks within this vicinity of the South Shore that ran aground and broke apart. It was not uncommon for fragments to drift some distances and ground elsewhere.

“A huge take away from this experience, is the daunting truth of how much our shoreline has changed and shifted over the years. BUAR has been tracking the shifting of the shoreline and has historical charts, as well as mapping from the Massachusetts Office of Coastal Zone Management’s Shoreline Change Browser that shows how much the shoreline has eroded, accreted and migrated since 1844. A wreck from the 1800s could have moved down the shoreline significantly, it’s astonishing” Said Carlisle Jensen, Executive Director.

Nantucket shipwreck studied by Egan Maritime Institute
Photo by Katie Kaizer

Moving forward, Egan Maritime and the Town of Nantucket are planning on launching a citizen science project, with input and assistance from BUAR, to monitor the wreck site as well as any other mysteries which may be hidden right under our feet. “Robinson shared that in the past year alone he has investigated twelve coastal archaeological sites in Massachusetts exposed by sea level rise and eroding shorelines. We can only assume this number will grow.  As an organization this is an incredibly exciting prospect, we are excited to combine the work we do at the museum with our Sea of Opportunities maritime education classes. The community can not only study the shoreline but dive into Nantucket’s seafaring history as well” added, Jensen.

The final BUAR report is nearing completion at this time and will be viewable as soon as it becomes publicly available.  For complete, in depth coverage on the discovery, survey and research that took place surrounding this event tune into the latest episode of the Time & Tide Podcast “South Shore Shipwreck: Part 1,” the first of a two part series from Egan Maritime Institute available to listen on all major podcast platforms. To listen, visit the Egan Maritime website.

For more information about the shipwreck or to learn more about Egan, please call 508-228-2505.

Founded in 1989 by island native Albert F. “Bud” Egan, Jr. and his wife Dorothy H. Egan, Egan Maritime Institute’s Mission is to preserve and celebrate the island’s seafaring heritage. At our origin, we venerated and exhibited the Egan family’s extensive maritime art and artifacts collection. Throughout the past three decades, we have invigorated our mission, expanded our offerings, and made a profound impact on our coastal Nantucket community.  To learn more visit:

Photos by Mike Campbell and Katie Kaizer 

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