Visitors are frequenting beach in York to see a rarely surfaced shipwreck as officials deal with storm damage.
YORK, Maine — Visitors are frequenting Short Sands Beach to see a rarely surfaced shipwreck as officials deal with the serious business of damage caused by a nor’easter late last week and its aftermath.
Unanticipated pounding high tides over the weekend, a continuation of the week’s storm, left York with “hundreds of thousands of dollars” in damage and York County as a whole with enough damage to likely qualify for federal emergency disaster funding. Police Chief Douglas Bracy, the town’s emergency management director, said coastal communities had been expecting a diminution of wave activity following last Thursday’s storm. Instead, he said, “every tide after Friday, it just continued. Friday night, Saturday and Sunday were terrible.”
The wind came around more to the east/southeast, he said, which is when there is always damage to York, and the tides “pushed in a much larger surge than we were expecting.” He said beach erosion was significant, and he anticipates that both Short Sands Beach and Long Sands Beach lost as much as 8 feet of sand.
As a result, for instance, the skeleton of the 18th-century shipwreck was once again uncovered on Short Sands Beach, causing people to flock to York Beach over the weekend and on Monday as well.
Many roads had been closed throughout the weekend, and several remained closed Monday.
Bracy said there still needs to be an assessment conducted of potential damage to the Cliff Walk, the Fishermen’s Walk and the Nubble. He anticipates that he will have a clearer picture by week’s end.
Meanwhile, York’s damage is being tallied up along with damage up and down the York County coast, said Art Cleaves, director of York County Emergency Management. York, Ogunquit, Wells, Kennebunk, Biddeford, Saco and Old Orchard Beach are all reporting damage, he said.
“We saw water inundation levels we haven’t seen (since) the Patriot’s Day Storm” in 2007. He agreed with Bracy’s assessment that the weekend surges took everyone by surprise as the weather reports were predicting diminishing tides. “We’re seeing seven tides” worth of damage, he said.
He said the monetary level for a Federal Emergency Management Agency emergency declaration is $1.8 million in damages statewide. “I think we will meet the threshold in York County to cover the state, if these early estimates hold.” He expects to have a clearer picture by week’s end.
The shipwreck on Short Sands Beach has been a welcome sight amid the damage.
The skeleton only appears periodically — the last time was in 2013 — always after a significant coastal storm, and it always attracts attention. Archaeological work conducted in 1980 indicated the wreck is a sloop of about Revolutionary War age. It is likely a “pinky,” a type of vessel with a high, narrow stern and square rigging easily maneuverable along the coast of Maine. Pinkies were popular as fishing and cargo vessels.
The first sighting of the skeleton was in 1958, and then it has surfaced periodically right up to the present day — and usually after a good spring nor’easter.
Word spread quickly about this sighting via social media, and people came over the weekend and on Monday as well. First, they had to navigate the seaweed- and rock-strewn streets of York Beach. They were also precluded from parking cars in most of the Ellis Park lot, which was buried under a layer of sand stretching as far back as Ocean Avenue. In fact, a front-end loader could be seen Monday morning shoveling bucket loads of sand back onto the beach.
Those making it to the beach were rewarded, though, by the remarkable sight of this ancient vessel’s skeleton. This particular time, not only were the ribs exposed, but so were parts of the underside of the boat.
Elizabeth Johnson, now a Florida resident, was in town visiting her father, Jim Williams. Born and raised in York, she had never seen the shipwreck before. “So when I saw on Facebook yesterday that a friend of mine had come down here with her kids, I said, ‘The boat! It’s here! I can finally see it.’
“It’s so neat to see those wooden pegs and everything. It’s a real piece of history,” she said.
Jonathan Mayhew, of Newmarket, New Hampshire, works in Portsmouth, and said when he saw a posting on Facebook about it, he had to make a trip to the beach. “It’s fantastic,” he said of the skeleton. With his wife’s parents living in York, he said he often comes to Short Sands Beach in the summer.
“It’s amazing to think when I come down here in the summer that this is underneath me. It makes you wonder what else is down there that we don’t even know about,” he said.
Deborah McDermott is a reporter for The Portsmouth (N.H.) Herald.