Frank A. Palmer
The Frank A. Palmer collided with the Louise
B. Crary and both sank together on December 10, 1902 as the two enormous
coal ships were transporting much-needed coal to Boston during a hard
winter. Poor seamanship on the part of the Crary's first mate was
reported to have caused the accident. The Palmer is believed to be the
largest 4-masted schooner ever built at 274 ft. in length, with a beam of 43
ft. Similarly sized, the 5-masted Crary's bow plowed into the Palmer's
port bow and the two ships sank almost immediately. Of the 21 crew on
both ships, 6 were lost during the collision and the remaining seamen
escaped in one of the Palmers lifeboats. The lifeboat drifted for 4
days during which time 5 additional men died from exposure.
The location of the wrecks was discovered by John Fish and Arnold Carr of
American Underwater Search and Survey within the
Stellwagen Bank Underwater
National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary has since performed several
surveys of the two wrecks with ROVs, but has kept the location of the wrecks
a closely guarded secret.
I determined the probable location of the wrecks a year ago, but
at the time wasn't prepared for the logistics of a dive to 365FSW out in the
after working our way through several wrecks and many dives in the 300FSW
range, Slav Mlch and I decided to give it a go in 2007. An exploratory trip in July
showed us the expected "double bump" on the bottom finder, and after getting
Tom Huff and Dave Faye (esquire) on board with a couple deep practice dives
on the Augustus Snow,
we headed out to dive the Palmer. We chose the Palmer first based on the
wonderful videos of the stern section collected by the NOAA team, but
felt we'd be lucky to just drop the shot line near the wreck the first time
around. Stellwagen rules do not permit tying into the wreck, so we
used a live-boating method we perfected for the project with Doug Currier on
the Donna III.
The first dive on the Palmer was better than any one of us had dared to
hope. Visibility was cave-like, very dark but with visual range limited only by the
reach of our HID lights. The line had dropped perfectly just outside the
starboard rail near the aft loading hatch. The ship appears in
relatively good shape, and with much less marine growth than we're used to
seeing on wrecks nearer to shore. This may in part be due to the
depth, but more likely is due to more exposure to currents in this area.
Damage to the ship is significant as with most other wrecks in the area, the
result of 100 years of fishing nets which were prevalent on or around the
wreck. With Slav as my buddy, I swam aft, and we
immediately saw the remnants of a storage area with plates,
pitchers, and dinnerware
stacked neatly in the remains of a cabinet. Further aft, I spotted a
lone clay jug and recognized it from the ROV video - at that point I knew we had dropped right
next to the captains cabin area and I shone my light up to illuminate the
broken iron ships wheel still in place. My guess is that the
dinnerware was originally part of the captain's pantry. We explored the aft section of
the wreck thoroughly using the memory of the ROV footage to guide us to the
remaining identifiable items including the sink and head.
deck immediately beneath the captain's cabin is heavily silted in and will likely limit
any exploration in that area. Just forward of the remains of the aft
mast, the open cargo hatch shows coal loaded to within a foot of the deck.
A large manual winch lies tilted on the port side of the ship, appearing as
two large ships wheels linked with a narrow drum. The visibility on
this dive was so good that from the stern of the wreck, the strobes left on
the line appeared as pin-pricks of light as they flashed - far different
from the normal unfocused light they produce in cloudy water. It was very
hard to leave after only 20 minutes, but the long decompression times
required and the cold water limit these dives. Run times varied on our dives
to the Palmer from 140-150
minutes for us open circuit types, to 160 minutes plus for Tom and Dave with CCR and constant PO2.
A separate dive on the bow showed that end of the wreck to be swathed in
fishing nets making identification of items difficult, but many pieces of
the ship's rigging are scattered throughout this area, including large
sections of the spars. On all subsequent dives the visibility was more
typical of the area (20 - 30 ft.).
This wreck, and the forever-linked Crary are truly fantastic wreck dives and the best
New England has to offer in wooden ships. The sheer size of these
ships is incredible, and they are in relatively excellent condition for salt
water wrecks. While it's extremely hard for us wreck divers to pass over the
wonderful artifacts we see everywhere, the Stellwagen rules do ensure
they'll be there for the next team of divers that comes down for a look.