Due to its dangerously hidden and constantly moving shoals located just off-shore, Cape Cod’s coastline from Chatham to Provincetown is only fifty miles long, but its illusive, shifting shoals just off the shore make it an ocean graveyard with a thousand or more shipwrecks on the ocean floor. The Sparrowhawk was the first recorded shipwreck on Cape Cod’s shores, in 1626.
The Thistlemore was a British Steamship, run aground at a sandbar a mere 100 yards from the shore at Peaked Hill Bars on February 7,1922. Fortunately there was a coast guard not far off, one of nine such stations built in 1872 to protect the rough passage along the cape. Twenty-five sailors were rescued. Tugboats returned the ship to sea.
The wreck of the Annie L. Spindler is remembered more for what happened ashore than for what happened at sea. On December 29th, 1922, the British schooner Annie L. Spindler ran aground at Race Point Beach. The captain and five crew tied themselves to the ship’s riggings, so they would not be carried out to sea and death. “The Rum Runner”, sailing from Yarmouth to Nova Scotia, carried some 600 cases of Canadian whiskey…in the midst of Prohibition. Despite the bitter cold and wind, and while the sailors fought death, scores of townspeople waited on the frigid beach, hoping to fish a case or two from the icy water.
Though the town was reportedly boozy, the captain of the Coast Guard did save the six men. He used a canon to shoot a line to the stranded boat, which had a pulley and a pair of breeches hanging from the line on a buoy. One by one, the men would dangle from the line in the pair of breeches until they were pulled to shore on what is known as a Breeches Buoy.
The HMS Somerset, served Britain in the seven years War, aiding in the capture of Louisburg and Québec from France. She British rescued British troops after the battles of Lexington, Concord, and the Battle of Bunker Hill. After bombarding Charlestown, a mighty storm wrecked her on the shoals at Peaked Hill Bars on November 2, 1778. The British blockade had caused great suffering to Cape Codders, as commercial whaling and fishing had been ceased. Privateering and trafficking wreckage became a way of life to many, and the rescued of some 400 men was marched to Boston, escorted by militia organized by villages along the route. The wreck was pillaged of material and treasured, and remained on the sea floor until it was made visible off Great Beach in the spring of 2010.
The Whydah Galley was originally a slave ship, launched in London in 1715, perhaps the most advanced in build and weaponry of its time. She was designed as a slave ship, and represented the latest technology of the day. With a streamlined hull and also outfitted for rowing, the Wydah also had a large hold for human cargo and more. These qualities made slave ships especially attractive targets for pirates sailing the Middle Passage. In February of 1717, while sailing from Jamaica after loading human cargo on the western coast of Africa, the Whydah’s captain surrendered his empty ship without a fight to the pirate ship Sultana in the sea off the Bahamas. Wydah seamen who did not want to be pirates sailed freely away on the Sultana, part of the pirates knotty honor code. After a looting spree through the Caribbean, all was lost in a fierce nor’easter off the coast of Cape Cod, where it remained for almost 300 years.
Read more: February 7 – 1922: Twenty-five sailors rescued off Provincetown The Wreck of the Annie L. Spindler, 1922 Somerset A Short History of the Whydah Historic attractions, shipwrecks and solitude on Cape Cod