Description: coastal tanker, steel.
Dimensions: length 282 ft., width 40 ft., depth 17.58 ft.
Tonnage: gross 1546, other.
Propulsion: oil, propeller.
Machinery: 2, General Motors Corp. 12 cylinder oil engines, with cylinder diameter of 8.5 inches and a stroke of 10 inches.
Cargo: empty.

The Shipwreck

Date Sunk: January 10, 1977.
Cause: foundered.
Location: Gloucester, off Eastern Point.
Coordinates: latitude 42° - 34' - 25" N; longitude 70° - 40' - 15"W.
Loran: 13840.9 and 44327.8.

At 6:30AM January 10, 1977 the coastal tanker Chester Poling left Everett, Massachusetts bound for Newington, New Hampshire. The vessel was "in ballast" or without cargo, having recently unloaded Kerosene from Bayway, New Jersey.

Captain Charles Burgess knew it would be a rough passage as the National Weather Service forecasted 35 mph winds with seas 15-20 feet. Although his ship was 43 years old, Burgess was confident the tanker was in good working condition, having passed its annual Coast Guard inspection each year without incident. However, by late morning the weather had worsened. Winds neared 50 mph and seas were 30 feet in height. Waves pummeled the vessels starboard bow, tossing the craft about to an alarming degree. To give his ship greater stability in the worsening conditions, Captain Burgess flooded four of the ship's six cargo tanks with seawater. Just before 10:30AM, within minutes of a course change, which would have put the vessel on a northwesterly heading to better meet the seas, a huge wave smashed the tanker, breaking it in two 27 feet forward of amidship. "We were hit by a wave, one of those big waves maybe 30 feet high," said crewman Harry Selleck of Pawtucket, R.I., who was on the bridge with Captain Burgess. "It just came in and broke the ship in half…she caught the ship just the right way." The force of the storm subsequently bent the bow backward until it was parallel with the stern.

Burgess immediately radioed a distress call, which was picked up by the Coast Guard. However, high winds at the Otis Air Force Base Coast Guard facility on Cape Cod, delayed launch of helicopter "1438", until shortly after noon. Meanwhile high seas drove back two of the Guard's 44 footers injuring crewman in an attempted rescue. Rescue would have to come from the cutters Cape George and Cape Cross, which arrived on scene in time to see "a huge wave lift the bow (of the Chester Poling) over the submerged part of the stern and deposit it on the other side."

Fearing the bow would capsize at any moment, Captain Burgess ordered Selleck to abandon ship and radioed the Coast Guard of his intentions. The Cape George picked up Burgess on the first pass, but crewman Selleck was forced to float on his back to keep from drowning and spent nearly 15 minutes in the icy sea before Cape George could maneuver close enough to effect a rescue. The rescue came just in time, for life expectancy in the 30° water was not more than 20 minutes.

The remaining five members of Poling's crew were stranded on the stern. Since the engine room was not taking on water, they did not immediately abandon ship. Mountainous seas prevented the Coast Guard from shooting a line aboard the half vessel and it was not until the helicopter arrived at 1:30 PM that a rescue basket could be lowered to those remaining aboard.

The two person basket was lowered, John Gilmete of Jersey City, NJ, and ships cook Joao DaRosa of Providence, RI got in. Shortly after leaving the deck the basket dipped into a cresting wave at which point DaRosa lost his grip and fell out. "He was with me in the basket," Gilmete said, "But when we came up he just wasn't there." Helicopter pilot Lt. Brian Wallace believed DaRosa went into shock after striking the water and drowned. As the stern of the Poling drifted closer to the rock bound coast of Gloucester, seas continued to pound the hull. The three remaining crewmen aboard decided to swim for it and were rescued by the helicopter and waiting cutters.

The stern of the vessel foundered within 800 yards of Eastern Point, Gloucester.

Dive Site Conditions

Depth in feet: maximum 190, minimum 70,
Visibility in feet: average 15 - 20.

Poling's bow came to rest upside down in 190 feet of water 4 miles off Eastern Point. Due to it's depth it is considered a technical dive. Originally the stern sank in 75 feet of water off the Dog Bar Breakwater. Mountainous seas from the Blizzard of '78 pushed the stern to its present location. Although deeper, it is still the most popular wreck dive off Cape Ann.

The wreck sits upright on a sand/silt bottom. Sediment has built up around the fantail, completely covering the prop. Some of the interior spaces are also silting up including the engine room and rear storage area behind the galley. Penetration can be made into the cavernous opening where the ship broke in two, as well as the vessel's cargo and ballast tanks. Many local dive shops use this wreck for shipwreck certification and most of the area dive charter boats will take properly certified divers to the vessel.

Marine life has turned the tanker's hull into an artificial reef. A centerline catwalk is festooned with anemones and other hydrozoans. Caution is advised due to the amount of monofilament and lobster lines that have snagged on the wreck.

Historical Background

Constructed: in 1934, at Mariners Harbor, NY by United Dry Docks Inc.
Construction details:
Crew: 7; Master: Captain Charles H. Burgess.
Owners: Motor Vessel Poling Bros. No.1 Inc.
Home or Hailing Port: New York, NY.
Former Name(s) and date(s): Plattsburgh Socony (1934), Mobil Albany ( ? ), Chester Poling (1956).

Official number: 233334. Country: U.S.A.
Other Comments: United Dry Docks Inc. Hull No. 823; 1956 - Avondale Marine Ways Inc., Avondale, Louisiana, lengthened hull 29'4" and installed a new midbody; General Motor engines built in 1944.

Sources:

Boston Globe; Eve, January 10, 1977
Boston Globe; Morning, January 11, 1977
Boston Globe; Eve, January 11, 1977
Boston Globe; Eve, January 12, 1977
Boston Globe; Morning, January 13, 1977
Boston Globe; Eve, January 13, 1977
Boston Globe; January 15, 1977
Boston Globe; January 16, 1977
Fishable Wrecks and Rockpiles; Coleman & Soares, 1989
New England's Legacy of Shipwrecks; Keatts, 1988
New York Times; January 11, 1977
South Middlesex News; January 16, 1977
The Fisherman, Magazine; April 14, 1988
The Record, "American Lloyds," American Bureau of Shipping; 1976