Description: steel hulled passenger vessel.
Dimensions: length 245, width 38, depth 15.8.
Tonnage: gross 1240.
Propulsion: steam, twin propellor.
Machinery: twin triple expansion steam engines, net 2100 indicated horse power; 4, coal fired boilers.

The Shipwreck

Date Sunk: September 9, 1936.
Cause: collision.
Location: 1 mile North of Graves Lighthouse, Broad Sound, Massachusetts Bay .
Coordinates: latitude 42° - 23' - 43" N; longitude 70° - 51' - 46" W.

With 208 passengers returning from a day picnicking along the shores of Cape Cod, Romance was en route from Provincetown for Boston. Although the weather had been foggy all afternoon, visibility was from 1 to 8 miles, allowing Captain Adelbert Wickens to drive his steamer at its top speed of 15 knots.

Shortly after the Boston Lightship hove into view, fog shut in and Captain Wickens began to worry about the position of the steamer New York, which he knew from experience, should be in the vicinity. It would undoubtedly be exiting Boston Harbor from the northern route. The same route which Wickens was now trying to enter.

At 7:04 PM the faint blare of New York's whistle was heard in the distance. Ordering all stop, Wickens strained to hear from which direction the whistle had come. Judging the vessel to be off his port bow, Wickens ordered slow ahead. About 8 minutes after first hearing its whistle, New York emerged from the fog a scant 600 feet from Romance's port beam. With collision imminent Wickens ordered full speed ahead and swung the ship's wheel hard to starboard to increase the angle of impact. Aboard New York Captain Roland Litchfield ordered full astern and his vessel shuddered and strained as it shot across the last few yards separating the two ships.

It was, however, too late. New York struck Romance just aft of the pilothouse plunging deep into the smaller steamer's side. Captain Litchfield held his ship in the breech preventing Romance from sinking immediately. Moments after the collision, New York's crew made fast a line to Romance and lowered ladders to the upper deck only 8 feet below. Seeing his ship was doomed Captain Wickens ordered the abandonment of Romance. With his crew out amongst the passengers, calming their fears, assisting with lifebelts and leading them to the upper deck, women and children were evacuated first. Those that could not climb the ladders were lifted to the outstretched arms of New York's crew.

In the finest traditions of the sea, Captain Wickens searched every place a passenger could be while Chief Engineer Joseph Martinez and Electrician Charles Roland manned their posts until the ship literally sank from beneath their feet. Fifteen minutes after the collision, its whistle still blowing its futile cry, Romance settled by the bow and slid beneath the waters of Massachusetts Bay, the mast head light glowing eerily beneath the waves as the steamer plunged to her final resting place.

Miraculously there were no fatalities, or serious injuries. The Court of Inquiry into the loss of Romance found Captain Wickens partially to blame. At the time of the collision an inexperienced lookout was on duty, unfamiliar with whistle signals and the points of the compass for giving directions. Wickens' license was suspended for 6 months and Romance soon passed from the memories of Bostonians as the world was slowly drawn into the rising tide of another world war.

Dive Site Conditions

Depth in feet: maximum 80, minimum 54,

The remains of Romance lie scattered and broken on a bottom of sand and gravel. Amidships, one of the steamer's boilers rises to within 54 feet of the surface. Although separated from the rest of the wreckage, the forward most fifteen feet of Romance's bow is intact. Perhaps broken off after impact with the bottom, it stands resembling a tilted "dunce cap" with the port side partially embedded in the bottom. Swimming aft, hull plates and ribs lie partially embedded in the sand and gravel, forming the vague outline of a ship. The vessel's wooden superstructure broke off shortly after sinking. The pilot house, connecting cabins and another 40 foot section of deck house were towed to Nahant and salvaged. What remains of the hull has fallen outward to port and starboard attracting cod, ocean pout and other large fish.

Although visibility can exceed 80 feet in late winter and early spring, this wreck must fall under the category of "Deep, Dark and Dangerous". Visibility will plummet to a few scant feet as spring wears into summer. The wreck also lies within the Boston shipping lanes. Large ship traffic is an ever present danger. Most of the charter boats frequenting this wreck require that divers be advanced certified.

Historical Background

Constructed: in 1898, at Wilmington, Delaware by Harlan and Hollingsworth Co.
Construction details: two decks
Crew: 52; Master: Captain Adelbert Wickens.
Owners: Charles L. Ellis, Bay State Steamship Company.
Home or Hailing Port: Hartford, Connecticut.
Former Name(s) and date(s): Tennessee (1898).
Official number: 145783. Country: U.S.A.

Sources:

Dive Boat Magazine, July/August 1995
Merchant Vessels of the United States, 1938
The Boston Globe, September 10, 11, 14 and 15, 1936