Chelsea

Find information on this shipwreck and dive site managed by the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources (BUAR).

BUAR classifies certain shipwrecks and other underwater archaeological resources as "Exempted Sites" for a variety of reasons, including (but not limited to): commonly known location, previous salvage, recreational value, educational value, or lack of significant archaeological or historical value. Recreational diving activities on these sites, including casual artifact collection, do not require a BUAR permit. However, any major disruption of the site is prohibited. The intent of creating an exempted shipwreck site is to preserve such sites for the continued enjoyment of the recreational diving community, who is encouraged to protect these sites for the continued enjoyment of all.

Note: All dives are conducted at your own risk. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts accepts no responsibility for loss of any kind, including personal injury or property damage. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts assumes no liability for inaccuracies in dive information contained in these pages including site locations and dive conditions.

Vessel Details

Description: coastal tanker, steel.
Dimensions: length 169.7 ft., width 30.1 ft., depth 12.4 ft.
Tonnage: gross 556, other Dead Weight - 402.
Propulsion: motor vessel, single propeller. Machinery: (1930) Fairbanks, Morse & Co., 5 cylinder oil engine, 14" cylinder diameters, 17" stroke, 400 brake horse power.
Cargo: 6,000 barrels of number 2 fuel oil.

The Shipwreck

Date Sunk: February 10, 1957.
Cause: foundered.
Location: Off Loblolly Cove, One Half-mile northeast of Thatcher Island.
Coordinates: latitude 42° 38' 52" N; longitude 70° 34' 11" W.

At 8:30 Sunday morning on February 10, 1957, after loading fuel oil for delivery to Newington, New Hampshire, the coastal tanker Chelsea left Boston. Visibility was good, but a 35-mph northwesterly wind was whipping up seas off shore. Captain Keith Beale hoped to avoid the rough water by hugging the shoreline, taking advantage of the protection it offered. Around 11:30 a.m., Beale turned command over to his Chief Mate, and went below. About 1 hour later, Chelsea ground to a halt. The Chief had attempted a shortcut, popular with the Gloucester fishermen, between Straitsmouth Island and the Dry Salvages. He cut in too close to the submerged section of the Sandy Bay Breakwater on the outgoing tide and the tanker ran aground. The force of the impact opened a gash in its bow.

Chelsea was hard aground and the crew's attempts to free it were in vain. At last, a Coast Guard 36-foot motor lifeboat came to remove all but skipper Beale. The Coast Guard already had their hands full when Chelsea happened onto the breakwater. Late Saturday evening, the tanker Franco Lisi grounded on Little Misery Island off Salem. Although the Franco Lisi freed itself shortly after noon on Sunday, no cutter was available to render immediate assistance to the Chelsea.

About 6 hours after running aground, the Coast Guard cutter Evergreen was standing by the helpless tanker. Pounding seas had opened the gash in its bow to near amidship, a length of 80 feet. In the hours before Evergreen arrived, it was decided to attempt to patch the hole while the ship was still aground. Its crew was returned, but before work could commence and just as the Coast Guard motor lifeboat was attempting to ferry a towline to the Evergreen, the rising tide floated Chelsea off the breakwater. Water was now pouring into the tanker through the gash in its hull. Immediately, the motor lifeboat removed two of Chelsea's crew as strong winds pushed the tanker in a Southerly direction. When roughly off Loblolly Cove, Chelsea began to settle fast. With little time for rescue remaining, the Coast Guard lifeboat edged in close to the tanker. Captain Beale and the remaining crew jumped for their lives, Chelsea literally sinking from beneath their feet. A crewman on the lifeboat quickly took an axe to the towline to prevent his own vessel from being dragged under as Chelsea settled into 60 feet of water.

Dive Site Conditions

Depth in feet: maximum 60, minimum 45.

Chelsea settled with its bow on a ledge and its stern buried in the mud with no support amidship, causing the ship to break in two. The bow came to rest alongside, the wall of the ledge it was once atop, protecting the bow from storm damage. The bow gunnels are level with the top of the ledge. Over the years, tidal action has separated the two pieces with the stern scattered and broken up on the bottom. The bow, until recently was known as a "Hollywood" wreck because it looked like a ship and was very photogenic, not a broken and twisted pile of scrap characterized by so many of New England's shipwrecks.

It's best to dive this wreck at slack water because of strong tidal currents.

Historical Background

Constructed: in 1919, at Bath, Maine by Texas S.S. Company.
Construction details: Machinery placed aft; 1 deck plus a 39 ft. poop deck; 8 bulkheads.
Crew: 5 Master: Keith Beale.
Owners: Peerless #1 Corporation, New Jersey.
Home or Hailing Port: Boston, Massachusetts.
Former Name(s) and date(s): Texaco #145 (1919).
Official number: 218001. Country: U.S.A.
Other Comments: Hull #27 of the Texas S.S. Co.

Salvage

The Coast Guard was more worried about Chelsea as a menace to navigation than the potential for an oil spill. Its cargo was a light fuel oil and would be dispersed by wind and wave action. Before salvage operations could commence, the tanker's precarious position atop the ledge, broke it in two. The cargo quickly spilled but was carried offshore by prevailing winds. After the tanker's mast and radar antennae were removed, it was no longer considered a hazard to navigation.

Sources

Merchant Vessels of the United States; 1957
Merchant Vessels of the United States, Vessels Lost Chapter; 1958
New England's Legacy of Shipwrecks; Keatts, 1988
New England Shipwrecks; Luther, 1967
The Fisherman Magazine; October 13, 1988
The Record, "American Lloyds," American Bureau of Shipping; 1957
Underwater USA; Cathie Cush, May 1989

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