MOUNT DESERT ISLAND, Maine — Twice a day, 365 days a year for more than 60 years, the tide has come in and then drained out again, washing mud, brine and small aquatic life forms over its timbers.
Exactly how long the ship’s skeleton has been lying in the mud along this hidden section of MDI’s shoreline is unknown, but this past week a group of people have been making the short trek through the woods from the road each day to learn what they can about it. Led by marine archaeologist Franklin Price, who grew up in the Tremont village of Bernard, about 20 people have been measuring and diagramming its decayed ribs and keel.
At the request of Acadia National Park, which has an easement along the shoreline where the wreck rests, its location is not being disclosed by the Bangor Daily News in order to help prevent people from tampering with the site.
On Saturday, seven people, including four young interns, were taking photographs and measurements of the timbers under the hot sun. As they drew and diagrammed the pieces protruding from the mud, they discussed how they likely were fastened together.
“I don’t know what happened here,” Price told Christa Shere, a College of the Atlantic student interning on the project. “I don’t know if these two pieces were actually in this side when this thing flipped over and broke and fell probably this way.”
Price and Shere had mud caked on their knees, shins and hands as they crouched on the timbers and tried to determine what had happened.
Price works as a senior archaeologist for the Florida Bureau of Archaeological Research and, for the past two summers, has spent a week of vacation on his native MDI directing the excavation of the wreck of the ship, the name of which is unknown. The project has been funded by the National Park Service and the Institute of Maritime History, based in Kensington, Md.
Price said the ship skeleton has been where it is for as long as he can remember and that, based on stories told by people older than him, he estimates it has been there for at least 65 years.
Price said he doubts the ship ended up where it is by accident. The surrounding cove, like many others in Maine, used to have small, commercial operations such as shipbuilding and brick making on its banks. The ship probably was used to carry cargo such as lumber, bricks and coal, he said, and was scuttled where it is on purpose.
Not much of the ship, the keel of which was at least 50 feet long, remains. Aside from the timbers, there are old fasteners such as treenails — wooden pegs — and some square iron fasteners, most of which Price said are “completely rusted away.” He said the ship was “heavily built,” likely in the late 1800s.
There’s no sign of any engine or other means of propulsion discernible among the timbers, according to Price. There are no other artifacts, such as personal items, that might be found on a ship that crashed accidentally against the shore. There’s not even any decking or other ship parts, other than the ribs, keel and associated fasteners.
“She’s been stripped largely clean,” he said.
Rebecca Cole-Will, cultural resources program manager for Acadia, was one of the volunteers getting muddy Saturday at the wreck site. She said the park is always interested in understanding and protecting its historical resources, such as the shipwreck. The park will get diagrams and perhaps a model of what the ship looked like when it was in business, she said. The project also is a great way to provide outreach to volunteers, she said, and to promote scientific research in the park.
“This is a great opportunity to do that,” Cole-Will said.
Kate Pontbriand, who just graduated from MDI High School and plans to attend Franklin Pierce University in the fall, has been one of the park’s interns on the excavation. She said she enjoys playing in the mud, but also hopes to become an archaeologist.
“I really like the cultural side of [national] parks,” she said. “I love the past.”
Shere said that she too is interested in archaeology. The COA student said that the ability to intern on the project is a great opportunity for young people to learn about maritime history and excavations.
“It’s really nice [Price] opened [the project] up to undergraduate students,” she said. “It helps open the field to people who are interested in pursuing it.”
Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.