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Saturday January 21, 2017
Posted: Feb 18, 2014

History and mystery under the waves

Under Current

Today’s Press Herald has a fascinating story of the wreck of the RMS Bohemian off Cape Elizabeth 150 years ago. It’s a poignant reminder of the turbulent history of Maine’s rocky coast. And it’s also a window into the mystery and lure of shipwrecks.

According to the article, $1 million (in 1864 value) worth of goods went down with the ship -- pottery, cloth, buttons, pewter, gold-embroidered silk. As well as sacks of mail. Much washed up or was salvaged (and perhaps scavenged). But of course much never surfaced. There are surely still pieces of that tragedy rolling around the seabed in Casco Bay and the wider Gulf of Maine today.

The Gulf of Maine has over 700 known shipwrecks. Some ancient, large, & famous like the Annie Maguire at Portland Headlight.

Photo linked from WreckHunter.Net

Some modern, small, & obscure like this one I photographed in 2011 on the back side of an island in Saco Bay:

Each shipwreck begins as a time capsule -- a self-contained moment of destruction and loss. Sometimes those time capsules explode outward quickly, diluting their story and their memory as small bits quickly wash up on ever-farther shores.

Sometimes they remain (largely) intact, remembered, and sought. The finding of the Titanic of course sits at the top of that list.

And sometimes those time capsules remain hidden & buried until forgotten, wiped clean of all living memory. Until chance brings them back to light. For the past year and a half such a mystery has been unfolding in Europe. Small rubber seat cushions or floats labeled “TJIPETIR” have been washing up in Cornwall, France, Holland, Germany, and Denmark.


The cushions/blocks are all very old, probably 100 years or so. Though made at a factory in Indonesia, those washing up almost certainly didn’t float all the way from Asia. More likely, an unknown shipwreck on the European seafloor started breaking up in 2012, releasing its cargo. And spawning a modern mystery, complete with impressive FaceBook page.

Today, up to 10,000 shipping containers are lost at sea every year. Every year! Each one is of course its own time capsule. Waiting to rot, eventually, releasing its cargo. Telling its story -- and sadly polluting the world to do so.

Shipping container at bottom of Monterey Bay, California
Image linked from source

Back closer to home, the temptation of shipwrecks remains strong. A treasure-hunter made waves in 2012 claiming the Gulf of Maine held a World War II shipwreck containing $3 billion in platinum. More recently, investors have raised doubts.

Still, no one can doubt the lure of the shore & the unknown. The poignancy of loss at sea. And the hope of holding some piece of that storied past. Shining a light, telling a story, striking it rich.

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