The SS Savannah, which ran aground and broke apart in 1821, two years after it became the first ship to cross the Atlantic Ocean partially powered by steam, is said to have left behind a piece of weathered flotsam that washed up on a New York shoreline following Tropical Storm Ian last October.
The roughly 13-foot (4-meter) square fragment of wreckage, now in the care of the Fire Island Lighthouse Preservation Society, was discovered in October off Fire Island, a barrier island that hugs Long Island’s southern border.
It will collaborate with National Park Service representatives to identify and display the debris to the public.
According to Betsy DeMaria, a museum technician at the Fire Island National Seashore of the park service, “It was quite exciting to locate it.” We will undoubtedly ask some subject matter experts to look it over and give us a better understanding of what we have.
Although positively identifying the wreckage could be challenging, park service experts say the Savannah is a strong contender among Fire Island’s known shipwrecks.
Over two centuries of searching for the Savannah have yielded nothing that could be unambiguously linked to the renowned ship.
Yet according to Ira Breskin, a senior instructor at the State University of New York Maritime College in the Bronx, the recently discovered wreckage “very well could be” a piece of the famous shipwreck. It is entirely reasonable.
According to park service authorities in a news release, the evidence includes the 1- to 1.3-inch (2.5- to 3.3-centimeter) wooden pegs holding the planks of the debris together, which are compatible with a 100-foot (30.5-meter) vessel.
The Savannah measured 30 meters (98 feet) in length. According to the officials, the wreckage’s iron spikes also point to a ship built around 1820. In 1818, the Savannah was constructed.
Breskin, the author of “The Business of Shipping,” observed that because Savannah’s use of steam power was so innovative for its day, May 24, 1819, marks National Maritime Day.
It’s significant because they were attempting to demonstrate the possibility of using a steam engine to cross the channel, he said.
A nautical anthropologist should be able to identify the Fire Island debris, which appears to be from the Savannah, according to Breskin. If the scientists confirm that it is what we think it is, it is realistic, significant, and living history, he said.
The 90-horsepower steam engine-equipped sailing ship Savannah crossed the Atlantic mostly under sail, using steam power for 80 hours of the journey to Liverpool, England, which took almost a month.
The Savannah was cheered by crowds as it sailed from Liverpool to Sweden and Russia before returning to its home port of Savannah, Georgia, but the ship’s financial success was hindered in part by people’s reluctance to board the hybrid ship.
After the ship’s owners sustained losses in the Great Savannah Fire of 1820, the steam engine of the Savannah was removed and sold.
When it grounded off Fire Island, the Savannah carried cargo between Savannah and New York. It later disintegrated. The cotton cargo was saved, and the crew arrived at the shore without incident, but according to the Augusta Chronicle & Georgia Gazette, “Captain Holdridge was badly damaged by being upset in the boat.”
Throughout the past two centuries, explorers have looked for the Savannah but have not discovered anything that can be firmly linked to the illustrious ship.
Yet according to Breskin, the recently found wreckage “very well could be” a fragment of the famous shipwreck. It is entirely reasonable.