Fire Island is a thirty mile long barrier island on the south shore of Long Island, east of the entrance of New York harbor. Last week, Le Papillon, a 50′ steel pinky schooner, went ashore on the beach on Fire Island near the village of SaltAire. The 19 year old captain and the two 20 year old passengers were rescued without injury. Will van Dorp of the Tugster blog captured dramatic photos of the grounded schooner in the Fire Island surf. What will become of Le Papillon? That is difficult to say, but by Tuesday of this week, an ad appeared in Craigslist offering the schooner for sale for $15,000, with the important requirement: “Needs immediate removal.” Le Papillon is neither the first nor likely to be the last vessel to run aground on the Fire Island shoals.
One hundred and eighteen years ago, a historically significant ship ran aground up the beach from where Le Papillon now lies. The Gluckauf, built in 1886, was the first “modern tanker ” and the basis for many tankers to follow. Despite her name, she was very unlucky on March 24, 1893 when she went aground off Blue Point Beach on Fire Island. She was never salvaged. Over time she was simply swallowed up by the Fire Island sands. She was 300 feet long, had a 37 foot beam, and displaced 2,307 gross tons. She is now is completely buried beneath the sand only 100 feet offshore in 25 feet of water.
From the New York Times of November 10, 1895
A BIG STEAMSHIP’S FATE – Now Only a Prey for Seaside Relic Hunters.
On the 24th of March, 1893, just before dawn, and during a slight snow squall, the German tramp steamship Gluckauf, an oil tank boat of 2,000 tons, chartered by the Standard Oil Company, went ashore on Fire Island beach, opposite Sayville, about fifty miles from New-York, on the south side of Long Island. The men from the Blue Point Life Saving Station were promptly on hand, and the Captain and crew of the ship were brought ashore without trouble, for the sea was not rough. In fact, it was so calm a night that a rumor went along the coast to the effect that the grounding of the Gluckauf showed curious lack of care; she was insured for $200,000 in German companies, and was said at the time to be worth twice that sum. At all events, she grounded on the outer bar and a storm coming up the next day, before wrecking steamers could reach the spot, she was driven, bow on, right to the beach. Had she gone a thousand feet further she would have cut the Blue Point Life Saving Station in two. With her bow clear of the sand, so that a man could walk under her keel, the surf broke over her stern, and, at high tide, all along her starboard side.
For a few weeks it was hoped that the wrecking companies might get her off, and some thousands of dollars were spent in attempts to pull her from the sand at high tide. With every day’s delay, however, she seemed to sink deeper into the sand, and when another storm opened a breach in her hold and poured in hundreds of tons of sand all hope was abandoned. She was stripped of most of her rigging, engines, fittings of every portable description, and left there for the sea to break up.
Since she came ashore three years ago the sea has dug a pit at the stern. With the result that the bow is steadily rising. She is also canted over at a sharper angle. From the land, or port, side. a wire cable hangs over the side, enabling visitors with any ambition to climb the twenty feet to the deck. Until last year there was a rope ladder provided, but the privilege was abused by relic hunters, the last one carrying off the ladder with him, and now the wire Cable has to suffice, and it does suffice for most men and for lots of women. From the deck the view is a fine one, especially if the tide is high and a good surf crashes against the other side. Each incoming wave or breaker meets the iron sides of the ship with a tremendous crash that sends the spray forty feet into the air. The ship shakes from stem to stern, and the wonder is that, if a July surf can produce this effect, how anything is left after a January pounding. Having recovered breath from your climb, you make the tour of the ship, holding on to the rail most of the way; the deck is almost at an angle of 45 degrees. Of the four masts three remain. The fourth was cut away the night the ship came ashore. Everywhere are evidences of the marvelous power of the waves – iron bars an inch thick twisted as if made of wax: bits of machinery weighing tons tossed 40 feet out of place; bolts too heavy for a man to lift torn out and hanging in the rigging.
It is a common thing for people who visit great steamships to exclaim as they examine the massive fittings, that it is incredible that seething water could create havoc and make playthings of such ponderous things. Let them climb aboard the Gluckauf where everything bears the mark of the ocean’s fury – where nothing is quite erect or straight, or whole, where everything is bent, twisted or broken. Down in the main cabin, by means of the now crazy steel stairs, the impact of the surf reverberates like thunder, driving the more timid visitors to the deck. Bits of seaweed and sand fill what once was a comfortable cabin. Everything that man or the elements could carry away is gone. In the cook’s galley souvenir hunters have even pried up the encaustic tiles; every bolt or nut that could be unscrewed has been taken. Made bold by familiarity and the absence of any caretaker, people have brought axes, saws, and hatchets with them with which to hack away trophies. What they cannot carry away they disfigure. Some wretched vandals even succeeded this Summer in tearing away two of the brass letters of the name “Gluckauf,” on the port side. The letters K and F are gone. Those who carried off the K and the F must have had a cold chisel with them. A recent visitor managed to chop off a copper bolt from one of the hatches: later he had the name of the Gluckaut, with the date, engraved upon it for a young woman who wanted a paper weight. Where people have failed to get a piece of the Gluckauf, they have vented their spite in scribbling their insignificant names in conspicuous places, upon the masts especially. Worse than that, some pill-maker has scrawled the name of his nostrum in letters 3 feet high on the sides of the ship. It appears to be only a question of time when every available square foot will be covered by these signs which deface our trees, fences, and big rocks. It was here on this beach last year that a Long Island genius plastered the advertisement of his cough syrup upon the broad back of a dead whale that drifted ashore.
The Long Island coast has many wrecks to boast of besides the Gluckauf, but as a rule they last only a few weeks or months. There was the Louis V. Place, that came ashore a year ago last Winter, and of which’ not a vestige remains. She was a wooden vessel. Iron seems to defy the surf. The mains of the boilers and engines of the steamship Franklin, wrecked off Bellport in 1848 are still there. It may, therefore, take half a century before the Gluckauf ceases to be an object of Interest.