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The Chinese Schooner Shipwreck  New York and New England's (Wreck Valley)
Historical and current New York and New England Shipwreck Information and images for scuba divers and fisherman.
 

Dive Wreck Valley
CHINESE SCHOONER
By Daniel Berg

Ever dream about exploring a virgin shipwreck?  Hidden for over 120 years the remains of this little wooded schooner lie in only 65 feet of water off Bridgeport CT. The wrecks true identity is yet unknown but due to the ornate china decorated with a magnificent Chinese pattern she is now known to a handful of local divers as the Chinese Schooner.  If your looking for great visibility this wreck is definitely not for you, but if you like artifacts and don't mind poor conditions and a little hard work their are few better wrecks in the area.

Lets go back a few months in time. Capt Noel Verobe who owns Orbit Marine Dive Shop in Bridgeport CT, invited me to join him on one of his week day wreck charters. He told of how they were digging on the remains of a newly discovered shipwreck. At the time my boat was suffering from engine problems so I happily signed on. The dive was to say the least very interesting. Fred Bellise and I traveled to Orbit Marine (only 45 minutes from NY's Throg's Neck Bridge). Before heading for the boat, Noel showed us his assorted artifacts from the wreck. The bottles were clearly from the early1800's, dead eyes, spikes and the prettiest china I've ever seen. Now very excited to start working we boarded one of Capt Noels 24 ft privateer charter boats and headed into the sound. In fifteen minutes we were anchored into the wreck and suiting up. Captain Noel explained that the wreck was oriented on a North to South line. He and his divers had already recovered over twenty pieces of Ironstone china. The china was manufactured by Davenport in England. As aside note Jean Schwarz looked up Davenport in a china collectors book. Davenport made china from the late 1700's through to 1887. Depending on the condition the china is valued at 100 to 200 dollars a piece. That value should of course go up if or when the shipwreck is identified. Divers also found a Chinese coin, several dead eyes, a cannon ball, black glass bottles and a variety of hand forged brass spikes. Fred and I descended together, we were both accustomed to the relatively good visibility found on Long Islands south shore. What we found was silt suspended just off the bottom, causing absolutely zero visibility. It seems that because we were not the first divers on the bottom, and their was no current, any kicked up silt just stayed like a cloud over the wreck. We continued along feeling our way across the bottom in a sense "Brail Diving". At times viability would allow us to see two feet or so. Both Fred and I dug into the muddy bottom. The digging wasn't easy. The bottom composition consists of a clay like mud and oyster shell covered surface. By using a small rake we dug down twelve inches, then surprisingly the bottom turned into a very soft mud. We found thin wood boxes or possibly wood drawers as well as ribs and planking buried as far as three feet down.  Fred and I also tried to cover as much of the wreck as possible. On the North side, which we assume is her stern, we found high wreckage then as we headed south we passed over a huge pile of rectangular stones, presumably cargo and a pile of anchor chain. After some low lying wood wreckage we crossed a pile of small stones (ballast). Just ahead of this ballast is the remains of what looks like a winch and capstain. Surprisingly, after talking with everyone on board it seems that most of the artifacts were actually found only slightly buried, so Fred and I probably wasted a lot of effort digging holes that were to deep. After our dive was over Fred did surface with a beautiful porcelain toilet bowl and I had found a perfect three holed dead eye. Not bad for the first dive on a shallow water wreck. After our first dive I made several return trips to the wreck. I tried to blast away the bottom with an underwater scooter and even brought a powerful water dredge to the site but neither was overly productive due to the clay type bottom. I found the best tool to be a simple hand held garden rake and a little hard work. Each trip with a rake resulted in artifacts being recovered. I never hit a mother load but was always rewarded with one or two nice pieces. On one trip I found a black glass bottle, another dive produced a intact coffee cup. Others were even luckier. On one trip Steve Jonnassen recovered three perfect little miniature dead eyes and on another my friend Jim Fassalorie found two intact china cups. The precise location of the Chinese Schooner is a well guarded secret. Only a few private boats from Long Island and Connecticut and charters from Orbit Marine frequent the site. If possible plan your dive during an incoming tide, for the best visibility. This way the mild current will carry away any kicked up sediment. Dive reels are considered mandatory equipment for navigation. The only other advise would be not to waste any time sightseeing and to just lye down, dig and keep a close watch on your air supply.

  

Remember that most shipwrecks, have been explored for years. Most still produce artifacts but the Chinese Schooner is basically a virgin shipwreck. Divers have only been working her for a few months. Pretty soon some lucky diver is going to find the key to her identity. Possibly her bell, capstain cover or some other artifact that will lead researchers to her name and the story behind her demise. Did this wood hulled sailing ship sink in a storm ? Was her sinking a result of a collision ? Only time and the efforts of recreational divers will help to solve the mystery. Exploring the Chinese Schooner is a dive into history. The dive with its limited visibility is definitely not for everyone but for avid wreck divers who enjoy digging for artifacts and don't mind the poor conditions, it can't be beat. For information on diving the Schooner contact Capt Noel at Orbit Marine (203) 333-3483.  Who knows you could be the lucky diver to identify this intriguing little shipwreck

Dan Berg with a dead eye recovered from the Chinese schooner. Photo by Rick Schwartz

 
   

 

 

 

 
 

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