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The Baleen Shipwreck  Connecticut, Rhode Island, Massachusetts, & Maine Shipwrecks
Historical and current New England Shipwreck Information and images for scuba divers, fisherman and marine historians.
             

 

 

 

   Capt. Dan Berg's Wreck Valley Collection   

 

BALEEN

Text by Captain Eric Takakjian

A four and a half year search ended on September 17, 1994 when the wreck of the seagoing tug Baleen was located off Massachusetts. Built as the John E Meyer for the Barnett and Record Company of Duluth, Minnesota, she was launched on March 17, 1923 at Manitowoc Shipbuilding Corp., in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The John E, Meyer was considered a state of the art vessel at the time of her launching. Her steel hull was 102 feet long and had a triple expansion steam engine developed 750hp. The tug was equipped with a steam powered towing winch on the stern, an unusual and innovative piece of equipment for 1923.
     The John E. Meyer worked out of the port of Duluth for Barnett and Record, doing general barge towing on the Great Lakes.  Her primary duties were towing iron ore and coal barges between ports on Lake Superior.
     In June of 1940 the ship was sold to the Pringle Barge lines of Cleveland, Ohio. Her new owners renamed her the Jesse James.  Operating out of the port of Toledo, Ohio, she was assigned to duties towing the self unloading coal barge Madia between Toledo and Detroit.  In January of 1940 Pringle Barge Lines was purchased by the Oglebay Norton Company, the same company that owned the Edmund Fitzgerald, of Great Lakes shipwreck fame.
     After forty four years of service on the Great Lakes, the Jesse James was sold in August of 1967 to Nickerson Tug and Transit Co., of Tampa, Florida.  The length of time she spent working in fresh water no doubt contributed greatly to her seaworthiness after so  many years of service.
     During the winter of 1967-8 the Jesse James was re powered with a new 3,000 horsepower diesel engine at the Hendries Shipyard in Tampa.  At the same time anew towing winch was installed and the deck house and smokestack were rebuilt.   After her refit the Jesse james worked out of Port Everglades, Florida, docking ships and towing barges between various Florida ports.  In July of 1969 her new owners renamed her the Baleen.
     After a short time working in Florida waters, the Baleen was sold for the final time on March 4, 1979 to the Reinaur Transportation Company of New Jersey. The Baleen was transferred to Reinaur's Boston division, Boston Fuel towing, Inc., and her new home port became Bath, Maine.  the Baleen was put to work docking ships in Bath and other central maine ports, as well as towing oil barges between New York and various ports throughout New England.
     On Wednesday October 29, 1975, the Baleen departed New York, bound for Boston, towing a barge loaded with two and a half million gallons of home heating oil. Shortly before 3 P.M. on Thursday the 30th, a fire broke out in the tug's engine room, while the tug and tow were approximately two miles off Manomet Point in Cape Cod Bay.  Efforts by the crew to extinguish the fire were unsuccessful, and the blaze quickly raged out of control.  Luckily the captain was able to get out a distress call before the tug's crew was forced to abandon ship into the tug's life raft. Two helicopters from Coast Guard Air Station Cape Cod rescued the six men from the raft and the two crewmen on the barge.  Fortunately no one was seriously injured in the incident.
     Fire fighting efforts by the Coast Guard were hampered by forty knot winds and heavy seas.  The Coast Guard Cutter Hornbeam and two commercial tugs stood by the burning tug and her barge throughout the night.  By the early morning three more Coast Guard vessels had arrived on the scene.  The weather had abated enough by this time to allow fire fighting efforts to continue.  And the blaze was extinguished by seven A.M.
     Shortly thereafter the Hornbeam took the stricken tug in tow.  The commercial tug Chicopee placed her towing bridles on the Baleen's barge and the procession began to make its was slowly towards Boston. The Baleen was still connected to her barge by 2,000' of 2 1/4"; tow wire.    
     For some unknown reason the Coast Guard decided to tow the Baleen stern first. The stern of the tug was riding much lower in the water due to the large amount of fire fighting water in the bilge. The tow proceeded very slowly and by early the following morning, November 1, the Baleen was noticed to be riding much lower in the water than previously observed.  At around six A.M., almost within sight of Boston, the Baleen plunged to the bottom, still connected to her barge and the cutter Hornbeam.  The wire parted almost immediately, and the Hornbeam cut her own hawser free shortly after that.
      According to the chief engineer on the Chicopee the Baleen would never have sunk if she was towed bow first. Reinaur Transportation and Boston Fuel decided not to salvage the tug.  The costs of doing so would far out weigh her actual value.
     The Baleen lay virtually forgotten on the bottom until 1989 when Grey Eagle Charters began searching for the wreck.  After countless hours of research and days spent looking, the Baleen was finally located on September 17,  1994. The first divers to dive the wreck were David and Patricia Morton, Brian Skerry, and the author.
     The Baleen is a unique and exciting dive.  She rests completely intact and upright, with a list to starboard, in 170 fsw. The top of her wheel house and smokestack rise 30' off the bottom.  The upper part of the superstructure shows evidence of the extreme heat of the fire; many plates are buckled and the interior of the wheel house was gutted. The wreck is loaded with artifacts, including numerous portholes and cage lamps.  The first two divers on the wreck, Dave and Patricia Morton, recovered the tug's large bronze fog horn and peep whistle.  A lot of the ship's fittings are lying around on the deck of the tug and a large telegraph is standing on the after end of the boat deck.
     It is possible to penetrate the wreck in many locations.  On the main deck level the galley, crew's quarters, and upper engine room can easily be accessed via the doors on the sides of the deck house. On the boat deck the captain's cabin can be entered through a hole in the after bulkhead of the wheel house.  The wheel house can be entered from the doorways on either side; the teak doors were consumed by the fire.
     Visibility averages 20-30' and little or no current is ever present.  The water temperatures are usually in the high 30's or low 40's on the bottom; surface temps vary from the mid 50's to high 60's in the late summer.  The Baleen is one of those" ;cant-get-enough-of" dives that wreck divers will be enjoying for along time to come.   

The following is the text from email received from one of the Baleen's crew.
"I came across your information about the Baleen on line, and was immediately taken back to that day in October when she caught fire. I was the deckhand on duty when the fire broke out, and sounded the alarm. To say the least, it was quite a day. The fire broke out when the turbo charger on her engine let go, and caught fire to all of the usual crap stored in the upper engine room. Paint, lines, laundry, were just a few of the things that caught fire. We fought the fire for about twenty minutes, but finally had to abandon ship. Quite an experience for a nineteen year old deckhand. First the life raft, where some kind employee of the Switlik parachute company ( the ones who sold the life raft ) had packed among other things in the provision bag, a copy of Moby Dick, and then the Coast Guard Helicopter extraction in a swaying basket and ride to Otis Air Force base on Cape Cod. What a day!!! Thanks for the memories, Tom Blom

 

Remember penetration into any shipwreck should only be done by those with proper training, experience and wreck diving equipment. Scuba equipment like powerful dive lights, navigation reels, dive knives as well as redundant air supply like a pony bottle or doubles are standard gear for wreck divers.


 
 

   
 
 
 
 

Shipwreck Diving ebook
The complete diver's guide to mastering the skills of shipwreck diving.

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6 MB instant download, printable  PDF file


Shipwreck Diving is a complete how to ebook about the sport of wreck diving. This downloadable PDF e-book is packed with information and heavily illustrated with over 80 sensational color photographs. Daniel Berg, a noted wreck diver, instructor and author of ten shipwrecks related books, describes all the basics of wreck diving. Topics include everything from equipment modifications, communication, and wreck penetration to artifact preservation. Dan also tells how to navigate on a wreck and be able to return to the anchor line after the dive. Why some divers find more artifacts and explains how to catch lobsters. Shipwreck Diving also covers such diverse topics as shipwreck research, photography, spear fishing and how to use an underwater metal detector. This exciting book tells all the tricks of the trade that until now have only been learned through years of experience. Shipwreck divers of all caliber will find Shipwreck Diving informative, rewarding and entertaining

Check out Capt. Dan's other shipwreck and Diving eBooks

 

 

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All photographs, sketches, images and text

Copyright Capt. Dan Berg / Aqua Explorers Inc

2745 Cheshire Dr
Baldwin NY 11510
E-Mail Wreckvalle@aol.com

 
 
 
 
 
   


 
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