DAYTONA BEACH SHORES, Fla. — Severe beach erosion from two late-season hurricanes has helped uncover what appears to be an 1800s-era wooden ship that had been buried under sand on Florida’s east coast for up to two centuries, impervious to the cars that drove daily on the beach or the sand castles built by generations of tourists.
Swimmers and lifeguards discovered the wooden structure, between 80 feet and 100 feet, sticking out of the sand over Thanksgiving weekend in front of homes that crumbled to rubble on Daytona Beach Shores last month due to the Hurricane Nicole.
“Any time you find a wreck on the beach, it’s really an incredible event. There’s this mystery, you know. It’s not there one day, and it’s there the next day, so it’s really captivating imagination,” said maritime archaeologist Chuck Meide, who on Tuesday led an archaeological team from St. Augustine, Fla., to examine the beach find.
Hurricane Ian made landfall in late September on the southwest coast of Florida and exited into the Atlantic Ocean over central Florida. Nicole devastated much of Volusia County’s coastline in early November, leaving behind collapsed homes in the ocean after being made vulnerable to erosion by Ian.
“It’s a rare experience, but it’s not unique, and it seems that with climate change and more intense hurricane seasons, it’s happening more frequently,” Meide said of the find.
On Monday and Tuesday, the archaeological team removed sand and dug a shallow trench around the wooden beams of the structure, took measurements and made sketches in an effort to solve the 200-year-old mystery. The digging crew members switched from using shovels to trowels and then to their hands as the framework was exposed, so as not to damage the wood.
“It’s going much faster today, but it’s taking a long time,” said Arielle Cathers, one of the team members, as she knelt in the sand around the trench to dig up stones. parts of the wooden frame with a trowel. “You want to go very carefully.”
Meide, who is director of the research arm of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Museum in Florida, said he believes the structure is a shipwreck because of the way it was built and materials such as the bolts in iron that have been used.
It is not uncommon for items to wash up or come uncovered along beaches after storms. In Martin County, which is about 160 miles south of Volusia County, the skeletal remains of six people believed to be from a Native American cemetery were unearthed by Nicole Wind and Waves. A historic steamship-style trunk and other items were also taken to the beaches.
After the initial discovery two weeks ago, wave sand reburied the ship’s timbers that had become visible on Daytona Shores Beach. Members of the archaeological team this week do not intend to uncover the full length of the vessel, but just enough to measure it, draw it and possibly take wood samples to test its origins.
There are no plans to remove the ship from Daytona Beach Shores, not only because the cost would likely be in the millions of dollars, but because it is protected where it is, wrapped in wet sand, said Meid.
“We will let Mother Nature bury the wreckage,” he said. “This will help preserve it. As long as this hull is dark and wet, it will last a very long time, hundreds of years longer.