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Cape Cod Notebook
Tue April 8, 2014
From Nauset Beach to the Scrap Heap: the Eldia Saga, Part 3
The Eldia was finally taken off Nauset Beach on May 17, 1984, fifty-one days after it came ashore. The strategy was simple but effective. First, excavators and bulldozers dug a deep bowl around the ship at low tide, which filled at high tide, allowing it to float. Next a floating dredge dug a short channel off its stern. Then a cable was attached to the stern and run out to an offshore derrick rig. Finally, on the night of May 14, on a flooding moon tide, the rig began to pull the Eldia out to sea. Nonetheless, there were some doubts as to whether the ship could be brought off intact, as there were several bars just offshore and it was over 1000 feet to deep water.
I arrived at Nauset Beach that night about 11:30, a half-hour past high tide. There were only a handful of people stretched along the dark beach from the Nauset parking lot down to the ship. It was a spectacular scene. The moon was hidden by clouds, but the entire vessel was lit up with deck lights, work lights, and searchlights - like some great party ship. Several hundred yards offshore the giant derrick rig sat on its barge, also lit with green and white lights, accompanied by a similarly lit tugboat. A launch with running lights raced back and forth between the derrick and the Eldia. As I got closer I could hear the deep thrumming of the ship’s winch motors, and the derrick’s, too, pulling on the great cables. I thought it would be appropriate if she left tonight, under the same cover of darkness and cloud that she had arrived in, but as it turned out, it would be another four days of pulling her slowly, 5-10 feet at a time, dealing with snapped cables and other problems, before she finally came free and, on a windy, sunny afternoon, was tugged ignominiously out of sight.
Now that the ship was finally afloat and safely at sea, the entire operation, earnest and spectacular as it was, seemed curiously without significance. No lives had been lost or saved, really, no salvaging or looting had occurred, and, with the exception of the trampled dune vegetation, no real environmental damage had been inflicted on the beach. The day the ship finally came off, hundreds of spectators were in attendance, cheering for no particular reason. Then Philbrick’s Clam Shack closed up again until June, the sales of T-shirts and postcards declined to a trickle, and local officials sighed with relief. She was already old news.
I visited the beach again a few days later. It felt strangely empty. In less than two months the stranded ship had already become oddly familiar, like a new moon in the sky. But it had been more like a comet than a moon. The beach had been thoroughly cleaned and the massive depression the Eldia had made in the sand had already filled in. Unlike other wrecks in the past, no crushed hull or broken spars remained on the beach to rot and blacken in the sun. No souvenirs were collected or pried or wheeled off the ship to adorn local lawns or mantles or sheds as memorabilia of a remarkable visitation. There were snapshots and Super 8 videos and newspaper photos, of course, but already the ship seemed less than palpable. Had it been real? Was it actually here? Did we imagine it? A few days later we read that the Eldia had been towed to a port in New Jersey and there sold for scrap.
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