SALISBURY — Thanks to a Methuen man, the skeleton of a historic shipwreck will be marked by buoys in summers to come, a move that will prevent it from being a menace to local swimmers, but still allowing it to serve as a symbol of Salisbury’s maritime past.
A regular visitor to Salisbury Beach, Steve Keohane has endured some pretty serious cuts while swimming through the unmarked submerged ruins of the Jennie M. Carter. The wreck has rested off the shore of Salisbury Beach, with its jagged bones all that’s remains of the schooner, after it sank on April 13, 1894.
A retired veteran who spent 22 years working in Navy intelligence, Keohane is currently a real estate appraiser. Since 2006, as soon as the weather warms, Keohane will drive up from Methuen in the mornings to swim the quarter-mile stretch of ocean from Vermont Avenue to the Pavilion before heading off to his appointments.
His regular route takes him right over the shipwrecks, which sits off a popular part of the beach, near Salisbury Beach Center and by the Pavilion. Although often covered up by sand, due to erosion, in recent years it’s exposed frame, rotting wooden hull and upright beams jutting up from the ocean floor,has posed a danger to swimmers. Children often play in the shallow waters by the wreck as well, Keohane said, providing other set of problems.
This summer, he and other swimmers ended up with nasty gashes from their battles with the Carter’s spiky ribs. So, Keohane contacted the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, which owns Salisbury Beach.
“I swim at Salisbury Beach quite often,” Keohane wrote to DCR Commissioner Jack Murray. “In fact, I enjoy Salisbury Beach more than any other beach in the country. On July 27, 2013, I got pretty well ‘cut-up’ while swimming parallel to the beach from Vermont St. towards the Pavilion.”
In shallow waters where swimmers frequent, the top of the beams have been exposed due to erosion of late, and can be as little as six inches to a foot below the water at low tide, Keohane said. Swimmers can’t see the danger, he said, but they can get tangled up in it pretty easily.
Keohane sent his email to Murray in August and followed up with a letter. But it took a second email on Oct. 13 to get a response, sent as a lengthy email by Ellen Smith FitzPatrick, DCR’s community relations coordinator.
“She’s the hero in all this,” Keohane said yesterday. “She was great to work with.”
In her reply to Keohane, FitzPatrick explained the historic significance of the Jennie M. Carter, and noted that removing the remnants of the Carter poses challenges. Not only is it a local historical relic many appreciate, it also has state significance, she said,and would “very costly” due to historical restrictions and that the wreck lies in a protected area.
Appreciative of the historical information of which he was unaware, Keohane sent back his thanks with another question, and a resolution to the conundrum.
“I only have one other question,” Keohane wrote. “Since it’s a historical site and cannot be moved, how does that outweigh the fact that it is a safety hazard to swimmers?”
Keohane suggested “the prudent thing to do” would be to mark the site so swimmers don’t continue “to get mauled” by the shipwreck.
Keohane’s idea gained approval, after FitzPatrick unraveled some red tape, running it by the state underwater archaeologist, DCR’s director of aquatics, and the field operations team leader for the Salisbury Beach Complex.
Beginning next summer, she told Keohane, two “hazard” buoys will be placed at either end of the wreck as a warning. The buoys will go in annually from May 15 through Sept. 15.