By Patrick Cassidy - Cape Cod Times
The waters off Cape Cod are known as a graveyard for ships that fail to round the peninsula's greedy, outstretched arm.
Now local divers and shipwreck enthusiasts have a watery destination that is both eerily familiar and brand new: a recently discovered section of the Pendleton, one of two large tankers that split in half off the Cape during a storm in February 1952.
The stern of the Pendleton, about a mile east of Monomoy Island, has long been a popular dive spot. The ship is famous not so much for its sinking as for the four Coast Guardsmen who braved 60-foot seas and fierce winds in a 36-foot motor lifeboat to rescue 32 of the ship's crew stranded on the stern. The rescue has been called the greatest small boat rescue in Coast Guard history.
When the Pendleton split in half, eight men, including the ship's captain, were stranded on its bow, which drifted south and eventually grounded near the Pollock Rip Lightship southeast of Monomoy. All the men onboard the bow section were lost.
Only one frozen body was found when the Coast Guard and salvagers boarded the wreck a week later, according to "The Finest Hours" by Michael Tougias and Casey Sherman.
The bow of the Pendleton was eventually towed — first to New Bedford and then to New York City — to be cut up and sold as scrap metal. For a half century, the story of the 503-foot, 10,448-ton T-2 tanker's bow seemed complete.
Chuck Carey, a 61-year-old Hyannis-based commercial real estate broker and shipwreck enthusiast, was searching the ocean bottom around Pollock Rip at the end of August with a sidescan sonar towed from his 29-foot catamaran.
"I happened to blunder right over it," he said this week about finding a 100-by-170-foot section of the Pendleton's bow in about 30 feet of water. From the sidescan imagery, Carey couldn't tell exactly what he was seeing, and at first thought it might have been a scallop dredge.
Once he and other divers explored the wreck, however, it was clear that the heap of metal and marine life was part of the Pendleton, he said. "It's like unmistakable," he said.
The ride back after that first dive was "quite a thrill," he said.
While the T-2 tankers are not unique or extraordinarily old, the historic rescue connected to the Pendleton makes the find exciting, Carey said.
"As soon as we got under water, within minutes I (thought), 'God, this looks awful familiar,'" said Carey's fellow diver, Don Ferris, 52, an East Sandwich resident and the author of several books on shipwrecks, including an anthology of wrecks off the Cape.
The steel girders were the same as those on the stern section of the Pendleton, located more than five miles to the north of where the bow section was found, Ferris said. The rows of girders supported the ship's deck, he said, and they are now exposed because this section has been flipped upside down.
Ferris speculates that when salvagers towed the bow away, a section caught on the bottom. The tug operator probably increased power to pull it loose, and ripped a section off close to the original break, Ferris said.