Hurricane beach erosion in Florida unearths a surprise: a wooden ship from the 1800s

Beachgoers and lifeguards discovered the wooden structure poking out of the sand over Thanksgiving weekend in front of homes that collapsed on Daytona Beach Shores last month from Hurricane Nicole.

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Members of a team of archaeologists study a wooden structure in the sand in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., where severe beach erosion caused by two late-season hurricanes helped partially uncover what appears to be part of an 80-foot-long ship.

Members of a team of archaeologists study a wooden structure in the sand in Daytona Beach Shores, Fla., where severe beach erosion caused by two late-season hurricanes helped partially uncover what appears to be part of an 80-foot-long ship.

John Raoux / AP

DAYTONA BEACH SHORES, Fla. — Severe beach erosion from two late-season hurricanes has helped unearth what appears to be a wooden ship dating from the 1800s.

The ship had been buried under the sand on Florida’s east coast, impervious to cars that drove daily on the beach and the sand castles built by generations of tourists.

Beachgoers and lifeguards discovered the wooden structure, which is 80 feet to 100 feet long, poking out of the sand over Thanksgiving weekend in front of homes that collapsed into rubble on Daytona Beach Shores last month from Hurricane Nicole,

“Whenever you find a shipwreck on the beach, it’s really an amazing occurrence,” said maritime archaeologist Chuck Meide, who is leading an archeological team from St. Augustine, Florida, to examine the beach find. “There’s this mystery, you know. It’s not there one day, and it’s there the next day, so it really captivates the imagination.”

Hurricane Ian made landfall in late September on Florida’s southwest coast and exited into the Atlantic Ocean over central Florida. Nicole devastated much of Volusia County’s coastline in early November, leaving behind homes collapsed into the ocean after they had been made vulnerable to erosion from Ian.

“It’s a rare experience, but it’s not unique, and it seems with climate change and more intense hurricane seasons, it’s happening more frequently,” Meide said of the discovery.

The archeological team removed sand and made a shallow trench around the structure’s wooden timbers, took measurements and made sketches in an effort to solve the 200-year mystery. The digging team members went from using shovels to trowels and then their hands as more of the frame was exposed in an effort to not damage any of the wood.

“It does take a lot of time,” said Arielle Cathers, one of the members of the team. “You want to go really carefully.”

Meide, the director of the research arm of St. Augustine Lighthouse & Museum, said he’s convinced the structure is a shipwreck because of how it was built and the materials, such as iron bolts, that were used.

In Daytona Shores Beach, there are no plans to remove the ship because the cost would likely run in the millions of dollars and because it’s protected where it is, packed into the wet sand, Meide said.

“We will let Mother Nature bury the wreck,” he said. “That will help preserve it.”

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