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Journalist's Notebook: The Cape Ray shipwreck is a tantalizing mystery

Exploring local stories and insights: Our journalist's notebook delves into community voices, hidden gems, and impactful events as our team pursues news stories.


Rosalyn Roy, award-winning journalist, headshot on yellow background.
Rosalyn Roy is the Senior Staff Reporter and Editorial Director for Wreckhouse Press.

At high tide from the shore it doesn't look like much. It's just a large length of dark wood, maybe 20 or 30 feet at best, bobbing on the waves, and the sun glinting off the water makes it hard to see the bulk of it lurking beneath the surface.


A 100 foot section of a wooden ship shipwreck that washed up on Cape Ray beach on January 10th has already made international news, and people in the region are no less enthralled.


It's freezing out because the wind is both incessant and merciless. On Monday there was an advisory about a possible delay in the ferry service. Such is January on the Southwest Coast of Newfoundland. Today the sun and wind are making things a bit tough for the locals who keep flocking to the beach. Most don't linger long.


Clean Harbour Initiatives is a non-profit group that has been doing a lot of important work since Hurricane Fiona flung houses, wharves and fishing gear into the ocean on September 24, 2022. Shawn Bath and Trevor Croft are the ones diving down through the debris, hauling it up. The group has been retrieving ghost gear for five years now, and if the duo had another lifetime to spend they probably still couldn't manage to drag it all up. Today they're not hauling up wreckage though. Today they're preserving it.


If you haven't seen the photos, they're readily available on the Cape Ray Community Page. We've taken plenty of our own, and shot so much video that it will take me at least a day to edit into some semblance of a cohesive narrative. It won't hit our YouTube channel until tomorrow, and probably not until the afternoon. Here's a quick hit clip in the meantime, completely unedited. I make no apologies for the quality. Our niche is print.



I've lived here for the past 13 years and was born and grew up here. Today I learned tthat ships have knees. Go figure. Anyway these are the biggest knees I've ever seen, solid oak that weigh likely hundreds of pounds. The bolts punched through them are longer than my forearm and, while not as thick, they are undoubtedly much stronger. Then there are the metal pins, either copper or brass, and at least 16 inches long. This ship was built carefully by skilled crafters, and it was meant to survive the worst of the oceangoing conditions. That it didn't says a lot about the Newfoundland weather.


I ran the photos through A.I. and it's echoing what most locals around here are saying. The shipwreck is likely the remains of an 18th or 19th century fishing vessel. The ocean has claimed more than a few over the centuries, and it's difficult to know which one this is. We may never find out exactly, even with years of close study.


Ideally it will become a tourist attraction, and as I spoke to yet another local — a senior who hailed from that area — and they told me about picking up pipes off the beach and smoking them. These aren't modern pipes, but rather hundreds of years old. The sand carries its own secrets too. Where are these pipes now?


"I dunno. Still out there in the ground I guess," said the senior, shrugging beneath her heavy parka.


Before the park was there, centuries ago, foreign fishing boats and sailing ships would tie up in the area. The pipes were nothing special to the locals, who were used to finding such things fairly often.


Further down into the community of Cape Ray, their Dorset site is being reclaimed by the ocean. Cape Ray is the last leg of the French Ancestor's Route, and the museum's artifacts are a hidden treasure trove of information about the Dorset who used to hunt and fish not far from the historical lighthouse.


These days residents are plucking what they can away from the tide's greedy grasp and bringing it to the museum, lest it be lost forever.


Back at the shipwreck site, Bath and Croft are emerging from the water. They did some underwater filming and tied off a second piece of wreckage to keep the ocean from reclaiming it. It's minus 15°C with the windchill, and they have 7 more interviews scheduled for today, including one with the New York Times.


We've got more scheduled too, including with the people who found the wreckage in the first place, to say nothing of the dozens of photos and hours of video we have yet to pour through. We still have to talk to provincial officials, and we're due back at the site again tomorrow and likely again over the weekend.


The ocean may not willingly yield its secrets, but it won't stop us all from trying to uncover them anyway.

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