Note to readers: I have spent more than half my life in, on or under the world’s oceans. Though my career has been in traditional business management, my personal life has been one of archaeology, scuba, and exploration. In the 1990s, there was a bar under the bridge in Brielle where all of the Jersey Shore divers, treasure hunters, archaeologists, and scuba clubs would visit. We wouldn’t call each other and say “hey, let’s meet up!” it just, sort of happened. You could wander in and, sure enough, everyone would be there in exactly the same seats where they were the last time.
Throughout my travels, I have gravitated to these places with some sort of aquatic sixth sense. We call them “Dive Bars” (as in scuba, not seedy.) It was at this “Dive Bar” that I first learned of a site called the “Dual Wrecks” about 25 yards off the beach in Long Branch, NJ.
It was March 8, 1859. The 550-ton wooden bark, Adonis was on her way from England to New York Harbor with a cargo of 124 grindstones, 600 lead ingots, 39 casks of ground flint, 100 casks of alkali, 501 casks of soda, 170 casks of powder, 130 casks of carb soda, 200 casks V. red, and 500 kegs C. soda.
Captain Diedrich Bosse was tense. The fog had settled in and then the gale came. He was running reefed so as to not snap Adonis’ mast or capsize her, the fog was so thick there was no visibility and navigating was nearly impossible. The bow lookout was quiet, not that he would be heard over the roar of the waves and the constant shriek of the wind.
It was just about 11 PM when Adonis came ashore at Long Branch…hard.
The Bremen ship Adonis was built at Vegesack/Grohn by Johann Lange for the Bremen firm of F. Reck & Co and three co-owners and was launched on 5 May 1853. She was 122ft in length, with a 30ft beam and had a cargo hold with a depth of 8ft. Although Bremen records consistently refer to the ADONIS as a ship, U.S. records often refer to her as a bark because of the shortness of the yards on her mizzen.
The ADONIS was commanded her entire career by Diedrich Bosse. Her maiden voyage was May 23, 1853, from Bremerhaven to New York, with 302 passengers. But on that July night, Adonis was hard and fast onshore in the middle of a fierce gale. Bosse cursed loudly as a huge wave picked up Adonis and swung her around on the outer bar so that her bow was facing southeast.
Later that night, her entire crew and Captain Bosse, were rescued by rescuers from life-saving station number four. There was no loss of life.
The wrecking schooners Ringold and Nora were dispatched to the scene after the storm abated. They fitted piping and set about with a steam pump and was able to reduce the level of water in Adonis’ hold. But all hope of refloating her was abandoned. Adonis had become severely hogged. (Definition of HOGGING: (with reference to a ship) bend or become bent convex upward along its length, as a result, either of the hull being supported in the middle and not at the ends (as in a heavy sea) or the vessels being loaded more heavily at the ends.) Adonis was lost.
On March 18th, in another weather event, she broke into pieces. A short time later, a public auction was held on the beach (where Saint Alphonso’s retreat in West End is today.) and the battered wreck that was once proud Adonis sold for $25. She was stripped of her planking, and what could be had of her cargo and left to rot with most of the cargo of huge grindstones still in what was left of her hold.
Just what were you looking at?
Bill Scripko used to spearfish on an old steel wreck that he thought was a tugboat. It was 1960 and Scripko’s friend, Chuck Tucker, asked him to tell him the location of this fishing hot spot. He was eager to try his luck.
Chuck went to the wreck site and, when he came back, thanked Bill for the tip, the fishing was great. But he also told Scripko that the wreck was definitely wooden and not steel. Bill couldn’t believe his ears. He could tell wood from steel, what was going on.
The two men went to the site together and discovered that there were two wrecks at the site. One ship was steel with an engine, boilers, and a propeller shaft visible. The ship that Bill had been fishing was constructed of wood and lay next to the bow of the steel ship. As they examined closer, they found wooden ribs jutting from the sand and in the center of this wreck of a long-ago beached sailing ship, were gigantic grindstones. Some of the stones were at least five feet in diameter.
The two men excitedly began researching and discovered that the wooden ship was a Dutch bark called Adonis. After a time, they identified the steel wreck as well.
Rusland left Antwerp harbor on March 5, 1877, and for the next eleven days experienced calm seas and a pleasant Atlantic crossing. Rusland was a Red Star Line passenger freighter weighing in at 2,538 tons at 345 feet long. Her Captain on that voyage was Jesse DeHorsey. It was his first command.
Of the events that night, DeHorsey would later say “ The weather was thick on Saturday (March 17, 1877), with occasional snow squalls, the wind was blowing from the east. No canvas was carried. To allow for the effect of tide and the wind the vessel steered half a point to windward. I thought that thus she would be kept on her true course.”
The Captain further explained that soundings were taken continuously and both he and the Pilot that they had picked up to guide them into New York harbor, agreed that their position was off the coast of Long Island. Then the lookout bellowed “Light on the port bow.”
DeHorsey thought that the lookout was mistaken. But then he “…made out the land and telegraphed for the vessel to be put about. Before this could be done, however, she struck. Then the ship slid up the beach. The blow when she struck was so slight that I did not feel it, and turning to the Pilot, said, “That was a close shave.” A second later we found the ship was hard aground.” DeHorsey said.
Had Rusland come lightly ashore, she probably could have been towed off the beach. But the raging gale, like the one that killed Adonis, lifted Rusland up and spun her broadside to the beach. In doing so, the steel vessel’s bow grated over the remains of Adonis and her cargo. The enormous grindstones tore Rusland’s bottom to pieces allowing a fire hose effect of seawater to invade her hull.
The #4 Life Saving crew found her and began rescue operations at 4 AM the next morning, and by 10 AM all of the passengers were put ashore. Salvage ships eventually removed anything of value, after returning personal belongings to their owners. And Rusland’s steel hull, eventually falling to pieces.
Visiting the Wrecksite
2022: The wreck site was once accessed via St Alphonse’s Retreat in West End. It was a 200-foot swim. Because of the bad behavior of some divers, drinking, littering, and carrying on, that access is no longer available. The dual wreck site is accessible only by boat.
Diving Adonis and Rusland is still an interesting dive. Rusland’s engine, boilers, and prop shaft are still protruding 5 feet from the bottom and you can see Adonis’ enormous ship killing cargo of grindstones. (One is on display at the NJ Shipwreck Museum within the Camp Evans/Info Age campus.) The wrecks are home to tautog, black sea bass and a variety of other sea life. Lobsters can be seen there at night. The vessels rest in 20-25ft of water with a viz 10-15 ft on calm days.
There is a conservative estimate there are more than 5000 shipwrecks along the coast of New Jersey. Though in reality, there are many more with a large concentration between Asbury Park and New York harbor.
To learn more about some of them, go to the Shipwreck Database, maintained by the NJ Maritime Museum:
For information about the NJ Maritime Museum:
To learn more about NJ Shipwreck Museum at Camp Evans: