January 26, 2015:

This weekend sees the release of the movie “The Finest Hours”, a dramatization of the wreck of the SS Pendleton off Cape Cod in February 1952 and the subsequent rescue mission by the USCG.

Side-scan sonar image of the wreck of the Pendleton

Side-scan sonar image of the wreck of the Pendleton

The Pendleton was en route from New Orleans to Boston when in broke in two during a gale. A four-man crew aboard the Coast Guard Motor Lifeboat 36500, dispatched from Chatham MA, conducted one of the most daring rescues in USCG history. Thanks to their bravery, 32 of the 41 men aboard were saved.

The bow section of the Pendleton grounded on Pollock Rip Shoal; it was sold in 1953 to North American Smelting Co. for recycling at Bordentown, New Jersey, but was stranded in the Delaware River and dismantled there in 1978 by the US Army Corp of Engineers.

The stern of the ship eventually grounded off Monomoy Island, south of Chatham, where it remained visible until the late 1980s.

In December 2015 Dr. Mark Borrelli, Director of Marine Geology at the Center for Coastal Studies in Provincetown, carried out a high resolution survey of the wreck site using a state-of-the-art side scan sonar.

Borrelli, along with boat captain and technician Ted Lucas, collected a series of images over several hours. The end result was a clear illustration of the devastation the sea has wrought on the remains of the Pendleton over the last five decades.

Side-scan sonar image of the wreck of the SS Pendleton

Side-scan sonar image of the wreck of the SS Pendleton

Disarticulated fragments of the ship are scattered over and area approximately 250 feet by 100 feet; the rippled sandy seafloor can be seen encroaching on the wreckage. Little of the structure is identifiable, with the exception of some of the massive beams.

Debris that stands proud of the seabed casts “shadows” on the sand. One such shadow clearly shows a section of wreckage pierced by a trio of small holes. This distinctive pattern may help archaeologists and historians determine the original location of that section on the vessel.

The images collected by Borrelli will be shared with the US Coast Guard and with the Massachusetts Board of Underwater Archaeology.

The Center for Coastal Studies usually utilizes side-scan sonar technology to conduct vessel based, shallow water surveys of coastal environments. In recent years Borrelli and his crew have completed several seafloor mapping projects around the Outer Cape; they have also surveyed several local harbors to locate, identify and retrieve derelict fishing gear and other marine debris.

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