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Shipwreck from 1939 uncovered off Orleans

The Lutzen was carrying a cargo of frozen blueberries when it sank in 1939.
The Lutzen was carrying a cargo of frozen blueberries when it sank in 1939. Orleans Historical Society

Shifting sands off the coast of Orleans have revealed the wreck of The Lutzen, a British freighter that ran aground in 1939 while carrying a load of frozen blueberries, killing one crew member as those aboard scrambled to save the cargo in an ill-fated effort to right the 135-foot ship.

Researchers have long had records of the spot where the so-called “Blueberry Boat” sank just 400 feet off Nauset Beach on Cape Cod. But the swirling tides covered the wreck in sand decades ago, preventing any detailed examination of the site.

Now, seasonal changes to sand and surf have combined with beach erosion to uncover the doomed vessel, according to Victor Mastone, the director of the state Board of Underwater Archaeological Resources.

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“Sometimes, I wait for storms and bad weather to uncover things, because that’s usually when something new shows up,” he said. “It’s an interesting wreck. Even if you can’t visit it, if we can pluck enough data, then we can create a virtual visit.”

American Underwater Search & Survey, which is working to monitor the shipwreck, said in a statement that officials expect the wreckage to become increasingly exposed. The story was first reported in the Cape Cod Times this week.

The Lutzen was on a voyage from Canada to New York when it went down on Feb. 3, 1939. The captain misjudged the location of the shoreline, according to the search and survey group, and one crew member died as the ship was pushed aground.

The Boston Daily Globe reported on the shipwreck, detailing the loss of the crew member, as well as the Coast Guard’s rescue of six others.

The Globe reported: “It was believed the decision of the captain to abandon ship indicated it was in danger of breaking up.”

The more than 200 tons of blueberries from Canada were saved, Mastone said. They were quickly unloaded in an effort to reduce the weight aboard the vessel. However, this only made things worse, and caused the boat to tip.

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“Once you unload it, it’s not balanced,” Mastone said. “Its weight and displacement have changed and it just turned.”

After the vessel fell on its side, crew members and helpers gave up any hope of floating it and abandoned it in the sand, Mastone said. Over the next several years, the sand would cover the remnants of the vessel.

“We don’t plan on removing it or anything. That’s very costly, with not much benefit,” Mastone said. “We’re going to try to keep documenting it out in the field. We’ll do an additional side scan, so it can give us some of the details about how the wreck is doing.”

Mastone said the groups are really just hoping to learn more about the wreck, which is estimated to be one of more than 3,500 along the Massachusetts coast.

“When we find out about shipwrecks, we usually don’t have that much information,” Mastone said. “But we have a name and precise location for this one so we can monitor it pretty easily.”


Olivia Quintana can be reached at olivia.quintana@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @oliviasquintana.