Parting sands on Nauset Beach in Orleans have revealed a piece of nautical history from the era that gave the Outer Cape its reputation as a shipwreck graveyard.
The remains of the doomed Montclair, a three-masted schooner that broke apart on the bars during a storm in 1927, have been visible to beach visitors since November.
“This time of year is when shipwrecks are usually exposed,” said Bill Burke, park historian for the Cape Cod National Seashore, who visited the site before Thanksgiving. “The timbers, at this point, are just part of the landscape.”
It’s about a two-mile trek to reach the Montclair from the parking lot at Nauset Beach. Some timbers measure 65 feet long, Burke said, and nails protrude from the weathered planks.
John Perry Fish, a sonographer from Bourne who has documented thousands of shipwrecks in the Northeast, said this is the first time in decades that so much of the wrecked vessel has been exposed.
“The bottom of the hull is really all that’s left,” Fish said. “The upper works have been taken away by storms.”
The Montclair is among the region’s best-known shipwrecks, its demise having been chronicled in Henry Beston’s book, “The Outermost House,” according to Don Wilding, who writes about Cape Cod history.
Built in Nova Scotia in 1918, the Montclair set sail from Halifax on March 1, 1927, carrying a load of laths and seven crew members, according to an account provided by Cape Cod National Seashore.
By March 4, 1927, the New York-bound vessel had reached Cape Cod in a severe storm. Captain E.L. Clark, who led a Coast Guard station in Orleans, was awakened by the “howling of the gale” and witnessed the Montclair “pounding with the terrific force of the surf on a sand bar about a mile offshore,” The Boston Daily Globe reported the following day.
“The bar is part of what is known locally as ‘the graveyard,’ ” the report said. “All try to avoid coming too close to shore here, but the Montclair had lost two masts . . . during the height of the gale and the crew were unable to control the movements of the craft.”
Clark only had two other rescuers with him when the Montclair got into trouble because the Coast Guard was decommissioning the Orleans station and had cut staff.
Five crew members were washed overboard by a large wave, the Daily Globe reported. Two men survived.
For years, remnants of the Montclair sat on the shore until sands claimed the shipwreck and buried the vessel, Fish said.
In 1962, National Geographic published a feature on Cape Cod that included a photograph of a child leaping from the shipwreck, Wilding said.
Nathan Baggs, a Montclair crew member who survived the shipwreck, read the National Geographic piece and returned to the scene of the tragedy in 1968, Wilding said.
The Orleans Historical Society displays several items from the Montclair at its museum, said Pamela Feltus, the organization’s executive director. The artifacts include the ship’s wheel and steering shaft, drinking glasses, and several pieces of wood from an interior cabin, Feltus said.
“People like shipwrecks,” she said. “It’s such a big part of this town’s history.”
Beachcombers can no longer take home souvenirs from the Montclair. Federal law prohibits people from salvaging parts of the vessel and rangers are monitoring the area to make sure passersby comply, town officials wrote on Facebook.
“They’re supposed to be left undisturbed for future generations to enjoy,” Burke said.
John Tlumacki of the Globe staff contributed. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.