SS Northeastern

Stranded December 27, 1904

Identical sistership of the Northeastern, photo from Bowling Green State University Archieves2157 Gross Tons 
254 feet Length, 42 feet Beam, 23 feet Deep 
Owner: Northwestern Steam Ship Company 
Builder: Chicago Ship Building Company, Chicago, Illinois

Depth 45 feet

Location:  Outer Diamond Shoals, 1/2 mile from Hesperides Wreck

Photo of Sistership from Bowling Green State University, Ohio  

History of the Shipwreck

A small ship by today's standards, the NORTHEASTERN was a good sized vessel for her day being 242 feet in length, 42.2 beam and 23.2 in depth and the vessel was of American registry with a home port of Fairport.  Constructed of steel, with her machinery aft, the NORTHEASTERN had one main deck plus a "spar deck" and was equipped with electric lights.  Her power came from a three cylinder (triple expansion) steam engine with cylinders of 20",  33", and 54" in diameter and a stroke of 40", which produced 1,150 HP to turn her single screw.

She was one of four identical vessels constructed in 1901 for the Northwestern S.S. Company.  The NORTHEASTERN and her sister vessels (NORTHTOWN, NORTHMAN, and NORTHWESTERN) were all built the same year, 1901, by the Chicago Shipbuilding Company, in Chicago, Ill.  They had all been originally built as general cargo carriers but converted to oil tankers with a carrying capacity of 3,500 tons or 23,098 barrels of oil.  This ship did not carry the oil in bulk tanks, but actual barrels as this was the method of transport until true bulk tankers were developed.  After the demise of the Northeastern the three remaining sister vessels were all purchased by the Texas Company (Texaco) in June of 1905 for $450,000.  These ships were some of the first ships purchased by Texas Oil Company to transport their products and start their growth into one of the largest oil companies in the world. 

The NORTHMAN was renamed by Texaco to the Louisianan, then renamed "Port Texaco No.5", then in 1940 again sold and named the Ceylon, then later in 1948 named Cowasjee and finally scrapped in 1956.  NORTHTOWN became the Alabama after Texaco bought her, the in 1918 became Amabala, then back to Alabama in 1919 and finally went to scrap in 1950.  The NORTHWESTERN was renamed the Federal in 1921 and on April 30, 1942, she was sunk by the German U-507.  The Northwestern/Federal was 5 miles North of Gibara, Cuba, when the U-boat shelled her, setting the ship on fire and eventually sinking it.  Of the four sister ships, two remain and both at the bottom of the Ocean. 


Wreck of the SS Northeastern

The NORTHEASTERN was enroute to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, from Port Arthur, Texas, with a cargo of oil when she wrecked upon the Diamond Shoals on December 27, 1904, just three years after being built.  A gale from the SouthWest had blown the ship off course and the visibility was very poor due to a thick fog and the rough seas.  It was very dark when she grounded at 11PM on the outer Diamond Shoals where tremendous waves beat the ship relentlessly.  The situation was quickly perilous for the 22 crewmembers on board the ship as seas were breaking over the ship and it began to break in two.  The crew attempted to launch the ship's lifeboats only to have them destroyed by the seas breaking around and over the ship.  With no means to escape, they all gathered in the stern and fired signal rockets until early in the morning hours when their pleas were answered by signal rockets from the shore.  Now their hope was that the ship would not break apart before rescuers would arrive.

Unfortunately, it was far to rough for rescuers to row out to the stranded ship and attempts to do so through the day failed with the rescue boats being tossed back onto the beach.  Not until the next day did the winds moderate enough to allow rescuers from the Cape Hatteras and Creeds Hill lifesaving stations to make it off the beach and row out to the ship.  Even with the moderating conditions it was still very rough and dangerous, causing Lifesaver Patrick Etheridge to advise the men "You have to go out, but you don't have to come back" (this is believed to be the first known use of this famous lifesavers motto).  The lifesaving crews rowed the miles out to the wreck on the Outer Diamond and found her awash except for a section of the stern, where all of the survivors had gathered.  The two surfboats made the trip through breakers surrounding the wreck to rescue the crew, the Hatteras boat taking on 10 men, the Creeds Hill boat taking the remaining 12.  Later, writing a letter to the Life Saving Service, the rescued crew praised the bravery of the surf men and they truely were brave to even attempt this rescue.


Diving the Northeastern

The wreck lays on the Diamond Shoals in an upright position with the ships outline clearly defined at a depth averaging 40'. The bow is virtually intact with spaces in the forepeak providing penetration to decks below the chain locker.  Access to the interior of the bow has become much easier in the recent past as openings have rusted through the hull plating.  Once inside the bow spaces divers will encounter large masses of hard corals, sponges and sea fans all over the interior.  The anchor chain locker and much of the interior is still intact.  At the very forepeak there are several racks between the web frames where dozens of block and tackles are stored, all concreted together.  A very cool sight, but not a good artifact as they are steel and will simply rot away if removed to the surface.

SS Northeastern midships  Marc Corbett PhotoThe amidships tank sections have collapsed into an interesting collection of plates and piping, leading to the structure which once supported the wooden pilothouse placed amidships (which is now buried in the sand along the port side of the wreck).  The strain of years of winter storms and hurricanes has broken the hull into two parts, causing a fracture amidships completely across the hull.  Swimming aft, a diver will then encounter the boilers, still flanked by the ship's sidewalls and companionways - the starboard one you can still swim through but is now rapidly deteriorating.  The triple expansion engine is behind the boilers in the very aft of the vessel.  A confusion of plating and beams with many spaces between and below them is contained within the intact stern section.  This is the remains of the stern deck house, which contained crews' quarters and the galley as evidenced by the artifacts located there, broken pottery and a large "claw foot" iron bathtub.

This vessel was positively identified by diver Steve Lange of Hatteras through the recovery of the brass lettering from her fantail spelling out the name NORTHEASTERN, and of course the general layout and size of the machinery and vessel. The iron "battle covers" of the portholes which have been recovered from this wreck are also cast with "Chicago Shipbuilding Company, Chicago".  The winter storms and Hurricaines move the sand around a good bit on this wreck and sections of plating and machinery are always being hidden or uncovered.   On some dives the entire fantail and propeller are visible, then later the sand will completely cover the stern and spill into the interior of the wreck.  Dives during one dive season have found the site is being coved by sand and dives the very next find the ship totally exposed and the washout areas very deep.  It is the changeable nature of the shifting sands of the Diamond Shoals that both first trapped this ship and now sometimes cover her to preserve the site for future diving. 

SS Northeastern Engine Room  Marc Corbett PhotoDue to her relatively small size and the intact nature of her hull, the NORTHEASTERN is easy to navigate.  The shallow depth of just 40 feet allows divers to tour the entire shipwreck in one long dive.  It is a great dive in most conditions but like all the wrecks on the Diamond Shoals and the HESPERIDES, which is nearby, can be plagued with surge when the sea kicks up and almost always has current ranging from light to very high and undiveable, so even though shallow it remains a dive for advanced divers.

The information on this web page was developed from the following sources:



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