On Feb. 28, 1902, during a fierce gale, the British tramp steamer Wilster, headed for Boston with a cargo of 3,000 tons of sugar, ran aground on a ledge near Thacher Island. It soon came free, but then washed ashore and was beached on Long Beach in Rockport. The vessel suffered no major structural damage, although leaks broke out in some compartments. All crew members made it safely ashore.
In short order, barges were dispatched to unload enough of the Wilster’s cargo for tugs to pull it free of the beach. Initial estimates were that removal of a third of the cargo would suffice to float the vessel. But bad weather and thick fog delayed salvage efforts, and the Wilster became embedded deeper and deeper in the sandy beach, all the while taking on more water.
Eventually, the Wilster’s entire cargo had to be unloaded before it could be floated enough for a flotilla of six tugs to tow it off the beach. The effort took nearly a month — it was March 22 before the steamer was finally pulled free. It was towed to Gloucester harbor and then, two days later, to Boston, where it was put in dry dock.
Upon inspection, it was found that the steamer’s bottom plates were more damaged than had been thought. Bids were put out for the repair job and the contract was awarded to a shipyard in Brooklyn, N.Y. In Boston, temporary repairs were made. On April 18, it left Boston under tow for Brooklyn, where it was put into dry dock and repaired.
After repairs were completed, the Wilster was sold to a new, American-registered owner, who renamed it the Dorothy. On Aug. 2, 1902, the former Wilster was back in Boston under its new name, delivering a cargo of sugar from Cuba.
Not surprisingly, the stranded vessel drew crowds of curious onlookers from Rockport, Gloucester and beyond. For a time, some of the crew members were put up in nearby Rockport homes and at the life saving station at Gap Cove.
This postcard of the stranded steamer is based on a photograph by Charles Cleaves. The postcard was published not by Cleaves’ postcard company, but by The Hugh C. Leighton Co., Portland, Maine. The postcard was produced in 1907 and printed in Germany.