Anchor from wreck nearly 130 years ago finally salvaged

Anchor crossmember aboard Tempest.

Anchor crossmember aboard Tempest. (Credit: Handout)

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The halves of a huge anchor from the 1886 shipwreck of the passenger liner SS Oregon have been reunited after five years.

Scuba diver Patrick Rooney and a team of volunteers in 2008 salvaged the main piece of the 13-foot-high, 3-ton iron anchor from the hulk of the Cunard ship that sank 15 miles south of Moriches Inlet.

But he left behind the anchor's 10-foot-long, 1,500-pound stock, or cross member.

Rooney -- concerned about damage to the wreck by superstorm Sandy -- rectified his omission in August. And now, the stock has been reattached to the rest of the rare Trotman anchor at a Lindenhurst dive shop where the artifact will remain on display.

Rooney, 50, co-captain of the Freeport-based diveboat Tempest, knew the stock was fastened to the deck next to where the rest of the anchor used as a backup had been when he raised the main piece with the flukes five years ago.

But there wasn't time the day of the first recovery to bring it up. And the tile-setter from Copiague could never find the time to go back for the stock. "But I've been thinking about it for the past five years because it would just complete the anchor," Rooney said.

Sandy created a sense of urgency because "there were a lot of changes. There were a lot of hull plates that were tossed around. I had concern about the stock becoming buried underneath the rubble."

So when the Brooklyn-based Sea Gypsies dive club that had chartered the Tempest agreed to help with recovery, he went out the weekend before their trip and connected lifting straps to the stock. The following weekend in August, the weather cooperated, with the ocean appearing "like a sheet of glass."

The 521-foot, 7,375-ton Oregon sank after a collision with a schooner in the fog in March 1886. No one on the ship died, but the entire complement aboard the schooner Charles H. Morse perished.

Spending an hour on the wreck 130 feet below the surface, he attached two inflatable liftbags to the stock and tied a short length of rope as a leash to keep the stock hovering over the deck.

"But I didn't realize that all the oxidation over the years had created an encrustation of growth so it was actually welded to the wreck," Rooney explained. "So I kept on filling the bag and then all of a sudden we just heard this big snap and it broke free from all the encrustation and the thing took off. It snapped the leash."

Stock and liftbags rocketed to the surface, where it took the rest of the day to winch the load aboard the Tempest. A Melville metal coating company then removed the salt that had penetrated the iron with power washing and chemicals before applying multiple coats of coal tar epoxy to prevent rust.

Two weeks ago, the stock was transported to Long Island Scuba on Wellwood Avenue in Lindenhurst, where the rest of the anchor has been on display in the parking lot. A friend who owns a tow truck with a hydraulic boom lifted the stock onto the anchor while Rooney "was actually shaking" for fear it would fall and break.

"It's quite an achievement for a sport diver," Long Island Scuba owner Ralph Collis said of the recovery. "It's beautiful." He and Rooney hope it will attract new people to the sport.

The only thing Rooney said is missing from the anchor now is the pin that would have held the stock in place. Rooney said one of the pins on an auxiliary anchor is still on the wreck and he plans to recover it.

"That's a one-man job," he said.

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