Fire Island shipwreck of 1922 focus of park service tour

A park ranger explains what remains at the

A park ranger explains what remains at the wreck of the Bessie White, an early 1900's shipwreck uncovered by Hurricane Sandy near Watch Hill, NY, July 19 2014. (Credit: Ed Betz)

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When the Bessie White ran aground near Smith Point in 1922, there was no saving the 200-foot coal schooner. The crew survived, but a few days later the ship bound for Nova Scotia broke apart and drifted away.

Now, for the first time, the National Park Service is leading guided summer tours of the remains -- a section of the ship's shattered hull, half buried on a stretch of the Fire Island National Seashore.

The spine of the boat -- heavy wooden timbers and metal spikes -- jut from the sand like dinosaur bones. Visitors are encouraged to walk through the site as they hear the story of what happened.

There's no guarantee the relic will be around tomorrow.

Superstorm Sandy exposed the shipwreck in October 2012, when heavy winds and rain scoured the beach.

"We all know Sandy blew sand inland and even into the bay and places," said Ranger David Raymond, who guided Saturday's tour. "Actually, a lot of sand got carried back out to sea by Sandy."

The wreck reappears on the shore every few years. The last time it was really visible was 2010; another memorable year, rangers say, was 1988.

Saturday, visitors walked about 1.3 miles along the purple garnet-lined sand from the Watch Hill Dune Station to the site.

"I expected to see a whole reconstructed ship," said Nancy Travis, 76, of Queens, who took the tour with her husband Philip.

The beach has begun to rebuild itself after Sandy, and the ship's remains are less exposed than last summer.

Still, Travis was not disappointed.

"This is magnificent," she said of the oceanside site. "The whole setting and the peacefulness -- so beautiful."

NEXT TOUR: Aug. 16, 11 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

TO LEARN MORE: Call 631-687-4780

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