The Beached Sander

Crawling down Route 1 toward Boston, I was playing pull-ahead-fall-behind with two huge concrete trucks in the lane on my right. Their barrels were churning as slowly as the traffic was moving. It was nearly raining. Gloomy all around.


It was tough to remember that only two days previously four of us were having breakfast on a long, deserted beach. Our boat was anchored in the shallow water and the sun was creeping steadily up from the horizon. Behind us were grass-covered sand dunes, roped off the keep humans away from the plovers and other waders that nested there. In front of us was Plum Island Sound, and just south of it was the start of the historic shipping lane between Ipswich and Boston.

We were nibbling on home-made blueberry scones, a frittata and fruit salad. As far removed from the traffic-sodden gloom on Route 1 as we could possibly get. And yet, in a sense, we weren’t. A few yards along the beach from us, the ribs and prow of an old boat were sticking up out of the sand. She was about 70 feet long, broad beamed and, although we couldn’t see it, flat bottomed. She was a sand barge, the Edward S. Eveleth, who had lain there since October 1922. When she was still alive, she’d been the equivalent of those concrete trucks on Route 1, hauling sand to the construction industry in Boston – a seven-hour sail with a fair wind.


Sand barges were run onto the beach at half-tide when the tide was ebbing. The crew would lay stout planks from their gunwales down to beach and set to work with wheelbarrows to fill the barge with sand. Then the high tide would lift her off the beach, they’d raise the sail and head off for Boston. After a century of progress, we now have concrete trucks on Route 1. Oh well…

Sand-2The Edward S. Eveleth was ill-fated. It appears that her skipper was a bit greedy and made her too heavy for the tide to raise her up. There had been a storm out at sea, and the heavy rollers worked her deeper and deeper into the beach so that by the next high tide, she had become immovable.

And there she lies today, in exactly the position in which she’d been beached a century ago. If you close your eyes on a moonlit night you can still hear the squeak of the wheelbarrows being pushed up the planks. Yes, you can, I’ve tried it.

Of course, we could never take ship loads of sand from a beach today, though Captain Charley, an Ipswich sander for 50 years, said that there was more sand on the beach when he retired than there was when he started in the 1840s. Nature is always moving sand, picking it up here and dumping it there. Two weeks after our breakfast along the beach from the Edward S. Eveleth, she had disappeared again, all except for two or three inches of her prow which still just poked above the surface of the beach.

Yes, sand moves, but if it goes to Boston and gets set in concrete, it never comes back. Cities are like that, aren’t they?

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