Oh, ship! Vessel found at the bottom of the Gowanus

The Brooklyn Paper

The Gowanus Canal is filthy — filthy with a rare archeological trove, that is.

Environmental Protection Agency sonar readings have revealed several sunken vessels — including the 60-foot -long hull of a wooden vessel near Fifth Street that may date back to its glory days as an industrial highway of the 17th century.

“It looks like it might have been a working boat,” said archeologist John Vetter who found the craft.

He’s a scientist, so he conservatively suggested that the boat was at least 50 years old, but it is likely far older.

Sonar images also show the hull of a 126-foot-long barge, a 110-foot-long barge, a small boat, debris, tires, and a “mysterious U-shaped object between the Union and Carroll Street bridges,” according to EPA documents.

No human remains have yet to be discovered.

“We don’t think that’s too likely, but we’re not in a position to rule that out,” Vetter said.

The wrecks didn’t astonish those brave enough to dive in the canal — they’ve seen it all before.

“We were more surprised by the microbiology findings,” said Ludger Balan, founder of the Urban Divers Estuary Conservancy, referring to a 2007 study that found an array of sexually transmitted disease germs living in the fetid corpse of water.

It is likely most of the items in the beleaguered canal, named a Superfund site last year, will simply be junk.

If something of historical significance is discovered, it will be preserved, as federal law forbids the agency from destroying anything of archeological value.

In the upcoming months, Vetter will be performing a more detailed analysis of the sonar data, determining how and whether the canal’s 11-year, $500 million cleanup will affect items or areas of historic value.

Reader Feedback

Carolina Salguero from Red Hook says:
>an industrial highway of the 18th century

the Canal did not exist in the 18th century. It was created in the last quarter of the 19th century.
Feb. 10, 2011, 9:59 am
Betty from Cobble Hill says:
I'm sure John Vetter is a very nice man but his statement that 'It looks like it might have been a working boat' is darn right silly. Why would anyone have built a big ole boat that didn't work? How would it have gotten to the canal in the first place if it wasn't a working boat? Is he suggesting that it was just for show? What a load of hooey, I don't want to throw around my age here but 50 years ago things were most certainly not built without a purpose!
Feb. 10, 2011, 11:25 am
al pankin from downtown says:
the canal is a dump, still is..maybe they will find some bodies in there. if they find some old junky boats why would anyone pay any money to preserve them? they should clean up that toxic dump and move on.
Feb. 10, 2011, 11:45 am
juniper from Greenpoint says:
wow shame on all the commenters

First archaeology benefits us all so any information we obtain from anything found in the Gowanus will be of interests to everyone.

The canal did not have to come first. The the ship can be of an older date than the canal which might still have been in use. It may also have been in poor shape and reason it is now at the bottom of the canal.

"Working boats' are commercial vessels rather than what people now think of boats of that size for personal or recreation uses. And loads of things are built without purpose unless you know the reason which can be lost to history
Feb. 10, 2011, 1:07 pm
G from Gowanus says:
Oh, just fill the thing in with cement and make it a park already.
Feb. 27, 2011, 10:51 am
Sally Slingworth from Gowanus says:
Hello my name is Sally Slingworth, and I'm embarrassed to be finally admitting this, but I really need to get it off my busty chest. I gave the Gowanus gonorrhea. It was a rainy Friday night, my date had gone home with a toothache and I was seven Manhattans deep. On my way to the train station I was stopped by the canal while crossing the bridge on ninth street. At first I was put off by the obvious filth coming out of its insipid mouth, but then--suddenly--I was excited! And before you know it, I was trawling that river-bottom harder than a barely legal barge! What a night. Anyway, a few days later I received a well-meaning, but ominous message from an Asian businessman friend of mine who said I "should get checked out". Sorry Gowanus. And judging by the discharge, it looks like you got it bad.
March 17, 2011, 12:01 pm
Ed Towns from Gowanus says:
The boat, visable from third street, is submerged at high tide. It should be hauled out and broken up. Why waste more taxpayers money studying it when we already know the origin (towed from the Bx, and used as a houseboat) and due to it's design changes, it retains little historical value.
June 15, 2011, 10:26 pm

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