Wreck of the Castagna

By Jack Sheedy

Picking up where I left off with my last blog entry, for the remainder of this year I wish to continue to examine the strange and unusual as it relates to Cape Cod history. Back at the end of 2016 and into the beginning of this year I presented a five-part series on sea serpents and mermaids seen in Cape waters over the centuries. I’m sure I’ll include more stories of sea monsters in future Off-the-Shelf submissions. In October, I imagine Cape Cod witches and ghosts will provide the subject material for an entry or two leading up to Halloween.

But until then, we’ll look to the sea for some unusual stories. For instance, this story from just a little more than a century ago, which I include in the books, Cape Cod Companion, published in 1999, and more recently in Cape Odd, 2010:

   In February 1914 the Italian bark Castagna was sailing along the outer coastline of the Cape, en route from Uruguay to Massachusetts with a cargo of guano, when she encountered fierce winter weather which iced up her rigging. Unable to lower her frozen anchors, the ship and crew wandered in a haphazard fashion up the coast, within sight of the watchful eyes of the lifesavers at Cahoon Hollow Station. She was clearly a vessel in trouble, but was too far offshore to render assistance. So it was not surprising when, early the next morning, she was discovered foundering not far from the Marconi Wireless Station at Wellfleet.

Ill-prepared for weather conditions in northern latitudes during winter, the Italian crew, some without proper footwear, had no protection against the frigid temperatures and the equally frigid seas. They climbed into the rigging, where a number froze to death.

From shore, lifesavers fired a shot from their Lyle gun into the rigging of the vessel in an attempt to set up a pulley-system between ship and shore to remove the crew, but the men aboard the doomed Castagna were too weak to offer the necessary assistance. Eventually, the lifesavers launched a surfboat and were able to bring ashore the survivors. Of those that perished, some remained in the rigging until their bodies could be recovered and two were missing, including the captain. According to the March 4, 1914 issue of the Harwich Independent, “The body of a young man believed to be that of the cabin boy of the bark Castagna, which was wrecked off the wireless station at Wellfleet, Feb 17, was picked up near the Old Harbor station, Chatham, Tuesday, ten miles up the beach from the disaster.”

Yet, the body of the ship’s captain was not found … that is, not until about a year later. Someone walking the beach near Nauset Harbor happened upon a body protruding from the sand. Further examination determined that it was the body of the Castagna’s captain. And strangely, the body had survived a year without decomposing, or so the story goes. Apparently, it was frozen solid upon that February morning and eventually buried beneath the sands where it remained frozen and preserved until its discovery!

Jack Sheedy is the co-author of Cape Cod Collected and Cape Odd.   

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